Fact Check: Ukraine Does NOT Forbid Ethnic-Hungarian Schoolchildren To Speak Hungarian With One Another


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Fact Check: Ukraine Does NOT Forbid Ethnic-Hungarian Schoolchildren To Speak Hungarian With One Another Kids Exempted

Does Ukraine forbid ethnic-Hungarian students in its Transcarpathia region to speak Hungarian at school, even amongst themselves? No, that's not true: The claim misrepresents guidance that Ukraine's education minister sent out to school administrators in October 2023. The minister mandated that Ukrainian be the sole language of school instruction, but specifically exempted institutions where classes are taught in ethnic-minority languages. He also directed faculty to communicate with one another exclusively in Ukrainian while on school grounds but did not apply this proscription to pupils.

The claim appeared in a Hungarian-language video (archived here) on TikTok on January 10, 2024, under the caption "Listen to this! Transcarpathian Hungarians don't deserve this!" (Translation from Hungarian to English by Lead Stories staff). The presenter is Stefi Déri (archived here), a partner of the Megafon Center (archived here), which produces social-media content in support of Hungary's governing Fidesz party. Déri says, as translated:

What they're doing to Transcarpathian Hungarians is sad and degrading beyond measure! It's not enough that they're forcing them into war, breaking up their families and sending their youth into battle, now they want to stick it to their children... The Ukrainian education minister recently sent out a letter in which he writes about the ugly restrictions of the language law. According to this, Transcarpathian students cannot speak Hungarian, even with each other... Is this really what's most important for Ukraine now?

This is what the post looked like on TikTok at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2024-01-19 at 8.49.11.png

(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Fri Jan 19 13:49:11 2024 UTC)

Déri is referring to a letter (downloadable here) that Ukrainian Minister of Education and Science Oksen Lisovyi (archived here) addressed to educators on October 27, 2023, regarding the enforcement of Ukraine's laws on language. Mandiner, a Hungarian news portal also allied with Fidesz, picked up the letter in an article published on November 18, 2023 (archived here), whose headline read, as translated, "Here's Ukraine's new plan: Transcarpathian students cannot speak Hungarian, even with one another." It quoted Lisovyi as saying, as translated:

The state language [Ukrainian] must be used... by teachers, lecturers, other persons working in public education and students for participation in the educational process, as well as for their interactions with each other.

Mandiner left out the part where Lisovyi exempted schools that teach in minority languages. The full quote reads, as translated by Lead Stories staff:

The state language [Ukrainian] must be used as part of the educational process, during educational classes (except for classes on educational subjects that, according to the educational program of the educational institution, are taught in foreign languages or languages of indigenous peoples and national minorities), in communication between teachers, lecturers, and other personnel of educational institutions both with students (pupils) and among themselves.

Nowhere does Lisovyi decree that ethnic-Hungarian students may only speak to one another in Ukrainian during school hours. His guidance applied to academic personnel only.

Hungary's government considers Ukraine's education laws to be discriminatory toward ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia. In a post on Facebook dated March 24, 2023 (archived here), Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said, as translated, that Hungary would not support Ukraine's integration into the European Union "so long as Transcarpathian Hungarian schools are in danger."

Transcarpathia belonged to Hungary until 1920, when it was handed to the newly formed state of Czechoslovakia as part of the Trianon peace settlement (archived here) following World War I. Hungary regained control for a brief period during World War II, after which the region became part of the then-Soviet republic of Ukraine, according to Encyclopedia Britannica (archived here). It remains home to as many as 125,000 ethnic Hungarians, according to estimates by Hungarian demographers (archived here).

Other Lead Stories fact-checks on Hungarians in Transcarpathia can be found here.


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