Language law, Russia contract remain contentious
Ukraine Minister addresses issues of concern with Hungary
Kuleba had been asked at the press conference by ATV Hungary’s Ildi Eperjesi about various disputes concerning the rights of the 150,000-strong Hungarian minority in Ukraine, such as the country’s controversial educational-reform law that makes Ukrainian the required language of study in state schools from the fifth grade on. Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has called this unacceptable.
Eperjesi also asked Kuleba about the possible ramifications for Ukraine after Russia’s United Aircraft reached an agreement in March this year to license production of a modernised version of the Ilyushin Il-103 single-engined light aircraft at a facility in Pécs. The pact was sealed with Hungarian firm Aviation Engineering.
Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 ignited the tensest standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War, and the region has been deadlocked ever since with Russia recently massing troops near its neighbour’s contested eastern regions. Kyiv suspects the Hungarian government is getting closer to Moscow and that its policy towards Ukraine is influenced by the Kremlin, which Budapest denies.
Journalists from around the world were invited to take part in Kuleba’s online press conference this month. The following were the exchanges between the minister and ATV Hungary’s Eperjesi, who with Olekszandr Kacsura is co-author of “Shreds of War – Fate Book from the Frontline”.
“I would like to discuss Ukrainian-Hungarian relations, which have become tense recently. There are various disputes concerning the rights of the 150,000-strong Hungarian minority, mostly living in Transcarpathia, in western Ukraine. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary Mr Péter Szijjartó yesterday said Hungary is interested in Ukraine becoming a strong, stable and democratic country. On the other hand, Hungary expects Ukraine to respect the rights of its ethnic minorities including the Hungarian minority. In the current geopolitical context, to what extent is Ukraine ready for compromise to improve relations between the two countries?”
“Ukraine does not want any troubles with western neighbours. We are friends, we share a similar history and I believe we will finally share a European and Euroatlantic future with them. There may be differences between us but we should always be able to speak out to each other in an open way and to find eventual solutions.
“Despite various speculations I would like to take this opportunity to say the Hungarian community in Ukraine is an asset to Ukraine. In exactly the same way the Ukrainian community in Hungary is an asset to Hungary. There is nothing we should be at odds about.
“But I want to say that we absolutely want Hungarians in Ukraine to keep their traditions, their values and maintain their identity. We want them to flourish in our society. They can and should remain Hungarians but as citizens of Ukraine. Therefore, they should also know the state language in order to integrate and get by in our society.
“I dare to say I enjoy good relations with Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó. We have open, direct and clear communications. We both ‘do politics’ and understand how to defend national interests for our countries. We are frequently focusing on finding new ways to improve this and other matters, which will not push either of us beyond red lines. I’m sure we will find an eventual solution to this issue.
“Please be assured, I have never escalated bad rhetoric towards the Hungarian government, the Hungarian state. I believe we need to first remove any emotional heat from this dialogue, work harder towards finding a better way and move on.”
“My second question is, what are the possible ramifications for Ukraine relating to the agreement on the modernisation and licensed production of Il-103 in Hungary, concluded in March between Ilyushin Aviation Complex and the Hungarian company Aviation Engineering Zrt.?”
“When it comes to this contract, this is a concern. The problem is the Ilyushin Aviation Complex is part of a bigger company: Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation and this United Aircraft Corporation is on the sanctions list within the EU. Whilst at the same time the United Aircraft Corporation is legally part of the Rostec (Russian) state corporation, and Rostec is under US sanctions. Our understanding of this contract is that it contradicts with the sectoral sanction regime imposed against Russian entities.
“We have asked the Hungarian side to confirm whether this contract was actually signed. We hope and expect they will take all necessary measures to prevent any violation of the letter and the spirit of the sanction regime.
“And finally to round off, when I’m asked at home whether I see evidence of Russian influence on Hungarian policy towards Ukraine, I always say no. I believe Hungary is a strong country that is capable of running its own independent foreign policy. However, I must say that signing a contract in violation of the existing sanctions regime, it doesn’t play well with our relations.
“It sets a dangerous precedent and demonstrates that Russia has sufficient influence to make our Hungarian colleagues sign documents that serve the Russian interest more than they serve Hungarian or European interests.”