No stranger to Ukraine, Hungarian Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, talks Council of Europe, education, interference in elections and sanctions on Russia with Voice of America. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, a new parliament rises to power, and what will become of Hungarian-Ukrainian relations remains to be seen.
“A stab in the back” is how Szijjártó described the feeling of Hungarians after Ukraine enacted the revised law “On Education.” The law that limited education in minority languages, such as Hungarian, turns two in September, but Szijjártó describes the current political situation in Ukraine as “new hope for Hungary.”
On the other hand, experts in think tanks, such as the German Council on Foreign Relations critique Hungary, particularly Hungarian political and business elites, of being vessels for the Kremlin's interest. Szijjártó not only calls the statement, “disrespectful,” but also recounts Hungarian values.
“[Hungary] is a sovereign country that has suffered for 40 years under communism, we are a country where people have died for freedom, we are a country which had a revolution in 1956 and no one came to help us and we are a country that puts a lot of emphasis on sovereignty and integrity and feels solidarity with other countries which struggle in this regard.”
The decision of the absolute majority of the Hungarian delegation to vote for the return of Russia as a full member of the Council of Europe continued to raise eyebrows.
Citing historical lessons and opportunities for discussion, the Hungarian Foreign Minister imparts the delegation’s reasoning.
“If you don't have all the stakeholders at the table then the outcome of the dialogue will be very limited. Of course, having everybody around the table is not a guarantee that there will be a positive outcome, but at least you have a hope for that.”
Szijjártó is quick to point out that despite being in favor of the return of Russia as a full member of the Council of Europe, does not mean they are against sanctions on Russia. Rather, that sanctions should be reevaluated.
Nevertheless, Szijjártó insists that Hungary has always been in favor of the sanctions regime and would most likely not change their position.
I don't see any endeavors on behalf of the big countries in the European Union to change [the sanctions regime against Russia] and since the big countries will not change it, I don’t think there will be a change.
In terms of direct relations with Ukraine, Szijjártó blames The Law on Education and the Law on Minority as the culprits of the strained relations. From the Ukrainian side, the involvement of Hungary in the Ukrainian electoral campaign is of concern. For Ukraine, interference is “unacceptable” and “disrespect to Ukrainian Law.”
Szijjártó insists that this so-called interference was a result of an invitation extended to him by a Hungarian member of Ukrainian parliament and that the supposed invitation from the Ukrainian MFA to come to Kyiv was misconstructed.
“[Szijjártó] didn’t receive any kind of invitation to come to Kyiv.” Instead, the day before, the Hungarian Ambassador received word that Szijjártó “should have come to Kyiv,” and “he would have accompanied him,” but there was no invitation before Szijjártó’s journey.
The most recent strain in Ukrainian-Hungarian relations are the changes in minority rights. To this, Szijjártó is firm in his approach and distinguishes Hungary’s immigrant situation from the minority situation in Ukraine.
Ukraine must give back the rights to Hungarians, which they used to have.
Despite these complications, for Szijjártó what is important is to look toward the future and leave the past in the past.