Self-deception: Hungary first generously hands out passports to Ukrainians, then struggles with "new Hungarians"
Recently it became known that the Prosecutor’s Office of Hungary opened 370 criminal cases against Ukrainians who had obtained Hungarian citizenship. The first targets of the investigation were those seeking Hungarian pensions. Meanwhile, mediators in Ukraine didn’t blink an eye and further help future Hungarian pensioners get citizenship.
According to the Hungarian Prosecutor General Peter Polt, the investigation into each particular “fake Hungarian” starts when it turns out that the applicant obtained citizenship without any knowledge of Hungarian language, or when the language test was passed by someone else. Some sixty investigations are currently being actively conducted, while another 32 cases are at their initial stage. In general, court rulings have been handed down in 108 cases, two of which have not yet seen a final verdict.
The funny thing about this situation is that Hungary itself, willingly, violating Ukrainian legislation, massively distributed passports to Ukrainians, and then actively used this fact against Kyiv. It should be recalled that after the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the new version of the law on education in 2017, Hungarian authorities threw a real tantrum, promising to block any rapprochement between Kyiv and NATO. According to the legislation, the Ukrainian language should become the main language of instruction in schools and universities starting from 2020 (as Hungarian language is in Hungary).
But it was precisely this point that did not suit the Hungarian government – and, since the adoption of the law, Hungary has consistently stated the alleged violation of the rights of Hungarians living in Ukraine (whose number Budapest diligently “increases” by generously handing out their passports to Ukrainians). Then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary Peter Szijjarto demanded that Ukraine amend the law on education and postpone its implementation until 2023. The diplomatic conflict between the countries aggravated when, in September 2018, a video emerged where Ukrainians were seen being granted Hungarian citizenship directly in the Hungarian consulate in Berehovo in Zakapattia region, while diplomats asked applicants not to inform the Ukrainian authorities about the fact. And although dual citizenship is prohibited in Ukraine, official Budapest sees no problem in giving citizens of Ukraine second citizenship. More precisely, it didn't see it until recently.
Ultimately, amid the scandal, the SBU set about investigating the illegal facts of Hungarian passports being issued in the region, Ukraine and Hungary mutually expelled their consuls and agreed a draft deal on the avoidance of cases of dual citizenship. But, as Ekaterina Zelenko, the speaker for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, recently stated, the ministry has not received any response from Hungary yet.
In general, it looks extremely ironic and very cynical that, by preventing Ukraine from teaching Ukrainian citizens their own language, Hungary initiates criminal proceedings against those who have not mastered the rather difficult (and not too common) Hungarian language.
Hungarian passport in a month: it is possible, but there are risks
Nevertheless, Hungary continues to distribute passports to Ukrainians – but already in the Hungarian territory. “Now you can apply for documents in any consulate of Hungary in Ukraine, either in Berehovo or in Uzhgorod, but you should get your passport in the nearest Hungarian cities - Kisvárda or Nyíregyháza,” said Hungarian ethnic journalist Peter Goys.
According to him, never before were there any problems with obtaining a Hungarian passport, other than knowing the Hungarian language, which is a prerequisite for obtaining citizenship.
At the same time, Peter Goys explained that, although in Ukraine there are reports of massive revelations of fake Hungarian passports, in fact this is not the case. “Everybody has long been aware that passports were being issued. But when a diplomatic scandal arose due to an amendment to the law on education, against the background of this conflict, Hungary wanted to get preferences and began to inflate the scandal. Ukraine, in response to trying to 'bite' Hungary, published that video from the consulate in Berehovo. There are too few cases opened compared with the number of people who actually own passports. People with fake documents submitted while applying for citizenship are systemically detected. Sometimes even whole villages are inspected – authorities do house-to-house checks on Hungarian territory where Ukrainian citizens are supposedly registered and check if they really live there: there were cases where people with a Hungarian passport lived in Ukraine while receiving social payments from Hungary. To get citizenship and payments, they would purposely go to some Hungarian Roma, who for a certain fee would register them in their Hungarian home. Up to 30 people could be registered in one household. And it is these cases that Hungary is now revealing,” says Goys, specifying that even the SBU, which allegedly immediately took up the investigation, did not rush to do anything.
Note that there are officially several ways to obtain Hungarian citizenship. The first method is naturalization, that is, in the case of marriage with a citizen of Hungary, or if there are family ties or continuous residence in the territory of Hungary for eight years. In this case, if an applicant is of Hungarian origin, the period of continuous residence in Hungary can be reduced to 12 months. Also an important condition for naturalization is knowledge of the language and legislation of Hungary, and a steady income.
The second way is repatriation, that is, restoration of citizenship. According to Hungarian laws, both those who lived or were born in Zakarpattia until 1920, or from 1938 to 1945, and their descendants are entitled to this. At the same time, repatriation does not oblige applicants to move to Hungary and renounce citizenship of another country, but to speed up the process, it will be necessary to pledge an oath of allegiance to Hungary. Actually, it was this procedure that was filmed in the scandalous video in Berehovo.
Also, Hungarian citizenship may be granted to those who invest in securities in the country.
We decided to check how willingly intermediaries now offer services to help obtain Hungarian citizenship. As it turned out, even despite the fact that the Hungarian authorities are searching for Ukrainians who cheated while obtaining citizenship, "businessmen" in Ukraine still promise to help with obtaining a Hungarian passport, including in the express mode.
