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18th Jan 2020

Orban upsets neighbours by call for Hungarian minority self-rule

  • Orban's words earned a rebuke in Warsaw (Photo: kormany.hu)

Hungary’s ambassador to Ukraine was summoned by the foreign ministry in Kiev on Tuesday (May 13) to explain what Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban meant when he spoke of a special status for Hungarian minorities in the region.

Orban, who was re-elected for a second term in April, said in his inauguration speech that ethnic Hungarians who live in neighbouring countries in the Carpathian Basin are entitled to special rights.

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Highlighting the fate of some 200,000 Hungarians in Ukraine, he noted that they must be granted dual citizenship, full minority rights, and the right to self-administration.

"This is our clear expectation from the new Ukraine,” Orban said.

He added that the "Hungarian issue has been unresolved since the Second World War” and that “the Hungarian issue is a European issue”.

Large Hungarian communities live in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine after a peace treaty in 1920 sliced off large chunks of formerly Hungarian territory.

For his part, Orban’s foreign minister, Janos Martonyi, was already forced to jutsify his PM’s statements in the margins of a meeting with his EU colleagues in Brussels on Monday.

Croatian daily Jutarnji List had earlier slammed Orban's comments as being similar to Russian President Vladimir Putin's line on protecting ethnic Russians outside Russia.

But Martonyi said Orban's statements did not add anything new to a policy which has been pursued by consecutive Hungarian governments over the past 25 years.

"We firmly reject any misinterpretation, be it made in good or bad faith," he said on the Jutarnji List analogy.

Orban's statements also appeared to unnerve Warsaw, which Orban visited right after his re-election to demonstrate the two countries’ strong ties.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Tuesday called the Hungarian leader’s statements “unfortunate and disturbing”.

“We need to be careful, that in no way, whether intentional or not, it should sound as backing the actions of Pro-Russia separatists” Tusk was quoted as saying by Warsaw Voice Online.

The Polish PM added that he will raise the issue during the Globsec security summit in Bratislava on Thursday (15 May), where Orban is also a guest.

Meanwhile, Martonyi reiterated in Bratislava that Hungary is not demanding the ethnic Hungarian minority in western Ukraine be given territorial autonomy.

Hungarian diplomats, for their part, point out that Orban did not use the word "autonomy" in his speech when speaking about Ukraine.

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