Ukraine is normally painted by the Western media as a victim of its big, unfriendly neighbor Russia. Public sympathy is always extended to the underdog. But in reality, few readers of the news will seek out the details in an attempt to render an impartial judgment. Ukraine has huge problems with corruption, poor economic performance, a bloated bureaucracy, overall inefficiency, a lack of human rights and democracy, and the West has grown tired of supporting that country without any seeing progress on any front. But the media paint Kiev as a victim and that’s it. Poor little Ukraine, hurt by the big Russian bully across the border! But all issues with Russia aside, Ukraine’s relationships with other countries continue to deteriorate. Is it because everyone but Ukraine is marching out of step?
No, Moscow is not the only “bad guy” hurting the poor, defenseless angel, Kiev. Ukraine and Hungary have been mired in a diplomatic row for several weeks. The two countries are divided over the situation in the region of Transcarpathia or Zakarpattya in western Ukraine, which was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Budapest believes that Ukraine is infringing upon the rights of the ethnic Hungarian minority, who make up 12% of that region’s population. Ukrainian nationalist groups, such as Karpatska Sich and Svoboda, have been taking aggressive actions against local ethnic Hungarians.
Ukraine views the Hungarian IDs being distributed in Ukraine’s ethnic Hungarian communities as a provocative gesture. It’s legal under international law, but Kiev believes this is inappropriate. On Oct. 4, the Hungarian consul in Beregovo was declared persona non grata for handing out Hungarian passports. Hungary deported a Ukrainian diplomat in return.
The Hungarian foreign ministry reported on Oct. 10 that Ukraine’s ambassador had been summoned to Budapest. According to the Hungary Today media outlet, an official from the Hungarian foreign ministry, Levente Magyar, stated that Ukraine's "anti-Hungarian policy has moved to a new level, "adding, "We call on our EU and NATO allies … to thoroughly examine what is going on in Ukraine."
Budapest’s move was prompted by the discovery of a “death list” that noted the names of Transcarpathian Hungarians in Ukraine, plus a call for the collective deportation of Ukrainian-Hungarian dual citizens, which was posted on the Ukrainian parliament’s website. In addition, Ukraine is setting up military installations near the Hungarian border. An old military base in the town of Beregovo is being restored. The facility is located just a few kilometers from the border with that neighbor that is a member of both NATO and the EU — the organizations Kiev aspires to join.
Ukraine’s 2017 language law limits the rights of Ukraine’s national minorities to be educated in their mother tongue during nursery school, kindergarten, and the first four years of elementary school. It mandates that all public education beyond the fourth grade be conducted in the Ukrainian language. This has been resisted by Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian minority communities. The legislation caused an outcry in Hungary and Romania. Somewhat more muted criticism was voiced by Poland, Bulgaria, Greece, and Slovakia. As a result, Kiev has lost many friends. Meanwhile, Hungary continues to block the meetings of the special NATO-Ukraine Commission at the ministerial level until the “language law” problem has been settled.
Poland and Ukraine have been divided over their interpretation of their shared history, mainly in regard to the roles of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which from 1943 to 1945 carried out the ethnic cleansing of about 100,000 Polish men, women, and children. Poland believes that that was outright genocide, while Ukraine claims that both parties should bear the responsibility. According to the Poland in English website, the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance forbade the search for and exhumation of the remains of Polish victims of wars and conflicts that occurred on the territory of Ukraine.
Their bilateral relations also worsened after an amendment to Poland's law on the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which among other provisions, criminalized the denial of human-rights abuses committed by Ukrainian nationalists between 1925 and 1950.
Last month, Aleksandr Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, said that his country will increase the number of guards at the border with Ukraine to stop arms trafficking. “We made a decision to strengthen the border with Ukraine. We see how many trouble come from there to Belarus, including arms. We need to close the border. But not for the decent people, for bandits who bring arms,” Lukashenko claimed, explaining the decision that would complicate the relationship with that country where, according to Amnesty International’s 2017-2018 report, “Social discontent continued to grow. Mounting economic problems, the slow pace of reforms and pervasive corruption sparked regular protests in Kyiv that occasionally turned violent.” But arms smuggling across the border with Ukraine has grown to become a matter of serious concern for the Belarusian government, which wants no “bandits” on its soil.
As one can see, Ukraine’s foreign policy is far from a success. Kiev needs more than just hostility toward Russia in order to reach its goals. Its relationships with its neighbors have recently become a serious problem and a stumbling block to achieving its much-desired dream of becoming a permanent part of the Western world. It has done nothing to achieve economic progress or to become less corrupt and more democratic. The situation in regard to human rights has not improved. Ukraine says it is ready to go to any lengths in a bid to enter NATO and the EU. But it has less than a zero chance of achieving this. Four years after the Euromaiden protests, the West has become tired of Kiev’s never ending problems, as “Ukraine fatigue” continues to grow.