Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto – Photo: Facebook

Szijjarto: ‘Long way to go’ before trust restored between Hungary, Ukraine

Encouraging steps have been made to restore an atmosphere of trust between Hungary and Ukraine, though the road ahead "is long and much work will need to be done", Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister, said on Monday, adding that Hungary was ready for this.
30. January 2024 7:06

Bilateral ties deteriorated “because the rights of Transcarpathian Hungarians have been curbed again and again since 2015”, Szijjarto told a joint press conference after talks in Uzhorod (Ungvar) with Ukrainian counterpart Dmitro Kuleba and Andrij Yermak, the head of the presidential office. He added that ties had been dominated by unresolved issues rather than good relations, according to a ministry statement.

He said the law adopted by the Ukrainian parliament last December “undoubtedly stopped this negative spiral” but the government expected the rights afforded to the Transcarpathian Hungarian community to be restored to what they were in 2015.

“I want to emphasise … that Hungary wants no special treatment; we want nothing we didn’t have before…” he said.

Hungary, he added, has prepared an 11-point list of requests, including restoring the status of schools for ethnic minorities, the opportunity to sit school-leaving exams in Hungarian, as well as the unrestrained use of Hungarian in higher education, culture, public services and community life.

The ministers have also appointed a bilateral inter-governmental committee to finalise the proposals, he added.

“We came here to rebuild trust in bilateral ties. I think we agree that we have taken steps in that direction. We still have a long way ahead of us, and a lot of work to do, but we Hungarians are ready to undertake it,” he said.

Hungary’s position regarding Ukraine was clear and consistent in the past two years, Szijjarto said. “We stand for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We condemn the war and want peace in our neighbourhood,” he said.

The minister called for renewed efforts to restore peace in Ukraine. “Hungary is ready to continue making such efforts, because we know that lives can only be saved when there is peace,” he said.

He said that since 2022 Hungary had been carrying out the biggest humanitarian operation in its history, and some one million refugees had entered Hungary. Fully 5,442 Ukrainian children are attending 1,558 schools and kindergartens in the country, he added.

Meanwhile, Hungarian aid has reached some 500,000 families in 20 Ukrainian counties, including summer camps for 14,000 Ukrainian children, Szijjarto said, pledging to continue restoring hospitals, schools and doctors’ surgeries in various parts of Ukraine.

He also touched on the development of cross-border infrastructure, saying that the talks “have yielded results” in that area.

A 120 million euro logistics centre has been built on the Hungarian side of the border and a new border crossing will soon open between Nagyhodos and Velyka Palad (Nagypalad), he added.

They also agreed to expand road and rail crossings near Beregsurany and Zahony, and to explore the construction of a new bridge across the River Tisza, he said.

Szijjarto said he had also asked Kuleba to maintain reliable oil transit, and “to create a fair environment” for Hungarian companies in Ukraine.

He thanked Transcarpathia governor Viktor Mikita for ensuring “that Hungarians and Ukrainians can live peacefully side by side”, adding that Mikita was “instrumental in dealing with attempts to artificially stoke tensions” in the region.

“Certain segments of the international media have made a sport of misconstruing and misrepresenting Hungary’s stance. Such activities could create tensions in everyday life as well as in politics.”

Szijjarto said he had assured Mikita within days of the start of the war that the Hungarian government “will consider all his requests immediately and fulfill them whenever possible”. Hungary has fulfilled that promise in the past two years and would continue to do so, he said.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the President’s Office, said Ukraine had made “big steps” towards a meeting between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Kuleba said Ukraine was “ready to resolve the debate on minorities’ rights with Hungary”.

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