The Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia is well organized and has political representatives at the level of several districts and region. Most Hungarian-language and Hungarian minority media outlets in Transcarpathia have strong political affiliations and may be employed as tools for political influence Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ), a strategic partner of Fidesz among the Hungarian minority in Ukraine with significant political weight at the regional level, has built a pool of Hungarian-language and Ukrainian-language media (newspapers, news websites, TV station) with financial support from the Hungarian government.
While the activities of Hungarian national radicals were effectively banned in Ukraine, they run Hungarian-language news website with a significant share of audience from Ukraine and may also influence the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia via their social media accounts.
The strong links between KMKSZ and Fidesz allow us to assume that the KMKSZ-owned media outlets may push the Hungarian government illiberal narratives while the media outlet run by the Hungarian national radicals may push more destabilizing narratives. The narratives pushed by these media outlets will be discussed in the upcoming reports.
From the Ukrainian perspective, the Hungarian minority living in Transcarpathia was inherited by Ukraine from the first Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938) since the current border between Ukraine and Hungary, except for the most western, follows the old Hungarian-Czechoslovak borderline. Naturally, the Hungarian-speaking communities are concentrated along the Hungarian-Ukrainian border.
The share of the Hungarian minority as the percentage of the total Transcarpathian population has been declining since the 1921 census (17.25%). Ethnic Hungarians made up 12.1% of the region's population (approximately 151,500) in 2001. More accurate and reliable data is not available since the last census in Ukraine was held in 2001. Only 35.4% of Hungarians lived in urban settlements in 2001. The Hungarians made up 6.9% of Uzhgorod’s population (seat of regional authorities) and 8.54% of Mukachevo's population (region's second-largest city).
According to the 2020 administrative reform ethnic Hungarians make up approximately 43% of Berehovo district’s total population, 4% of Mukachevo district’s total population, and 13% of Uzhgorod district’s total population. Before the reform, ethnic Hungarians made up approximately 75% of the former Berehovo district’s population. Ethnic Hungarians constitute a clear majority in 10 new territorial communities (hromadas) following the reform.
Hungarian Minority Political Landscape
The Hungarian minority is the only national minority in Ukraine with its own political parties. The current system of two Hungarian political parties in Transcarpathia evolved from the grudges and personal rivalries within the Hungarian minority during the 1990s.
The KMKSZ (Kárpátaljai Magyar Kulturális Szövetség, The Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association in English or The Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Sub-Carpathia as translated by the KMKSZ itself) formed the KMKSZ Ukrajnai Magyar Párt (KMKSZ UMP, or KMKSZ Hungarian Party of Ukraine), its political wing, to contend for the ethnic Hungarian votes in 2005. The KMKSZ is the oldest mass-membership organization of the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia, registered in 1989. KMKSZ leaders tend to present it as a strategic partner of Fidesz in Transcarpathia. In response to these political ambitions, the Ukrajnai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (UMDSZ - Hungarian Democratic Union of Ukraine), formed its political wing, UMDSZ-Ukrajnai Magyar Demokrata Párt (UMDSZ-UMDP or UMDSZ-Hungarian Democratic Party of Ukraine).
Both KMKSZ UMP and UMDSZ-UMDP strive to represent all ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine. While UMDSZ-UMDP allied itself with MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party), the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (united), and the Party of Regions from the 1990s through early 2010s, KMKSZ UMP developed a strategic partnership with Fidesz and entered occasional alliances with the Our Ukraine party and – later – with the Petro Poroshenko Bloc. Both KMKSZ and UMDSZ (after the 2002 internal reform) rely on mass membership and networks of allied minority organizations.
The Hungarian minority is currently not represented in the Ukrainian parliament since both KMKSZ and UMDSZ leaders failed to build alliances with major Ukrainian parties during the 2019 election campaign and obtain slots for KMKSZ or UMDSZ candidates on election lists. Previously, it was represented by MPs Mihály Tóth (1994-1998, UMDSZ), Miklós Kovács (1998-2002, KMKSZ), István Gajdos (2002-2006, formally SDPU (united); 2012-2014, formally Party of Regions, UMDSZ leader), and László Brenzovics (2014-2019, formally Petro Poroshenko Bloc, KMKSZ leader).
