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Hungary Sees “Positive Signs” on Minority Rights in Ukraine

Hungary’s State Secretary Tristan Azbej expressed cautious optimism regarding Ukraine’s efforts to address concerns about the rights of the Hungarian minority at the Foreign Affairs Council on May 7.

“In the last weeks we have seen some positive signs,” Azbej said before an EU ministers meeting, “but we still have some way to go until all our demands regarding minority rights are met.”

The issue of minority rights has been a point of tension between Hungary and Ukraine for years. Hungary accuses Ukraine of discriminating against its ethnic Hungarian population, concentrated in the southwestern part of the country. This accusation is denied by Ukrainian leadership.

A central point of contention is Ukraine’s language law, which mandates at least 70% of education above fifth grade to be conducted in Ukrainian. Hungary views this as discriminatory, while Ukraine insists it is essential for citizens to have sufficient proficiency in the official language.

Hungary has presented Ukraine with an 11-point list of demands for improved minority rights. These include restoring the status of a national school, allowing high school diplomas in Hungarian, and permitting wider use of Hungarian in public life.

Hungary also reportedly requested the possibility of political representation for minorities at regional and national levels. Ukraine has yet to publicly respond to this specific document.

In September 2023, the Ukrainian parliament approved changes to its national minorities law, one of several steps recommended by the European Commission for Ukraine’s EU candidacy. These changes were signed into law by President Zelenskyy in November.

In March 2024, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that Hungary sent a document to EU members criticizing Ukraine’s minority policies. The document calls for a return to pre-2015 minority rights and emphasizes the importance of minority protection within the framework of Ukraine’s potential EU accession.

Whether these developments will be reassuring for Hungary remains to be seen. Negotiations are ongoing, and both sides appear committed to finding a solution.

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