Hungarians in Ukraine

Status

Transcarpathia is a part of the Ukrainian Republic, the westernmost county of the country. Official name of the county is “Transcarpathian Region”. The administrative centre of Transcarpathia is Uzhgorod. The region is divided into 13 districts. There are 11 towns in Transcarpathia from among which 5 possess the status of county subordination, so they are on the same hierarchical level as the districts (Uzhgorod, Mukachevo, Berehovo, Tyachiv, Khust). The territory of the county is 12 752 km2.

Population

According to the official census in 2001 the number of ethnic Hungarian population was 151 516. That is approximately 12,1% of the county’s total population (1 254 614 inhabitants). 53 598 of Hungarians live in cities, 97 918 live in villages. Due to the decreasing number of births and the emigration the number of ethnic Hungarians is decreasing.

Historical background

The Hungarian community in Ukraine, near 150 thousand people, is mostly concentrated in the lowlands of Transcarpathian region, where they form the largest minority (12.1% of the population). In the area along the border to Hungary, Hungarians form the majority.

During the existence of the Soviet Union, there was no chance of representing the interests of national minorities. Hungarian minority was accused of collective guilt, being annexed to the Ukrainian SSR, and in legal sense, was strongly weakened. Of 26 November 1944, adopted at the first congress of People’s Committees of Transcarpathian Ukraine, declares the collective guilt of the Hungarians, saying that the Hungarians and Germans are eternal enemies of the Ukrainian nation. This resolution was the ideological base for deportation of the Hungarian male population aged 18-50 in November and December of 1944.

A group of Transcarpathian Hungarian intellectuals addressed a petition to the Soviet government in 1971 and 1972 in which they asked for the abrogation of the document mentioned above, but the editors of the petitions were called to account, and the resolution is in force even today. This Petition was the first document which dealt with the fundamental rights of Transcarpathian Hungarians and the violations they suffered. It was signed by more than a thousand Transcarpathians.

In the period of political transformation of ’80s an opportunity opened for the Transcarpathian Hungarians to make a step towards self-organization. Numerous professional-, civil-, cultural and political organizations have been formed in the 26 years since than in order to facilitate the survival of the Hungarian community, and represent its interests in the independent Ukrainian state. To represent the interests of Hungarians, candidates were delegated to participate in the parliamentary and municipal elections both on the local and state levels.

Religion

Concerning the religious subdivision of ethnic Hungarian population in Transcarpathia we have only anticipations. According to these there are 80 000 persons belonging to Reformed church, 35 000 Roman Catholics and 14000 Greek Catholics in the county. 100% of the Reformed and 85% of the Roman Catholic population is Hungarian by their ethnicity.

Education

There are 97 schools in Transcarpathia with Hungarian language of instruction. 71 of them are exclusively Hungarian, the rest of them have other languages of instruction as well. 3 high schools work with the support of the Reformed Church and there is only one state high school in Beregszasz (officially named: Berehovo). We cannot find any vocational schools with Hungarian language of education in Transcarpathia. But there are 5 institutions of vocational training that run classes and groups with Hungarian language of instruction. Higher education in Hungarian language is provided by the Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute in Beregszasz, the Department of Hungarian Language and Literature of the Uzhgorod National University and the Faculty of Mathematics of this university in Ungvar (officially named: Uzhgorod) which has a group with partially Hungarian language of instruction. Educational institutions have serious financial problems, for example: teachers have not received their salaries for months, most of the kindergartens have been closed etc. Minority education has other problems as well. Due to the lack of appropriate legal guarantees the opportunity of taking final exams in high schools and entrance exams in higher educational establishments are restricted to bilingual school certificates and foreign studies are not accepted. The Ministry of Education prepares a concept which will provide a legal framework for termination of minority language education in a short period of time.

Legal status

In Ukraine at the moment the legal status of the minorities are defined by the following documents having legal effect:

The Constitution of Ukraine (1996),

Ukraine’s Declaration of Nationality Rights (1991),

The Law of Ukraine about National Minorities (1992), and a great number of decrees.

The statements concerning only the Hungarian community can be found in various inter-state treaties between Ukraine and Hungary (e.g. Treaty between the Hungarian Republic and Ukraine about the basis of good neighborhood and cooperation, 1991, Declaration of the principles of cooperation between the Republic of Hungary and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in guaranteeing the rights of national minorities, 1991) and in the suggestions of the Ukrainian-Hungarian Inter-state Joint Commission.

The third group of documents consists of the laws of the country and the orders of implementation.

