The Hungarian community in Ukraine – Transcarpathia
Hungarians are largely concentrated in the area along the Ukrainian border with Hungary in the Transcarpathia lowland [Kárpátalja, the Hungarian name, translates as Subcarpathia]; there are also scattered communities of Hungarians in the upper reaches of the rivers Tisza and Latorca. There are 114 settlements inhabited by Hungarians, 78 of which have a Hungarian majority. The latest Ukrainian census in 2001 registered 151,533 Hungarians in Transcarpathia, forming about 12 per cent of the region’s population; thus the 2012 Language Act which specifies a 10 per cent threshold may, in theory, safeguard the official use of the Hungarian language at a regional and local level.
Traditionally multiethnic Transcarpathia changed hands a record number of times over the past one hundred years. The oldest still living today were born Hungarian citizens, then they became Czechoslovak citizens, then Hungarian again, then Soviet, and finally turned citizens of Ukraine in 1991, without ever having to leave their birthplace or having a say in the issue of their own citizenship.
Beregovo [Beregszász], which still has a relative Hungarian majority, is regarded the centre by Hungarians in Transcarpathia. Nowadays, it is mostly just here that Hungarian is spoken in the streets: the rest of the towns in the lowlands no longer have a Hungarian majority. Beregszász is a significant Hungarian cultural centre: it has a Hungarian theatre (Illyés Gyula Hungarian National Theatre); the Hungarian-language Transcarpathian Hungarian College (since 2003, Francis II Rákóczi Transcarpathian Hungarian College) was also opened here, with support from the Hungarian government, in 1994.
Even in Soviet times, native language instruction was available to Hungarians. At the time of the regime change traditional Hungarian place names and street names were restored, but positive developments have come to a halt since then. The problem is usually with the enforceability of rights. Another reason is the deficiency of enforcement mechanisms and the frequency of modifications to them. The third reason is an almost complete absence of a system of guarantees for the enforcement of rights, apparently a relic from the totalitarian political system. The fourth reason is the persistence of limitations to redress independent of the executive. The protracted crisis in Ukraine, due to which many Transcarpathian residents left the region, is not conducive to the protection of minorities pursued by two Hungarian advocacy organizations, the Hungarian Cultural Association in Transcarpathia and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Ukraine.
Bordering four EU member states, Transcarpathia – and Transcarpathian Hungarians – can play an important role in Ukraine’s European integration and the country’s transformation into a stable, democratic state governed by the rule of law, where the rights of ethnic communities are guaranteed in accordance with European standards and in fact prevail. Respect for cultural diversity on which Europe relies is a centuries-old tradition in Transcarpathia. Ukraine’s Europeanisation necessitates the consistent implementation of planned reforms, including decentralization. While preserving the cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of the country, decentralization will bring democratic transformation to completion at the local level and may also reinforce the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The aspirations of Hungarians in Transcarpathia include an administrative reform which will ensure the integration of Hungarians, in the area where they are conveniently clustered, in an administrative unit of a district with Beregszász at its centre; the restoration of a previously existing Hungarian majority constituency; and the creation of an independent Hungarian language school district in Transcarpathia.