BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has renewed a plea for ethnic Hungarians in neighboring Ukraine to be granted autonomy even after a similar call last week drew a diplomatic backlash.
“Ukraine can be neither stable, nor democratic if it does not give its minorities, including Hungarians, their due,” Orban said on public television late on Friday. “That is, dual (Hungarian) citizenship, collective rights and autonomy.”
Orban, re-elected in a landslide win last month, was reaffirming a call for autonomy for about 200,000 ethnic Hungarians in western Ukraine that he made a week ago as he was sworn in as prime minister.
His comments prompted Kiev to summon the Hungarian ambassador for an explanation on Tuesday and drew criticism from regional heavyweight Poland, an ally of Hungary within the Visegrad Four grouping of central European nations.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi sought to ease diplomatic tensions by saying that Hungary, a member of the European Union and NATO, was not demanding territorial autonomy for Ukraine’s ethnic Hungarian minority.
Many Hungarians today view the 1920 Treaty of Trianon as a national tragedy because it took away two-thirds of the country’s territory and left millions of ethnic Hungarians living in what are now Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia.
Orban’s government granted ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries citizenship shortly after it took office in 2010, as part of efforts to restore a battered sense of national pride.
The prime minister has won popularity at home by reaching out to Hungarians beyond the country’s borders who were allowed to vote in the national election for the first time in April.
He has never suggested reuniting the lost territories with Hungary, but his stance has irked governments in some neighboring countries.
Orban, a former dissident against Communist rule, said that Hungary stood by Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, which annexed Crimea in March saying it needed to protect ethnic Russians there.
“Ukraine’s territorial integrity was infringed. In violation of international law, Russia has launched an action against Ukraine. We need to support Ukraine in this matter,” he said.
Orban said a new Ukraine was taking shape and important decisions would be made after a presidential election set for May 25, meaning the time was ripe for Hungary to “voice its expectations.”
He said autonomy could take many forms, but declined to go into more detail, adding it was up to ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine to decide what form of autonomy would be best for them.
“But whichever they stand up for, they need to know, as well as the Ukrainians, that the Hungarian state will throw its full weight behind ethnic Hungarians’ push for autonomy in Ukraine,” he said.
Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Rosalind Russell