The political weight of the Hungarian parties in the Transcarpathian regional council increased over time due to the inter-party agreement brokered by the Hungarian government in 2015 and re-confirmed in 2020. Their share of mandates fell from 10% in 2006 to 6.5% in 2010 and then rebounded to 12.5% in 2015 and 2020. The most important part of the agreement was the creation of the joint party list for the elections to the regional council.
The political demands of the Hungarian minority were more proactive in the 1990s than in the 2010s. For instance, KMKSZ members in the Berehovo district council proposed the creation of a Hungarian autonomous district within said district as early as 1991. KMKSZ leaders also pushed also for the creation of Tisza-valley district to include all Hungarian-speaking communities in Transcarpathia. The latter idea was also supported by the Hungarian government. However, it was always rejected by the Ukrainian governments during bilateral negotiations.
The electoral system of single-member districts allowed the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia to elect its representative to the Ukrainian parliament in 1994, 1998, and 2002. The Transcarpathian electoral district boundaries were drawn specifically to unite almost all Hungarian-speaking settlements in one district in the 1990s. Nevertheless, the return to single-member districts in 2011 was unfavorable for the Hungarian minority. The electoral district boundaries were completely redrawn, and the ethnic Hungarians became minorities in all Transcarpathian electoral districts. Thus, KMKSZ demanded electoral district reform throughout the 2010s up to the adoption of the 2019 Electoral Code establishing an open list proportional representation system.
In 2012-2014, KMKSZ demanded to implement certain provisions of the 2012 language law concerning the ‘regional languages’ (languages of national minorities) at the Transcarpathian regional level. However, these demands failed to gain support in the Transcarpathian regional council.
The demands of the Hungarian minority became markedly more reactive, responding to the political and legislative developments in Ukraine, in the late 2010s. Both KMKSZ and UMDSZ vigorously protested the provisions of the 2017 education law and the 2020 secondary education law restricting the use of minority languages as languages of instruction in public schools. In their opinion, the only acceptable solution to this dispute is to teach all subjects in Hungarian except the Ukrainian language. They also protested the adoption of the 2019 language law and demanded that ethnic Hungarians be allowed to use their language freely in public cultural activities, local court proceedings, and communication with regional and local governments.
More recently, in 2021, both organizations demanded that the Hungarians should be recognized as indigenous people in Ukraine – on par with the stateless minorities from Crimea. The only reason for this is that the new law on indigenous peoples allows them to be taught in public schools almost exclusively in their native languages and use their national symbols. The latter is particularly important for the Hungarian minority as both KMKSZ and UMDSZ demand the right for the ethnic Hungarians to freely use their national symbols (flag, anthem, and coat of arms).
Hungarian National Radicalism and Irredentism
The Hungarian nationalist party, Jobbik started to infiltrate Transcarpathia in the early 2010s. Béla Kovács, then Jobbik member and MEP, opened his office (registered as a charity/foundation under Ukrainian law) in Berehovo in 2011. Jobbik's presence became visible in Transcarpathia after signs in old Hungarian script (rune-like script) bearing the settlement name had been erected on the roads in some villages. The revival of this script was especially popular idea among Jobbik members then and the script itself was used along with the irredentist or nationalist propaganda. According to Atlatszo, Jobbik worked hard to recruit supporters from student circles. Ukrainian media reported about the sale of Greater Hungary symbols and the distribution of leaflets by Jobbik supporters at Hungarian cultural events in Transcarpathia. Prominent Jobbik politicians (Gábor Vona, István Szávay) visited Transcarpathia in 2013 demanding the establishment of Tisza-valley district for ethnic Hungarians. According to various sources, while KMKSZ was wary of the Jobbik activities in Transcarpathia, UMDSZ, at least partially, supported them.
The presence of Jobbik politicians and their activities were tolerated in Ukraine at least up to the summer of 2014. The charity/foundation founded by Béla Kovács was dissolved by the court in September 2014. Finally, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) banned entry for a group of Jobbik politicians (including István Szávay) in December 2014. Further travel bans were implemented in 2015 and 2016 for other Jobbik members, especially those who visited the Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. Local Jobbik supporters received official warnings from the Security Service of Ukraine in 2015 and 2016.