From point of view of national minorities in the first group of documents the most important are those dealing with non-discrimination and human rights. Here we should mention the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (it became valid in Ukraine from January 3, 1976), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (valid in Ukraine from March 23, 1976) and its Facultative Protocol (valid in Ukraine from October 25,1991) etc. On the basis of the Law from December 10, 1992 all those covenants, like other international treaties (like Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities) should become part of the Ukrainian legal system. In spite of this, the legal mechanism for implementation still does not exist.

In the respect of the Hungarian minority a number of Ukrainian-Hungarian bilateral treaties, covenants and notes were signed. First of all we should mention the Agreement on Good Neighborhood and Cooperation between the Republic of Hungary and Ukraine (November 1991), Declaration on the Principles of Cooperation of the Republic of Hungary and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on the Rights of National Minorities (May 31,1991) and the suggestions of the Committee established on the basis of the Declaration. (The Committee had seven sessions until now, but it did lead to serious practical results). There were many agreements between the two states and their different Ministries (on cooperation in the field of education, culture, health care, humanitarian activities, sports, economy, science, technology, etc). There are valid agreements on border-crossing stations, simple forms of border-crossing, consular relations, etc.

Among all these documents only the „Declaration…” and the protocols of the joint committee deal with the Hungarian minority, the others are only indirectly. All the agreements remain within the frameworks of personal rights.

The legal regulations of the third group are the laws of Ukraine. There are two of them, which concern directly the national minorities: The Law on National Minorities (June 25, 1992) and the Declaration of Rights of Ukrainian Nationalities (November 1, 1991). Some regulations are included in the Law on Education (March 23, 1996), the Law on Associations (June 16, 1992), and to greater extent the Law on Languages (October 28, 1989).

None of the laws contain even a word about territorial or administrative autonomy. The Law on Nationalities mentions cultural autonomy not as a subject of law, representing minority rights in institutional form.

If we examine the legal possibilities, we came to the conclusion that they are not broad enough. The main problem is the practical implementation. It may be caused by instability of the legal system, incoherence of the laws and regulations due to the lack of balance of the political powers. The other reason is the insufficiency of executive mechanisms or their use on the basis of different interests. The third main reason is the lack of legal guarantees for implementation, which remained from the totalitarian system. The fourth reason is the restricted opportunity for legal remedy, independent from executive power.

Altogether, we have to declare, that the legal means of protection of national minorities cannot be used widely. In spite of rare positive precedents the mean of improvement of the minorities’ life falls not within the sphere of administrative legal frameworks, but the „customer-based” interest enforcement.

The changes of the Ukrainian voting system

Since the independence of Ukraine, its electoral system has constantly changed: in 1994 the country opted for a majoritarian system, then introduced a mixed system (1998, 2002), which was followed by a proportional system (2006, 2007) and finally it reverted to a mixed system in 2010. These changes affected the interest enforcement opportunities of national minorities in different ways. In the majoritarian- and mixed electoral systems the ethnic relations were mostly taken into account during the design of electoral districts. Thus the Transcarpathian Hungarians had the chance for parliamentary presence by the creation of a Hungarian-majority single-member district in the compact Hungarian ethnic block of the county. At some of the mentioned elections they took into account the settlement of national minorities when drawing the boundaries of electoral districts, and the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia managed to elect its own representative to the legislature in Kyiv (in 1994, 1998 and 2002).

The situation of national minorities was affected the most severely by the transition to the proportional voting system. In 2006 the country opted for a proportional electoral system and the 3 percent electoral threshold deprived the Hungarian party from sending a representative to the parliament. The passing of the 3% election threshold specified by law, in a 46 million country, was impossible for any national minority, apart from the Russian, including the approximately 150 000 member Transcarpathian Hungarian community. Due to the proportional voting system, after the 2006 and 2007 elections it was the first time since 1994, that the Transcarpathian Hungarians did not have a representative in the Supreme Council (Verkhovna Rada). In 2010 the country introduced the mixed electoral system again, but the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), responsible for delimitation of electoral constituencies, put aside the aspect of settlement of national minorities in Transcarpathia when drawing the boundaries of the single-mandate district. Hungarians living compactly in Zakarpatska oblast were divided in three electoral districts, their proportion varying between 16 and 33 percent, in contrast to 70 (in 1994) or 50 percent (in 1998 and 2002). This solution, adversely affecting the chances of minorities in the elections was again applied in 2012 and at last year’s elections.

Political organization (parties)

The two major political organizations and parties today are the KMKSZ (KMKSZ–UMP)- Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association/ KMKSZ-Hungarian Party in Ukraine and the UMDSZ (UMDP) – Hungarian Democratic Union/Party in Ukraine.

The Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ)

26, February 1989 – the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (THCA) was formed in Ungvar as a cultural, national and social organization that protects interests of Transcarpathian Hungarians. The registration of the association as a political party was not permitted by the authority at that time, but it has played a political and interest-safeguarding role from the very beginning.

It became a significant political factor in Transcarpathia’s life shortly after its foundation. Today it is the largest nationality organization of the region. According to its register, the association has 105 local groups and about 35,000 members.

Until 2006 the electoral system did not bound the nomination of candidates to parties, thus the KMKSZ was able to nominate candidates of MP as a cultural association too, in order to represent the interests of Hungarians both on the local and parliamentary levels.

Objectives of Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association

The Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (THCA) puts forward the following fundamental tasks: complete validation of human rights, building a society based on traditional national and Christian values, protection and representation of the Transcarpathian Hungarians.

THCA completely supports European integration, establishment of democracy, constitutionality as well as all those steps that serve our closing up with Europe. We consider it of utmost importance to settle the issue of the minorities’ situation, including that of the Hungarians. One of the fundamental conditions to accomplish this task is to validate the minorities’ rights and to broaden them in accordance with European norms.

The plural structure of the political representation is the fundamental guarantee of democracy. We believe that a peaceful, democratic European constitutional state is to ensure the emergence of sovereignty of people, the national control over the functioning of the state, as well as to intensify the separation of branches of power. It is of utmost importance that nationalities could present their ambitions in governmental bodies. One of the conditions to it is for the state to guarantee the possibility for their participation in the decision-making, both on the Parliamentary and local self-government levels.

THCA advocates Ukraine’s integration into the European Union, the adoption of European norms, including the full maintenance of language and cultural rights. According to European practice, local communities and nationalities are to have the right for self-government. On the Constitutional level, laws have to be adopted for the feasibility of several forms of self-government.

The current public administration system and civil service cannot guarantee the political and legal framework that could prospectively ensure the validation of the political will for Ukraine’s nationalities. Taking into account Ukraine’s multinational character and the fact that the country includes a number of historically specific regions, THCA wants to achieve that regional ethnic peculiarities be taken into account in the process of the planned administrative transformation.

One of the most prominent aims of THCA is to create nationality self-management. Nationality self-government, institutional autonomy, professional and political organizations, local civil service units can be instruments of self-management. We should endeavour, first, that these instruments be provided for by the law, secondly, the current legal and political framework must be filled with relevant content. In Ukraine within the framework of the public administration reform that is to be carried out a district has to be established that would include the majority of the Transcarpathian Hungarian population.

The over-centralized state bureaucracy prevents the free development of local initiatives whose economic and organizational power can only be mobilized via strengthening self-government. The state should provide for the local communities’ self-management and eliminate its centralization aspirations. Self-governments ought to be given a wide range of rights in all spheres of life: own property management, economic and cultural association, connections with self-governments abroad, etc. The state has to guarantee the ownership basis for the functioning of self-governments, budget guarantees for their functioning, and the jurisdiction of their representative bodies.

The basis of a well-functioning state is the strengthening of real self-management, the formation of self-government or autonomy system. Administrative reform has to be founded on the principle of subsidiarity, i.e. the rights and means should be given to those self-government bodies that locally satisfy the citizens’ needs, and the excessive administrative structures should be downsized. Each community ought to be given the possibility to individually administer itself.

The state is to support and finance culture, especially the minority culture maintaining institutions, it has to guarantee the financial conditions for this.

Our future depends on maintaining and development of Hungarian language education. The coming generation should get high-standard education in their mother tongue. An independent educational district ought to be established to run Hungarian language educational institutions. It would include a special educational methodological centre and Transcarpathia’s all Hungarian language educational institutions would come under its jurisdiction. The state has to guarantee the normative governmental support to non-state educational establishments, i.e. those run by individual people, churches and organizations. State educational establishments should have independent budget based on central standard. Special attention ought to be paid to the development of gymnasiums, lyceums and secondary schools. One must liquidate the disadvantageous condition of minority schools. Schools are to be provided with educational tools, appliances, materials and course books in the mother tongue. To provide for equal opportunity one ought to make it possible for the school leavers to take entrance examinations in their mother tongue both as a subject and as a means of communication.

We want to broaden the nationalities’ language use. In the localities where minorities live one should provide for bilingual documentation, administration and caption. As a guarantee of these rights it is necessary to make and put into effect the law on the use of minorities’ language that would meet European norms and satisfy the needs of the minorities.

The state is to enhance the development of national culture forums and institutions. It has to support the churches’ society-forming role. Church property must be returned. The state ought to vindicate and compensate all the Transcarpathian Hungarians that suffered damages during Stalinism.