Ukrainian strategy to Hungary should emphasize common interests and mitigate issues that can divide our countries – World Policy Institute


Hungary is main interest lies in its ethnic minority in western Ukraine. Hungary is willing to support Ukraine’s European vector in foreign policy as it also benefits Hungary, while maintaining good relations with Russia.

Kyiv, April 20, 2016. World Policy Institute presented a new research “Foreign Policy Audit: Ukraine-Hungary.” The research was prepared by the Ukrainian researcher Ivan Medynskyi, research fellow, Institute of World Policy, and the Hungarian researcher Bens Kapchos, expert, International Institute of Transitional Democracies. “The main purpose was to seek recommendations on balancing bilateral relations, finding areas where we could cooperate, and recommendations to solve the problems that divide us in these bilateral relations,” said Mr. Medynskyi during the presentation of the research at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. The research was conducted within the project “Audit of Ukraine’s foreign policy”, with the support of “Black Sea regional cooperation fund” of German Marshall Fund, and of the “Unite for reform” (UNITER), implemented by Pact in Ukraine with the support of USAID.

“Ukrainian strategy toward Hungary should emphasize common interests and mitigate issues that can divide our countries,” said Mr. Medynskyi. In today’s geopolitical situation, Ukraine is interested primarily in the fact that Hungary continues to follow the general European strategy, including the continued sanctions against Russia. The theme remains somewhat controversial as Hungary, for its part, is trying to balance between supporting the European integration vector of Ukraine and preserving friendly relations with Russia. “I would like to emphasize that we are very well aware what the national interests of Ukraine are. In this regard, Hungary shares the same values ​​- respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and the freedom to choose a political vector both domestically and in foreign policy,” assured László Csaba Pap, Extraordinary Ambassador and Plenipotentiary Minister of the Embassy of Hungary, Deputy Chief of the Embassy of Hungary Mission in Ukraine. In a situation when Ukraine aims to achieve greater energy independence and closer trade ties with the EU, Ukraine’s important interest is also reverse of natural gas and development of cross-border infrastructure. “We can learn a lot from Hungary and other Visegrad countries, adapting best practices in the areas of security, democratic reforms, development of small and medium businesses,” said Mr. Medynskyi.

For Hungary, one of primary interests in cooperation with Ukraine is ensuring the rights of the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia. Although there have not been any serious ethnic problems in the region, the Hungarian community has a question to Kyiv on the improper ensuring of the right to use the Hungarian language in education and on changing the boundaries of electoral districts that divided Hungarian communities. According to the Ambassador, sometimes it seems that “Kyiv just forgot about them”. In the recent years, the issue has become more acute: after decentralization reform started, Hungarians strive to unite with their compatriots’ communities. Some people started seeing a threat of separatism in Ukraine – partly under the influence of provocative positions of the right Hungarian party “Jobbik” and by how smartly Russian propaganda media picked up the theme. For these same reasons, the possibility of dual citizenship for Hungarians in Transcarpathia is also a provocative issue. In this situation, the so-called “Transcarpathian syndrome” was formed – a tendency for the Hungarian minority issues to be the focus of almost all bilateral meetings.

From an economic point of view, Hungary is interested in Ukraine much more than Ukraine in cooperation with Hungary, because it is part of the “open East policy” – searching for new markets and attracting investment. Given the stabilization of Ukrainian economy and reduced risks for investors, Hungarian companies will actively go to Ukraine. The railway “Silk Road” to China is also counted on. In addition, Hungary is the largest importer of Ukrainian electric power and is interested in continuing this cooperation. “We need to build the so-called direct current link on the border between Ukraine and Hungary. As soon as we put it, we can load [electricity] from all over Ukraine,” said Dmytro Tkach, former Ambassador of Ukraine to Hungary.

The experts advise, first of all, to establish strategic communication at the state level. This will prevent such issues-irritants as sanctions or protection of the rights of the Hungarian minority from being used by interested political forces to set a contentious agenda. “Of course, there are some common grounds – Ukraine’s European aspirations and visa liberalization. Hungary helps us in both directions,” noted Ivan Medynskyi. Besides, the visa regime liberalization would significantly reduce the tension around the issue of dual citizenship in Ukraine, as this somewhat reduces the practical value of the Hungarian passport – a possibility to travel across the Schengen countries.

The experts advise to consider Transcarpathia as a “bridge to Europe” and a “bridge” to cultural dialogue between the countries rather than a problematic region. To do this requires unfreezing of the cross-border infrastructure development projects, improvement of energy transit and redirection of the course of activity and organizational skills of the Hungarian minority. Undoubtedly, it is also important to solve the problems reported regularly by the Hungarian community. Ignoring some of them is de facto violation of the applicable law. “In this matter it is advisable to go beyond all the fears and stereotypes […] More attention to this region and allocation of more funds for its development would help to reduce social tensions and, of course, would be a positive signal to the Hungarian minority. Everybody will benefit from this,” emphasized László Csaba Pap.

To achieve these goals requires the political will of the Ukrainian party and greater intensity of diplomatic and cultural dialogue, because both nations know each other very little. “Many of the problems between the countries arise from the fact that we do not understand the motivation, views, domestic and foreign policy of both countries. We can find these common grounds through education and research programs,” said Ivan Medynskyi. According to the experts, poor contacts result not only from the absence of the ambassador of Ukraine to Hungary – most likely, they result from a lack of strategic vision of Ukrainian-Hungarian relations. “If we want these relations to intensify, we must begin with ourselves. Hungary has appointed a very powerful ambassador who works very well. But he cannot do it alone without initiatives from our side,” emphasized Dmytro Tkach.