On February 5, ForUm held an online chat with ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Hungary to Ukraine Mihály Bayer, during which the ambassador spoke about Ukraine's European aspirations, about life of Hungarian people in Zakarpattya, tariffs for electricity and Ukrainian borsch.
Here is the text of the conference:

Manya: Will Hungary assist Ukraine with European integration?

- Ukraine can count on support of Hungary in the issue of the European integration. Hungary is one of those countries that strongly support the European integration of Ukraine, including its accession to the European Union. We know very well how the prospect of joining the EU in the 90's was important for the Hungarian society. Ukraine is definitely a European country for us, in which the vast majority of citizens support the European integration. You can count on the full support of the Hungarian government in this issue. You should be ready for the fact that there is a competition not only in economic but also in political life in the EU. And the country must be competitive in these fields, apart from the development of those values on which the European Union was created, to extract all possible benefits from joining this union.

Andriy: How do you see further development of Ukrainian-Hungarian relations?

- Ukraine is a friend, neighbor and partner for Hungary. We are able to cooperate with Ukraine in all spheres without serious problems and disagreements. In economic terms, Ukraine is the second or third non-EU country having the largest annual trade turnover with Hungary. Investments and business contacts are diverse, and we believe that we have very good prospects. I also want to point out the role of national minorities of Ukraine in the development of bilateral relations. The border zone is the western border of Ukraine with the European Union. I think it shows its importance to our relations.

Patriot: Hungary is actively issuing its passports for local citizens of Zakarpattya. On the other hand, Ukrainian law prohibits double citizenship. Does it mean that Hungarians encourage us ti violate the law?

- The law on citizenship of Hungary defines who has the right to apply for citizenship. Our parliament has adopted a single document. The law does not allow discrimination, and we cannot state in the law that a citizen of that this or that country has no right to apply for Hungarian citizenship. If a citizen of a foreign country can meet all the requirements stated by the procedure, he can apply for Hungarian citizenship. I can assure that Hungarian government does not encourage violation of the law. Our goal is to enable ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries to preserve their originality and to find there their wellbeing.

Mykola: Are you sure that the President of Ukraine wants to bring Ukraine in the EU, not the CU? Personally, I am not sure, but I do want to live by EU standards.

- The Ukrainian authorities stand for European integration, and it is determined by the laws adopted by the Ukrainian parliament. History of the EU proves that new members were not forced to enter. Of course, Ukraine has specific relations with Russia, but we know that simultaneous creation of free trade area with the EU and joining the Customs Union is not possible. It is down to the choice of Ukraine.

Manya: Mr. Ambassador, what are the top priority problems Ukraine's government should solve? What would your advise the Ukrainian authorities?

- In my opinion, ambassadors should not give advice to the leadership of sovereign states. We have different channels of communication, through which expectations of the EU and the partners of Ukraine could be informed of. However, my two-and-a-half-year experience in Ukraine shows that one of the most pressing issues is the competitiveness of the Ukrainian economy on the international arena. The second question is the rule of law and lack of respect to the laws from the side of the Ukrainian society. What do I mean? My daughter graduated in Germany. Once she was coming back to dormitory with her friends. The roads were empty, but traffic lights were functioning. When her friends stopped at red light, my daughter simply crossed the empty street. Germans, in turn, waited for the green light, caught up with my daughter and lectured her for violation of rules. This is the example how European people treat the law. I can tell you some examples from daily behavior of Ukrainian citizens, but I am sure you already know.

Denis: Mr. Bayer, can you characterize the economic and political processes undergoing in Ukraine and the perspective of Ukraine's membership in the EU?

- For the past years, Ukraine has adopted a number of laws, meeting the requirements of the EU to harmonize your legislation with the European one. The sides have developed the text of the Association agreement, which is waiting for signing. However, the European side still sets a number of questions, important for European political mentality, including selective justice in Ukraine. Probably, this is the most important question Ukraine must find a proper answer to.

Anastasia: Good day! Slovakia has started issuing multiple entry visas to Ukrainians. Can Hungary do the same? Does such initiative accord with Brussels?

- We already issue multiple entry visas for Ukrainians in accordance with the agreement between Ukraine and the EU on simplification of visa regime, which came into force on January 1, 2008.

Tanya: You had a meeting with education minister of Ukraine recently, dedicated to cooperation in the sphere of education and science. What are the results of this meeting? Do you have any plans of cooperation?

- We had very fruitful meeting and discussed wide range of question regarding the education sphere. We offer to sign a new cooperation protocol, which provides for mutual scholarships, internships, promoting research cooperation between the Ukrainian and Hungarian universities and research centers. The signing of a new agreement on the mutual recognition of diplomas and degrees is also important, given that the effective agreement is outdated and does not fully comply with the Bologna process and the changes in the Hungarian and Ukrainian higher education. Moreover, Hungary is ready to assist in learning the Hungarian language in different education institutions of Ukraine. During the meeting with minister Tabachnyk, I proposed to introduce Hungarian as the second foreign language for obligatory study in the Zakarpattia region schools since September of this year. If students want, they will be able to choose Hungarian now.

