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Viktor Orbán’s call for autonomy criticized by Poland

May 19th, 2014

A pro-government columnist says Ukraine is not simply a victim of Russian aggression but a battleground between the US and Russia, and Kiev can only keep eastern Ukraine if it agrees to grant autonomy to local ethnic Russian residents. An opposition daily thinks Hungary has a responsibility towards beyond-border Hungarians but Orbán’s call for autonomy and dual citizenship for Hungarians in Transcarpathia was likely to create tensions in Ukraine and was therefore a cynical move. Another opposition columnist asks what consequences the Ukraine crisis and Orbán’s statement may have for the autonomy plans of Hungarian-speaking Szeklers in Romania.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán mentioned Ukraine and the two hundred thousand strong Hungarian minority there at the end of his acceptance speech ten days ago, after his re-election by Parliament. He said Hungarians in Transcarpathia should get minority rights, double citizenship and self-government if they so desire, and Hungary stands behind them in their quest. He also said that in the present crisis Hungary stands behind Ukraine so that she can build a real democracy and a better country. The Ukrainian interim government requested an explanation for these remarks from the Hungarian Ambassador in Kiev. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk strongly criticized Orbán’s comments in public and at a meeting of the Visegrád Four leaders in Bratislava last week.

In Népszava Tamás Mészáros interprets the debate as a conflict of principles against interests. He thinks Donald Tusk’s emphasis on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is not so much an expression of militancy but rather a sign of ‘realpolitik’.  The Polish leader, as a matter of principle, finds territorial aggression more important than energy prices, while the leaders of the Czech Republic and of Slovakia are more worried about their energy supply and therefore struck a more conciliatory tone. As for the Hungarian Prime Minister, Mészáros calls his words an “insensitive verbal intervention” which can only make matters worse for beyond-border Hungarians. He even believes that the Prime Minister was well aware of the danger of a backlash, and accuses him of happily risking such a backlash to gain favour with domestic voters.

In Népszabadság, Levente Szőcs examines the plan for Szekler autonomy which the RMDSZ (the largest Hungarian ethnic party in Romania) is about to submit to the Romanian Parliament. Although the idea of Szekler autonomy has been long in the making, and fears have somewhat abated in Romania, the author thinks, the current Ukrainian crisis and the  statement about local ethnic Hungarian autonomies by Viktor Orbán made the task far more difficult for ethnic Hungarian politicians in Romania. Although RMDSZ leader Hunor Kelemen emphasized that the plan had nothing to do with the situation in Ukraine, the Romanian press describes the Ukraine crisis “as a blueprint for how to tear up a country without direct military intervention”. Under such circumstances, the plan has little chance of passing. Yet, Szőcs says, it is not a completely unnecessary exercise either: no one has ever attempted to go into the details of the economic viability of an autonomous Szeklerland. For now, Szeklers receive more transfers from the central budget than they pay in, he says, and it is time to take a look at the figures.

In the pro-government Magyar Hírlap, Gyula T. Máté describes the eastern Ukraine referendum as less than legal but more than a farce. He emphasizes that turnout was high and support for autonomy very strong, while he admits that no international observers were admitted to the polling stations. He thinks the West is wrong to blame Russia for the crisis for it was the US that supported the Maidan protests in the first place and is therefore partly responsible for the present stalemate. The Ukrainian army is unwilling to fight, he says, and the clashes are being fought by militias – plus four hundred American mercenaries according to the German press. This is what led to the “nightmare in Odessa and the massacre of Mariupol” which infuriated the rest of eastern Ukraine so much. The only way to keep Ukraine together is to transform it into a federative state, he concludes.




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