“We have an interest in good Hungarian-Ukrainian relations, but are doing everything possible to ensure that the rights of the Hungarian national community in Transcarpathia are not impaired in any form”, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó declared on Friday in Nyizsne Szolotvino (Alsószlatina), near Uzhhorod (Ungvár), Western Ukraine.

The Hungarian Foreign Minister spoke to reporters after he and Minister of Human Capacities Miklós Kásler held a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin and Minister of Education Lilija Hrinevics, with the participation of representatives of Transcarpathian Hungarians, to discuss issues relating to Article 7 of the Ukrainian Education Act, which discriminates against minorities.

At the press conference held following the meeting, amidst major interest from the Ukrainian media, Mr. Szijjártó declared: “Hungary’s government has an interest in good bilateral Hungarian-Ukrainian relations, and thinks back almost with nostalgia to the period preceding last September, when bilateral relations were still about infrastructure investment projects and the establishment of new border crossing stations”. “We regret to have to determine, however, that since last September, the Ukrainian Education Act adopted at that time has been the only topic of bilateral relations, and this is not a good thing in view of the fact that the vast majority of our countries’ interests correspond”, he added, pointing out that “we could successfully enforce these interests to a significant extent if we both pulled that proverbial cart in the same direction”.

Stressing the Hungarian Government’s position, the Minister said: “In addition to having an interest in good Hungarian-Ukrainian relations, we are doing everything to ensure that the rights of the Hungarian national community in Transcarpathia are not impaired in any form”. He declared that minority rights are set down in international regulations and bilateral agreements, “and we insist that all of these international regulations and bilateral agreements are fully respected”.

With relation to the talks, Mr. Szijjártó said Hungary has no intention of entering into debate with relation to how the Ukrainian Education Act aims to make the teaching of the official state language more efficient. “We want only one thing: that this is not achieved to the detriment of minority language education, and education in Hungarian is not negatively affected by the fact that the Education Act wants to make the teaching of the state language more effective”, he said. He indicated that progress had been made during the meeting, which he welcomes, but that, as he explained: “the road before us is still a long one, and there is still a lot of hard work to be done jointly to enable us to return to state of affairs that existed last September”.

The Minister also said that the Hungarian delegation was happy to acknowledge Minister Hrinevics’s statement according to which Ukraine respects and will be implementing the recommendations of the Venice Commission. He expressed his hope that based on the recommendations the Ukrainian Government will succeed in having Parliament finally vote in favour of the bill on the temporary extension of Education Act’s transitional period, which the Ukrainian ministers attending the meeting promised would occur. “We are also waiting for private schools to be exempted from the scope of authority of the new Education Act in accordance with the Venice Commission’s recommendation, particularly in view of the fact that according to the Ukrainian ministers, they have no objection to this”, he added.

Mr. Szijjártó welcomed the announcement by the Ukrainian Education Minister according to which further talks with Transcarpathian Hungarians will be held in July on the formulation of certain regulations included in the Education Act. “We are glad that we have been given these promises, although what these promises are worth will transpire when they are implemented, and accordingly we are rooting for the Ukrainian Government to be able to pass this commitment through Ukrainian legislation and are awaiting the July talks with great expectations, when it will transpire in what form these promises will be embodied”, he said, pointing out that the Hungarian Government will remain in continuous contact with the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ) with relation to all issues that affect the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said the talks on the Education Act with the Hungarian party had been constrictive and dynamic. “We have an interest in the members of our Hungarian community, who are Ukrainian citizens, remaining one hundred percent Hungarian and preserving their native language and national identity, this is an important European value to us, but we would also like make them interested in attaining a suitable level of Ukrainian language skills to ensure that none of them feel they are at a disadvantage with relation to personal fulfilment”, the Minister said. “Our Hungarians must be assured a level of Ukrainian language knowledge that ensures that they know what country they are living in, and know Ukraine’s history and geography, and we must resolve these issues during the course of future consultations”, he added.

Minister of Education Lilija Hrinevics explained that the Ministry is interested in one thing: to provide quality knowledge to all children, regardless of nationality. “It is important to us that children preserve their national identity, but are also fluent in the state language, because it is only this that will assure them personal fulfilment in Ukraine”, she pointed out, noting that unfortunately the education system is currently incapable of providing for this. “In the interests of improving the situation, suitable language teaching methods, curricula, textbooks and dictionaries must be developed and produced for native Hungarian children, which is something that the Education Ministry is already working on”, Ms. Hrinevics said.