The other organization that was dissolved in the aftermath of the crackdown on radicals and irredentists in 2015 was the youth wing of UMDSZ. In this case, the organization’s president had evident links to pro-Russian Ruthenian separatists and pushed Russian narratives in Budapest about the situation in Ukraine. He also openly called for the autonomy of the whole Transcarpathia and for international peacekeepers to protect the Hungarian minority.
The Ukrainian government was also alarmed by the remarks made by Viktor Orbán in May 2014 about the need for 'autonomy' and 'collective rights' for the Hungarian minority in Ukraine along with the recognition of dual citizenship. The Hungarian minority, in general, has been increasingly viewed with suspicion in Kyiv since then. The Hungarian government demands have also been perceived by some analysts to have been coordinated with Russia.
Nonetheless, the Hungarian parties became part of the pro-presidential coalition in the regional council following the 2015 local elections. However, the uneasy peace did not last as the Ukrainian parliament started to discuss the draft law on education in 2016.
Between 2014 and 2018, Ukrainian media and civic activists have become increasingly wary of the Hungarian government’s intentions and activities, including increased support and funding to the Hungarian minority institutions, continued granting of citizenship to Transcarpathian residents, and the calls for autonomy. The perception of Hungary in Ukrainian society slightly deteriorated over this period. According to the public opinion surveys conducted by Rating Group Ukraine on behalf of the IRI’s Center for Insights in Survey Research, the proportion of Ukrainians with cold feelings towards Hungary increased, rising to 17% in September 2018 from 6% in September 2015. Similarly, the proportion of Ukrainians with warm feelings toward Hungary fell from 36% in September 2015 to 23% in September 2018. However, the absolute majority of Ukrainians reported having neutral feelings toward Hungary all this time.
The Egán Ede Transcarpathian Economic Development Center (EEC) has been under investigation by the SSU for funding separatist activities since 2017. Although the official mission of the EEC is to distribute Hungarian government development aid and provide grants to local Hungarian-speaking businesses and entrepreneurs, some evidence of providing grants to inactive small businesses (entrepreneurs) raised suspicions and led to SSU investigation. This investigation resulted in SSU searches of properties related to EEC in 2018 and 2020, including the house of KMKSZ leader and EEC director László Brenzovics. However, the EEC is not the only Hungarian minority organization to receive special attention from the SSU. Another organization that has been under investigation is the Foundation for Transcarpathian Hungarian College. Both organizations are closely linked to the KMKSZ. To justify some searches, SSU investigators stated in court that both Fidesz and Jobbik pursue a policy to detach Transcarpathia from Ukraine.
Moreover, the Hungarian minority fell prey to provocations, anonymous threats, and even arsons in 2016-2021. Some of the provocations were staged to portray the Hungarians as irredentists. For instance, in May 2017, several road signs in very poor Hungarian with the names of districts, and sentences “Hungarians welcome you”, “Land of the Hungarian language” were suddenly erected on the borders of districts with significant shares of Hungarian-speaking populations in Transcarpathia. Russian and some Ukrainian media outlets published false news stories linking these signs to KMKSZ and UMDSZ as well as ‘citing’ their leaders’ call for the Hungarian autonomy in Transcarpathia. According to another false news stories, the SSU responded to this by opening an investigation and detaining the Hungarian minority leaders from Berehovo. In reality the road signs were erected by a small group from Kyiv hired for this by Moscow-based pro-Russian Ukrainian activists. Most recently, in May 2021, anonymous threats to the Hungarian minority organizations and ethnic Hungarians in Berehovo, allegedly came from Ukrainian nationalists. In fact, identified and prosecuted perpetrators had no links to any far-right movements. They admitted that they were paid to threaten the ethnic Hungarians and the SSU stated the perpetrators received payment from Russia. However, KMKSZ claims that the ethnic Hungarians are constantly threatened by Ukrainian nationalists. It also blames Ukrainian media for inciting hatred towards ethnic Hungarians.