After dialing one of the numbers on the free classifieds website, we heard a promise to issue a passport literally within 1-1.5 months, although on most other sites of a similar profile, obtaining citizenship takes at least 3-6 months.
“Where are you from, from what region," we were asked by a man who identified himself as Ivan.
“From Kyiv,” we replied.
“We have already done this for those from Kyiv, everything is fine,” Ivan responded and started listing the necessary documents. “You will need a Ukrainian passport, an identification code, and for submitting documents – a passport and fingerprints.”
However, during the conversation, we learned that in order to obtain a Hungarian passport, we will have to come from Kyiv to Chernivtsi. As our interlocutor explained to us, this is necessary because from Chernivtsi, we will have to go get our passport directly to the border checkpoint with Hungary.
“Three of four days before the trip, I will reach to you and let you know when you need to arrive. As you arrive in Chernivtsi, we get on the bus and go submit documents. You will need to pay a EUR 600 deposit, and the rest is upon receipt. All together it will cost EUR 1,900.”
“And what about those reports in the news that criminal cases are being brought up against Ukrainians, should I be afraid?” we asked. Apparently, not expecting such question, the interlocutor asked: "What criminal cases?"
We explain that the investigations are launched against those who obtained passports without knowing the language. “Don't worry about it. You are not going to get a Romanian passport. It's Romanians who ask about the language, checking all grandparents, and only 2.5-3 years later you can get a passport. And here, the knowledge of the language is not necessary. We have someone in Hungary who will help us with this,” the interlocutor reassured us and asked us to tell our friends.
How Hungary deceived itself
Ukrainian political scientist, an expert on Ukrainian-Hungarian relations, Dmytro Tuzhansky, agrees that cases where Hungarian law enforcement officers suspected Zakarpattia's Hungarians of illegally obtaining Hungarian citizenship or other benefits from the Hungarian government are isolated.
“Starting from 2015, several dozens of Ukrainians were deprived of Hungarian citizenship by decrees of the President of Hungary. For what reasons it was done remains unclear, but the most typical grounds for deprivation of citizenship are a violation of the procedure for obtaining it under the simplified procedure and lack of knowledge of the Hungarian language, forging documents, in particular, references from the archive proving Hungarian roots,” he says.
The most common reason for verifying the legality of the grounds for obtaining Hungarian citizenship is the so-called pension migration. The fact is that the average pension in Hungary in the hryvnia equivalent is about UAH 12,800, and if a person has a long working experience, pensions could reach UAH 28,000. It is clear that this is significantly higher than in Ukraine. And those first ethnic Hungarians who were issued passports and who moved to Hungary, naturally, were issued pensions, after which those “new Hungarians” who never intended to move followed in their steps anyway.
Also, according to Tuzhansky, the latest high-profile cases may be the result of a targeted campaign by one of the opposition parties – the Democratic Coalition – which built its election campaign last year specifically on criticism of current PM Viktor Orban’s policy of supporting Hungarians abroad. Moreover, the party leader personally traveled along the Hungarian border and filmed houses of Hungarians, where dozens of Ukrainian Hungarians are fictitiously registered, who had previously obtained citizenship under a simplified procedure, while living in Ukraine.
“That is, on the one hand, these criminal cases have a political context, and on the other, they are the result of real violations, to which for one reason or another the Hungarian authorities have previously turned a blind eye. And although these cases are hardly a step towards Kyiv, they are unwittingly a good sign meaning that the issue of dual citizenship in Ukrainian-Hungarian relations should be resolved, since both parties are interested in this: Budapest seeks to prevent and expose possible abuses, while Kyiv seeks to move the topic of dual citizenship into the legal plane,” sums up Tuzhansky.
The expert of the International and Domestic Politics Program at the Ukrainian Institute of Future, Igar Tyszkiewicz, also notes that Hungary has long been issuing passports to Zakarpattian residents. He explains that the root of the problem lies in the Hungarian demography: “The fact is that the birth rate in Hungary is extremely low, the level of migration is high and therefore there is a strong shortage of workers. But unlike other countries, the Hungarians adhere to the national policy of reviving the state and, according to it, they cannot accept refugees from Africa, Asia, as this leads to dissatisfaction with the authorities on the part of the local population. Therefore, they have only one way to fix the situation – to attract ethnic Hungarians from abroad. First of all, these are Romanian Hungarians, a large group of Hungarians in Slovakia, and Hungarians in Ukraine. Hungarians are set up to give out passports to all ethnic Hungarians or to those who were citizens of Hungary before 1940 (and their descendants) and take them as workers. And Hungary’s tensions are observed with almost all the neighboring countries where ethnic Hungarians live.”
According to the expert, there will be no problems for the working population, because Hungary is interested in moving families into the country because the number of children in Hungarian families is higher on average in the Ukrainian Zakarpattia region than in Hungary itself. Also, there will be no problems for those who come to Hungary to be employed. On the contrary, they will create more favorable conditions. But for those who receive a Hungarian pension, personal applications will be reviewed. “If the facts of fraud are proved, criminal cases will continue. And here an ambiguous situation arises again. If someone has two passports, they can remain in Ukraine, and, in accordance with Ukrainian legislation, Ukraine cannot extradite its citizens. And then people with Hungarian citizenship can publicly renounce Hungarian citizenship and remain under the protection of Ukraine, and in this case, diplomatic problems between countries are possible again,” Tyszkiewicz states.
One way or another, this whole story looks funny: Budapest seems to have created this problem itself.
Anastasia Zaremba, Natalia Petervari