In Ukraine, a Hungarian minority loyal to the Orban

In Ukraine, a Hungarian minority loyal to the Orban

We had been warned that the mayor of Berehove, the “capital” of Hungarians in Ukraine, had an unfortunate tendency to cancel job interviews at the last minute. This did not fail: on Monday, August 1, on the eve of the meeting, Zoltan Babiak called for an “emergency” cancellation without proposing another date. He won’t be the only one to politely decline in this small town in south-west Ukraine, where the vast majority of the 25,000 residents are Hungarian-speaking: the rector of the University’s Institute of Hungarian Language believes “it’s not appropriate to to talk to the foreign press at this time”, while the representative of the Main Union of Hungarians in Ukraine apologizes for being “on vacation”, which she assures “to pray for peace”.

If so many of the leaders of the Hungarian community in Ukraine, estimated at 150,000 people in the last census (2001), look pale at the moment, it is because they are afraid to say out loud what they very often do think quietly: in line with Viktor Orban’s beliefs, many are very moderately motivated to fight against the Russian army. Ever since the war began, the Hungarian nationalist prime minister, known for his close ties to President Vladimir Putin, has bet on Moscow’s victory, has categorically refused to supply arms to Ukraine and castigated European sanctions against Russia.

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Financing from Budapest

In the streets of Berehove, in Zakarpattia, not far from the Hungarian border, it is enough to stretch out the pen to hear word for word the elements repeated ad nauseam by the propaganda of the Budapest media controlled by the Hungarian power . “It’s not our war,” says a modest retired couple who sell fruit on the sidewalk and proudly voted “for Orban” in the last Hungarian elections on April 3. “I prefer Putin Zelenskyy,” adds a construction worker, who hides as soon as the Ukrainian army’s recruitment service shows up in the city to avoid being sent to the front. So many testimonies have been made on condition of anonymity because they may be worth a trial for their authors.

Janos Seba, 64, director of the Hungarian History Museum in Berehove, Ukraine, August 2, 2022. Maps of Hungary in Hungarian hang in the museum (left). Janos Seba, 64, director of the Hungarian History Museum in Berehove, Ukraine, August 2, 2022. Maps of Hungary in Hungarian hang in the museum (left). CHLOE SHARROCK/MYOP FOR THE WORLD

In this context, the few Hungarian officials who have spoken are careful to remain diplomatic. “If I were younger, I would be willing to fight for Zakarpattia, but not for the eastern part of Ukraine, that’s not home,” explains Janos Seba, 64, director of the small local museum of Hungarian history, which testifies with nostalgia of the Hungarian era of this municipality called Beregszász in Hungarian. Like most of the Hungarian cultural and educational infrastructure in this multi-ethnic region, which was part of the Kingdom of Hungary until its dissolution in 1918 and preserved the habit of living after Hungarian times, this museum was funded by Budapest.

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