Katalin Novak - Photo: Facebook

President Novak in Sofia: Ukraine-Russia war must end as soon as possible

The Russia-Ukraine war must be brought to an end as soon as possible, Hungarian President Katalin Novak said in Sofia on Thursday, adding that peace was the most important aim.

Addressing a joint press conference with her Bulgarian counterpart, Rumen Radev, Novak said the war has been going for almost a year, and the path towards peace was not yet in sight. The aim is to achieve peace as soon as possible as well as to prevent an escalation of the war, she said.

Since Ukraine has both a Hungarian and a Bulgarian community, both countries have suffered personal losses because of the war, Novak said. She added that the most important topic at her meeting with Radev was how to bring the war to an end as quickly as possible.

Novak said she and Radev also discussed the matter of minorities in Ukraine, Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone, illegal migration, energy and the demographic crisis.

Novak said Hungary and Bulgaria would do everything possible to guarantee the rights of Ukraine’s minority communities.

She noted that not only do members of the Bulgarian minority in Hungary enjoy full rights in their everyday lives, but they also have a representative in parliament. This, she said, meant that Hungary was not just financially committed to supporting its minority groups, but also wanted to give them every opportunity to retain their culture, practise their traditions, and exercise and expand their rights. “Hopefully this can set a good example for others,” she added.

Novak noted Hungary’s support for Bulgaria’s swiftest possible accession to the Schengen zone, adding that the country also considered Romania’s accession necessary. “This is also in the interest of the European Union,” she added.

Concerning illegal migration, Novak noted that both Hungary and Bulgaria protect the EU’s external borders as “frontline countries”. Migration pressure on the Bulgarian and Hungarian borders is growing, she said, adding that the migrants attempting to enter were increasingly aggressive. Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy will all take firm action to put an end to this, the president said.

As regards energy, Novak said Bulgaria had better geographical access to energy sources and was less dependent on others. Hungary, on the other hand, is in a more difficult position, and is looking for ways to diversify its energy supplies and reduce — and eventually end — its dependence on Russian gas, she said. Novak emphasised the importance of nuclear energy for both Hungary and Bulgaria, noting that the 3.5 billion cubic metres of gas being delivered along the Turkiye-Bulgaria-Serbia route was also critical.

Meanwhile, the president said the demographic crisis also concerned Bulgaria, noting that its population had declined by 13 percent over the past two decades. Hungary and Bulgaria are cooperating on family support schemes, Novak said, adding that she has invited Radev to join the network of family-friendly presidents at the next Budapest Demographic Summit.

In response to a question, Novak said it was crucial for the 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in western Ukraine’s Transcarpathia region to use their mother tongue in their everyday lives. Hungary insists on the need to guarantee the rights of Ukraine’s ethnic Hungarian community, but recent legislative amendments have deprived them of their rights, Novak said.

She said she has written to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the matter but had yet to receive a reply. If Ukraine’s aim is to join the EU, it must guarantee the rights of its minorities, Novak said. She noted that the Austrian and Italian presidents also supported the cause of Transcarpathian Hungarians.

Radev said Bulgaria and Hungary aimed to boost their trade, economic and cultural ties. He thanked Novak for Hungary’s support of the Bulgarian minority, praising the country for its “exemplary” tolerance.

He also thanked Hungary for its consistent support for Bulgaria and Romania’s Schengen membership.

The two countries hold the same view on illegal migration and the war in Ukraine, he added.

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