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Budapest Ready to Protect Ethnic Hungarians Living in Ukraine

© AP PhotoA police car is seen on fire at the site of unrest in Mukachevo, Western Ukraine, Saturday, July 11, 2015
A police car is seen on fire at the site of unrest in Mukachevo, Western Ukraine, Saturday, July 11, 2015 - Sputnik International
Hungary is seriously concerned about the outbreak of violence in Mukacheve between Ukraine's Right Sector and local police, and about the fate of close to 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the Zakarpattia Region. Moreover, Budapest has stated its readiness to take all necessary measures to protect the minority, Ukrainian news hub Vesti reports.

Armed activists of the nationalist militia Right Sector take position in the site of unrest in Mukachevo, Western Ukraine, Saturday, July 11, 2015 - Sputnik International
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In an interview for Hungarian business daily Napi Gazdasag, János Lázár, minister in charge of Hungary's Prime Minister's Office, said that the Hungarian government is seriously concerned about the violence in Zakarpattia, and is ready to protect ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine. "If Hungarians living in Zakarpattia come under threat, and they are forced to flee, we will help all of them and will take them all in," Lázár noted.

According to the minister, the Hungarian government has made preparations for "the worst case scenario" regarding the situation in Ukraine. Moreover, Lázár explained that "according to some analysts, Ukraine is drifting on the edge of collapse, and this process strengthens aspirations for autonomy," which may pose further security challenges.

Lázár told Napi Gazdasag that the Hungarian government has already introduced new programs to assist Hungarian Transcarpathians during the current difficult period. These include financial allowances for school teachers, school meals, and "assistance for local government organs."

Vesti recalls that while Ukrainian law does not formally recognize dual citizenship, most of the 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Zakarpattia already hold Hungarian passports, "and the flags of both Ukraine and Hungary already fly over many government buildings" in the region.

Matthias Church and Fishermen, Budapest, Hungary - Sputnik International
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Last week, The Budapest Beacon cited Lázár's commentary in a recent Hungarian government report on the capabilities of the Hungarian intelligence services, where the minister stated that the civil conflict in Ukraine was a primary example of radical changes to regional security necessitating the strengthening of the Information Office.

Lázár, who is also responsible for civilian intelligence, noted in the report that the military conflict in Ukraine's east, combined with an unstable situation in the rest of the country, has had a contagion effect on the region as a whole, adding that the Ukrainian government's political course has created thorny issues for minorities. He also stated that the Hungarian Intelligence Office has been an active player in Kiev over the past year, its activities aimed at "promoting Hungary's interests."

The minister also stated that both the Hungarian government and the country's security organs believe that the issue of ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine's Zakarpattia will become critical "in the coming years and decades," arguing that the Information Office will have to reestablish the dormant capabilities of Hungarian intelligence in the interests of protecting Ukrainian-Hungarian Transcarpathians. 

Commenting on the potential for the violence in Mukacheve to turn the Hungarian minority issue into a serious problem for Ukraine, Institute of Political Education expert Alexander Solontay told Ukraine's glavcom.ua that "if instead of restoring order Ukrainian authorities take another path, and if similar clashes begin in other cities, then of course there is a possibility that the Hungarian minority will raise the question before Europe about being taken away and saved from Ukraine. They could say 'annex us please, think something up and do whatever is necessary, because we do not want to be a party to this disorder any longer'…But I think that it will not come to this."

Tyres are set on fire during a rally held by members of the far-right radical group Right Sector, representatives of the Ukrainian volunteer corps and their supporters in central Kiev, Ukraine, July 3, 2015 - Sputnik International
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Last Saturday, a shootout between police officers, local businessmen and Right Sector militants took place in the Zakarpattia town of Mukacheve, 40 km from the Hungarian border, leaving three people dead and 13 injured. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the Right Sector's actions acts of terrorism and said that political parties should not have their own armed militant branches. The Right Sector's press service claimed, meanwhile, that the militants were working to dismantle smuggling routes in the area, and have since issued threats against the Ukrainian government.

The Right Sector paramilitary group played an instrumental role in violent clashes with Kiev police which led to the Maidan coup d'état which ousted the government of former President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. Its leader, Dmitro Yarosh, has since gone on to serve as an advisor to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and the group has dispatched its own volunteer battalion to fight anti-Kiev militia in Donbass.

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