The relationship between the Ukrainian government and the Hungarian minority organizations took an interesting U-turn in 2020-2021. Following the 2020 local elections and the well-publicized searches of the Hungarian minority institutions and home of the KMKSZ leader, KMKSZ went to the opposition in the regional council. Then, in June 2021, KMKSZ entered a new pro-presidential coalition.
Support for secession from Ukraine that is measured by public opinion polls, e.g. at the level of all Transcarpathian national minorities, is usually low (at 1-2%). However, a large share of respondents usually failed to answer the question about the future status of Transcarpathia. The reasons might be diverse and include fear of prosecution. For instance, an ethnic Hungarian man from Berehovo received a suspended sentence in January 2021 for a Facebook comment calling for Transcarpathian independence from Ukraine.
The social acceptance of the Hungarian minority appears to be higher in Transcarpathia than in Ukraine as a whole. According to the nationwide public opinion survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in October 2018 using the Bogardus social distance scale, the Hungarians living in Ukraine were less accepted than Belarusians, Russians, Poles and Jews, but slightly more accepted than Romanians (all groups treated as Ukrainian citizens). According to the regional public opinion survey conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation in Transcarpathia in August-September 2020, Hungarians were the second most accepted ethnic group after Ukrainians from other regions.
The recognition of dual (or multiple) citizenship turns out to be very divisive issue in Transcarpathia given the allegedly high numbers of de-facto dual citizens, especially in the Hungarian minority. According to the same public opinion survey conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, 53% of Transcarpathian residents did not support this idea. Nonetheless, 33.5% did. Among the national minorities, the proportion of supporters was significantly higher: 52.4%.
Hungarian-language and Media
There are at least eight Hungarian-language news websites (including those connected with traditional media outlets) for the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia. There are also three Hungarian-language newspapers, one bilingual (Hungarian and Ukrainian) TV station, and one bilingual (Hungarian and Ukrainian) radio station. Interestingly, KMKSZ is also the publisher of the Ukrainian-language newspaper Карпатський об’єктив, (The Carpathian Lens) and Ukrainian-language news website ko.net.ua.
While TV and radio stations are required by law to broadcast in Ukrainian in addition to Hungarian, the publishers of Hungarian-language print media, their web versions, or news websites are not required to produce and publish identical content in Ukrainian. The 2019 language law provides an exemption from this general rule for print media, their web versions, and news websites if they publish content in the European Union official languages. However, three Hungarian-language news websites also translate their content into Ukrainian voluntarily. The shares of Hungarian-language content and Ukrainian-language content are usually not equal.
Table 1. Hungarian-language media and Hungarian minority media in Transcarpathia
National and local media outlets in Ukraine may have political affiliations, i.e. they may be owned by entrepreneurs and companies with political ambitions or relatives of politicians. The most unusual about the Hungarian-language and Hungarian minority media in Transcarpathia is that some of them are directly owned by the Hungarian minority organizations with political ambitions and their leaders. Undoubtedly, strong political affiliations of media outlets mean that they may be used as tools for political influence by pushing certain narratives.
Kárpátalja weekly (along with the karpataljalap.net news website) is published by Kárpátalja LLC (Kárpátalja Kft), registered in Syurte (Szürte) – a village in Uzhgorod district with the Hungarian-speaking majority. However, the editorial office is located in Berehovo. The KMKSZ holds a 99.98% stake in Kárpátalja LLC. Kárpátalja weekly was established in 2001.
Kárpátalja.ma news website is run by Pro Cultura Subcarpathica NGO, registered in Berehovo. The NGO director is Ildikó Orosz. She is also the president of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Association (since 1991) and the Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian College of Higher Education. It is worth noting that Ildikó Orosz is a member of the Transcarpathian Regional Council from the KMKSZ-UMP list (she was elected to the council from the KMKSZ-UMP lists in 2006, 2010, 2015, and 2020). The NGO founders are Ildikó Orosz and László Brenzovics (president of KMKSZ and KMKSZ-UMP).
