Zakarpattia is a truly multinational region, where one can hardly recall any incidents of ethnic hatred throughout Ukraine's modern history. Everything is peaceful and friendly in the area where plenty of mixed marriages are registered and locals are mostly multilingual.
Misunderstandings came with the adoption of Ukraine's new education law where Article 7 concerning the language of command at schools raised concerns in Hungary. Budapest believes that the legislation restricts the right of minorities to acquire education in their native language. The case came up to the Venice Commission, and the heated debate started to cool down. Everything seemed to be considered at the diplomatic and legislative level.
First, a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the building and another time an explosive was planted
However, there were two extremely unpleasant incidents took place related to the office of the Hungarian Culture Association in Zakarpattia. First, a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the building and another time an explosive was planted. And although in both cases, the law enforcers quickly revealed those who carried out and ordered these provocations, Hungary received another trump card to show the whole world how Ukrainians "treat" Hungarians. Accusations were followed by appeals for the introduction of an OSCE monitoring mission to Zakarpattia.
Initially, the issue was brought up by deputy chair of the Hungarian Culture Association in Zakarpattia, deputy head of the regional Council Josyp Barto. He told Hromadske Radio he had already met with a representative of the OSCE SMM, Giorgio Zeljkovic. "We agreed with him that after the monitoring, he would appeal to his superiors that representatives of the OSCE operate in Zakarpattia permanently," Hromadske quoted Barto as saying.
Then the head of the Hungarian Culture Association in Zakarpattya, MP Vasyl Brenzovych (BPP) head a meeting with Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto where the need for the OSCE mission deployment was also on the agenda. It was a few days later when Szijjarto himself claimed he had talked to the OSCE secretary general who assured that a 12-strong OSCE monitoring mission would operate in Zakarpattia.
The thing is that the whole story seems odd to say the least because no one in the regional state administration is aware of that. "There were no proposals submitted to the administration to open a permanent monitoring mission, and the administration did not approve this," head of the administration's information department Yaroslav Halas told Hromadske.
Recently, Josyp Barto walked back on his earlier statements and claimed there had been merely a proposal to carry out monitoring rather than a call for a mandatory introduction of the OSCE mission to Zakarpattia.
According to a local online media outlet Prozak.info, "In fact, the presence of the OSCE mission in Zakarpattia a priori determines our region as potentially dangerous, a kind of a hot spot on the map of Ukraine. And it's clear that no investors will come to the hot spot. Similarly, foreign ministries will not advise their citizens to visit. That is, Zakarpattia could lose both investors and tourists."
Unfortunately, there has been a series of assaults on civic activists on the part of radical Ukrainian nationalists in Uzhgorod
Who could possibly claim that the situation in Zakarpattia actually gives grounds to foreign governments to discourage their citizens from traveling to the area? Well, it turns out that Ukraine's neighbors can. On Wednesday, an alert was posted on the website of the Consulate of the Hungarian Republic, recommending that Hungarian nationals refrain from traveling to Zakarpattia March 16-18. The thing is that, unfortunately, there has been a series of assaults on civic activists on the part of radical Ukrainian nationalists in Uzhgorod. Moreover, in this period, nationalists scheduled a march in honor of the anniversary of the Carpathian Ukraine. Usually, such rallies hear outright anti-Hungarian slogans, over which MP Brenzovych had earlier addressed the parliament.
And yet, is there a difference between the OSCE "mission" and OSCE "monitoring"? Indeed, an OSCE Special Monitoring Mission is already present in Ukraine and its operations extend throughout its territory. The nearest OSCE office is located in Ivano-Frankivsk, and it has already been mentioned that representatives of this OSCE office will simply monitor from time to time the observance of national minorities' rights in Zakarpattia. But opening of a new special mission in Zakarpattia would be a much more serious step.
"It is necessary understand that according to OSCE standards and norms, a Mission is a very clear concept," said an expert at the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, Dmytro Tuzhansky, whose organization cooperates with the OSCE and who has worked in one of its missions observing the elections. "Its founding, deployment, transfer, expansion, closure, and so on - every step is taken under a very clear and thorough procedure. Key decisions, such as the establishment of a mission and its deployment, are adopted given consent of all 57 OSCE member states. Members of any mission operate according to strictly prescribed standards. Each mission has its objectives and a mandate. That is, everything is very serious and regulated, because it is actually about a diplomatic level of operations."
Unfortunately, the latest discussions about an OSCE mission in Zakarpattia see a very frivolous use of the term "mission", as well as of the concept of "permanent presence" of OSCE observers in Zakarpattia. None of the two is likely to be launched in the area.
It was as early as last year when Budapest initially started to appeal to the OSCE over the situation in Zakarpattia in the wake of the adoption of the education law and certain outright provocations. The idea was formally supported by the Hungarian community as well. To explain why the OSCE should particularly focus on Zakarpattia, statements were made claiming an ongoing anti-Hungarian campaign both in Zakarpattia and in Ukraine in general, provocations being carried out against Hungarians, and so on. That is, some rather general and speculative statements. Unfortunately, in this context, the official Budapest and individual members of the Hungarian community in Zakarpattia comment on the emergence in the region of OSCE patrols as a new "mission" or "permanent presence". At the same time, The OSCE SMM to Ukraine has already stated that they have no separate mission or office in Zakarpattia, adding that the situation in Zakarpattia remains generally calm.
Budapest's current official position on the OSCE presence in Zakarpattia, supported by local Hungarian politicians, only hinders the search for a compromise between Kyiv and Budapest, whose relations escalated following the adoption of the education law.
Of course, the current situation in Zakarpattia gives no grounds for the introduction of the OSCE special mission, although this would be something very pleasing to the Kremlin's eye. Law enforcers have proved that both attacks on the office of the Hungarian Culture Association in Zakarpattia were plotted and ordered by Russia which will continue trying to destabilize the situation in the region.
Unfortunately, recent actions by Ukrainian nationalists in Zakarpattia and the mentioned march they scheduled for March 17 could only pour oil into the fire. It may so happen that during their rally, provocations might take place and things might get out of hand. At one of the local TV channels, the Zakarpattia police assure that they are ready to refute any provocations during the march, but for some reason, it seems to me that their bravado is unfounded.
Petro Goys is an Uzhgorod-based ethnic Hungarian