Senior diplomats from Hungary, Ukraine aim to defuse minority rights dispute

KYIV (Reuters) – The Hungarian and Ukrainian foreign ministers were due to meet in Kiev on Wednesday for talks on redressing the very strained relations, but Budapest said its diplomatic missions in the former Soviet Republic had received threats of “bloody” violence.

The two countries disagree over the right of some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Zakarpattia, western Ukraine, to use their mother tongue, especially in education. The region borders Hungary.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government in Budapest responded by blocking Kiev’s efforts to strengthen ties with NATO and the European Union, of which Hungary is a member.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a video posted on Facebook that he would meet with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba to “discuss ways to stop these negative trends … or at least sketch a way out”.

“Unfortunately, relations between Hungary and Ukraine have gone in a very bad direction after a temporary thaw,” he said.

Overnight, Szijjarto added, Hungarian diplomatic missions in Ukraine received threats “from people claiming to be Ukrainian patriots promising all kinds of bloodshed in case our talks take place.”

He gave no further details. Kuleba said Ukrainian police were investigating the threats, which he said appeared to come from outside Ukraine.

Kuleba also adopted a firm tone towards Hungary.

“No one should think that it is possible to come to Kiev and impose conditions,” he said on Facebook, adding that he expected Hungary to make concrete proposals to end the their argument.

Ukraine angered Hungary in 2017 with a law restricting the use of minority languages ​​in schools. Ukraine has significant Russian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Polish minorities as well as Hungarian.

Enmity has larger dimensions. Orban of Hungary has forged good relations with President Vladimir Putin’s Russia and called for the lifting of European sanctions imposed on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea to Ukraine in 2014 and its support for pro-Russian separatists fighting the Kiev forces in eastern Ukraine.

Report by Pavel Polityuk and Marton Dunai in Budapest; Editing by Gareth Jones

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