Kárpátinfo weekly (along with the karpatinfo.net news website and karpatinfo.net.ua business catalog) is published by Kárpát Média LLC (Kárpát Média Kft), registered in Berehovo. The company director is István Szoboszlai, a local enterpreneur. Kárpát Média LLC is owned by István Szoboszlai.
TV21 Ungvár (Ungvár is Uzhgorod in Hungarian) is a TV channel ID used by the Danio Broadcasting Company (TRK Danio), registered as a small private enterprise in Uzhgorod. It has the license for digital terrestrial broadcasting service in Transcarpathia. The KMKSZ holds a 50% stake in the company since 2018 thanks to a Hungarian government grant. The rest is owned by Oleksandra Pavlyuk-Ledyda, the daughter of Oleksandr Ledyda, the former head of the Transcarpathian State Regional Administration (2010-2014). He is now a member of For the Future political party and member of the Transcarpathian Regional Council from For the Future party list. The team of journalists recruited by the KMKSZ is responsible for the parts of programming in Hungarian. However, the positions of KMKSZ are often presented in Ukrainian as well.
Kárpáti Igaz Szó weekly (along with the kiszo.net website) is published by the Tisza FM Stúdió LLC (Tisza FM Stúdió Kft), registered in Uzhgorod. The UMDSZ holds a 50% stake in the company. The rest is owned by For the Development of Kárpáti Igaz Szó NGO. Its founders are newspaper editors. They claim the origins of the Kárpáti Igaz Szó (The Carpathian True Word) date back to 1920. However, the newspaper’s name can only be traced back to the Hungarian-language supplement to the newspaper of the regional authorities published in Transcarpathia after the Second World War II. The UMDSZ became the publisher of Kárpáti Igaz Szó in 2005.
KárpátHír news website claims to be run by Magyar Szív – Magyar Szó Alapítvány (Hungarian Heart – Hungarian Word Foundation), registered in Budapest. The foundation was known to be very close to the Jobbik party. János Bencsik, a former journalist and former Jobbik member, who is currently an independent member of the Hungarian Parliament, was the chairman of the foundation board in 2015-2018. The current chairman of the foundation board is István Szávay, a former Jobbik member and former member of the Hungarian Parliament. According to the 2020 foundation annual report, the foundation runs one news website for the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia and two news websites for Hungarians in Transylvania. The Kárpát Hír news website was launched in late 2014.
The Carpathian Lens weekly (along with the ko.net.ua news website) is published by the Carpathian Lens LLC, registered in Uzhgorod. The KMKSZ holds a 100% stake in the company. The newspaper was established in 2013.
Karpat.in.ua news website is the joint project of the TV21 Ungvár, Kárpátalja weekly, and The Carpathian Lens weekly. It was launched in January 2020. It is worth noting that all KMKSZ-owned media outlets often share the same content. Both Karpat.in.ua (Ukrainian version) and the Carpathian Lens weekly tend to publish content translated from Hungarian into Ukrainian.
Pulzus Rádió / Радіо Пульс FM 92,1 is a trademark owned by the Pulse Cultural and Information Center (Pulzus Kulturális-Információs Központ), registered as private enterprise in Berehovo. It has a license for terrestrial radio broadcasting service in Transcarpathia. György Barna, a local entrepreneur, holds a 100% stake in the company. However, the radio station was established on the initiative of Ferenc Taracközi, pastor of the Transcarpathian Reformed Church from Berehovo. The broadcasting service became available in 2013.
In conclusion, five regional news websites, two newspapers, and one TV channel (at least partially) are owned by the KMKSZ or its prominent members. The UMDSZ can count on only one newspaper and its news website. The Hungarian national radicals, former Jobbik members, may influence the Transcarpathian Hungarian community via the KárpátHír news website. The rest media owners don't have clear political affiliations.
Website traffic and Facebook engagement
Although the awareness of political affiliations of the Hungarian-language and Hungarian minority media in Transcarpathia may be the key to understanding the consequences of their functioning as tools for political influence, there are still questions about their popularity in Transcarpathia and sizes of their audiences, especially in the case of KárpátHír news website that may push destabilizing narratives.
Measuring audiences of radio and TV stations can be very costly, so regional and local stations usually do not order their audience data from media research companies. This means that there is no reliable data on Pulzus Rádió listenership and TV21 Ungvár viewership. Although estimates for TV and radio audiences are difficult to gauge, services that analyze web traffic show that estimated traffic to their websites is relatively low. The estimated data obtained from SimilarWeb, a web analytics provider, show that the Pulzus Rádió website (pulzusfm.eu) had 6187 average monthly visits in April–June 2021. The TV21 Ungvár website (tv21ungvar.tv) had less than 5,000 average monthly visits. The estimated data obtained from Semrush show that the number of monthly visits is less than 1000 for both websites while the next least popular website has at least 30,000 monthly visits. Therefore, both Pulzus Rádió and TV21 Ungvár websites were excluded from subsequent audience analysis.
Measuring and comparing audiences of the news websites is much easier since SimilarWeb and Semrush provide estimates of their popularity. Based on these estimates, the clear leader is KárpátHír followed by Kárpátinfo. Both websites offer content only in Hungarian and have high shares of traffic from Ukraine. Kárpátalja and Kárpátalja.ma – Hungarian-language websites owned directly and indirectly by KMKSZ — have relatively higher anomalous shares of traffic from Hungary that cannot be explained only by the mobility of ethnic Hungarians and emigration from Ukraine to Hungary. In the case of bilingual Karpat.in.ua (controlled by KMKSZ as well), the share of traffic from Ukraine is higher thanks to the content in Ukrainian.
Compared to leading regional (Transcarpathian) news websites, Hungarian-language and Hungarian minority news websites are not very popular. For instance, MUKACHEVO.NET had over 1.4 million visits and over 337 thousand unique visitors in June 2021.
Table 2. Estimated traffic for the selected Hungarian-language and Hungarian minority news websites in Transcarpathia, June 2021
Interestingly, social media (Facebook) traffic is not highly important for these websites. The data obtained via Facebook’s CrowdTangle service and Semrush show that the media outlets with highest number of interactions on their Facebook pages do not necessarily have high shares of Facebook trafficrto their websites. Only four Facebook pages – Kárpátalja hetilap, KÁRPÁTALJA.ma, Kárpáti Igaz Szó, and KárpátHír – demonstrated a high level of the audience engagement denoted by the ratio of total interactions to total posts. Most managers of the Facebook pages run by these media outlets live in Ukraine, sometimes in Hungary. The exception is KárpátHír since all its page managers live in Hungary. However, the primary country locations are self-reported by page managers and not verified by Facebook.
Table 3. Facebook page analysis for the selected Hungarian-language and Hungarian minority news websites in Transcarpathia, January – June 2021
To conclude, all selected Hungarian-language and Hungarian minority print media do their best to promote their websites and increase traffic to them while Hungarian-language TV and radio stations neglect their websites. In turn, Hungarian-language media with clear political affiliations achieve the best results in terms of audience engagement on Facebook. Most of the selected Hungarian-language and Hungarian minority news websites do not rely on traffic from Facebook. The most interesting is the case of KárpátHír with the largest audience, the highest share of traffic from Ukraine, and the staff living in Hungary.
This report has been prepared with support from IRI's Beacon Project. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of IRI.
List of Abbreviations
EEC - Egán Ede Transcarpathian Economic Development Center
IRI – International Republican Institute
MP – Member of Parliament (Verkhovna Rada)
MEP – Member of European Parliament
KMKSZ - Kárpátaljai Magyar Kulturális Szövetség, The Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association or The Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Sub-Carpathia
KMKSZ UMP – KMKSZ Ukrajnai Magyar Párt, KMKSZ Hungarian Party of Ukraine
MSZP - Magyar Szocialista Párt, Hungarian Socialist Party
SDPU (united) – Social-Democratic Party of Ukraine (united)
SSU – Security Service of Ukraine
UMDSZ – Ukrajnai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség, Hungarian Democratic Union of Ukraine
UMDSZ-UMDP – UMDSZ-Ukrajnai Magyar Demokrata Párt, UMDSZ-Hungarian Democratic Party of Ukraine
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