Serhiy: Good day, Mr. Ambassador! Why aren't there in Hungary languages of national minorities. I was forced to learn your language. Though there are many Ukrainians living in your country, there was no place where I could speak Ukrainian. Thus, why is it so important to have Hungarian in Zakarpattya region? People there do not want to study Ukrainian or Russian. Knowing only Hungarian they will be stuck in their Beregovo. Is this your policy? To control ignorant people?

- All national minorities in Hungary have a right to use their language, to found schools and to us their national language for education. Our government will even finance the maintenance of such schools. Ethnic minorities can also form local governing bodies to preserve originality of national minorities. However, the conditions in Hungary and Zakarpattya differ. Representatives of national minorities in Hungary do not live centered, but in different cities all over the country, while in Zakarpattya the majority of ethnic Hungarians live in Beregovo and its district. They have always had their schools, institutions, religious and cultural organizations. Europe believes in variety of cultures and languages. As any other government of Europe, ours take care about ethnic Hungarians and wants them to preserve the culture. By the way, these rights of national minorities are stipulated in the documents of the Council of Europe, and Ukraine has been its member since 90ies.

Resident of Vynnytsya: What does Ukraine have that Hungary buys for itself and can buy in the future?

- I don't quite understand your question. Hungary does not buy anything in Ukraine, because when I say Hungary I mean the Hungarian government. Hungarian companies have already bought shares and invested into Ukrainian economy. Take for example OTP Bank, Wizz-Air low cost airlines, "Fornetti". Some companies intend to create joint enterprises in the sectors of agriculture and transport. I also hope that with the help of the Hungarian party Kyiv will hold the first Sziget Festival, so popular among Ukrainian youth.

Mykola: Last year President Pal Schmitt resigned due to plagiarism scandal. Are Hungarians happy with the new President? Do you often have scandals involving high state officials?

- Thanks God, similar scandals happen very rare in our political life. The governments, working in Hungary since 1990, have always been stable. The President has been working for less than a year, but the general estimations are positive. The fact is that President of Hungary does not govern the executive power, like in Ukraine, but mostly represents the country on the international area and secures unity of the nation and rule of law in the country.

Observer: You have been working for while in the Middle East. How would you estimate the situation in Syria?

- Though I have not been engaged into Middle East issues since 1999, I try to keep up with the situation. This region undergoes the biggest changes since its independence. Though there has been established a certain balance between t he government and rebels, the history of Arab Spring revolution and general experience convince me that change of government is a matter of time. For us, Europeans, it is important to preserve stability in this region. For this, the EU renders all possible assistance to refugees and tries to help to solve the conflict. 

Mykola Mykolayevych: There is an opinion that trade with China resulted into collapse of Roman Empire. Do you think similar scenario can repeat itself in our times?

- First of all I think there is no Empire on Earth. Independent countries are connected with a wide net of international agreements and engagements. Indeed, China develops very fast and challenges other countries, and our task is to find a proper answer within the frameworks of peaceful co-existence and cooperation. I remember the New Year night of 2001. On that night I was in China, on the shore of Yellow Sea, where we were waiting for the first sunrise of new century. I made some photos and sent them to my friends with best wishes and a note - "Many people say that 21st century will be the century of China and I cannot but agree with them." For the moment I do not see any reasons to reconsider my note.

A Ukrainian: There is a scandal in Hungary involving far-right party Jobbik, which leader called for a list of Jewish members of the government and parliament because in his opinion they may pose a threat to Hungary’s national security. What is your attitude towards radical parties? Why are they popular in Europe? And what do you think about Ukrainian party "Freedom" (Svoboda)?

- First of all, we speak about the speech of only one MP from Jobbik party, and the Hungarian society, including the government, political parties and public organizations, has already expressed its disapproval. As for far-right radicalism, its rise happens in difficult times, like crisis, poor living, growth of unemployment. However, such parties do not have decisive influence in Europe. The history proves that any radical party loses its popularity in the period of stability and economic growth.

Sasha T.: What do you think about Palestine and its status of UN observer? How do you see further development of the situation in the region?

- The status of Palestine is disputed. Not all UN members support it, and EU members have different positions on this issue. Hungary, for example, restrained from voting in New York. In my personal opinion, Palestine must solve a number of problems first, namely the formation of Palestinian unity, holding presidential election, financing of Palestinian government. The perspective of peaceful solution has weakened for the past years. This region has always been the hottest in the Middle East. I hope that crisis in Syria will not aggravate the situation.

Ludmyla Markovna: Good day! Do you have the same mess in Hungarian politics, as we have in Ukraine?

- The word "mess" is not used in politics. To govern a country has never been easy. Any country may have difficulties and tensions in political and social life. The crisis has affected Hungary, but we have strong majority in the parliament and competent government, which decide on legal, political and economic issues and try to find the best solutions to all challenges.  

Tetyana: What are the perspectives of cross-border cooperation in Zakarpattya?

- We believe they are huge, but to use all our potential we must implement a number of projects first. In particular, we must open new checkpoints, to upgrade roads near the border. Hungary is building a highway 30 kilometers far from the Ukrainian-Hungarian border, and the Ukrainian side should also move in this direction - to build a circular road around Beregovo, to upgrade the road between Beregovo and Mukachevo. We welcome investments, cooperation between our cities and villages along the border improves. Another important part of our cooperation is protection of environment and fight against floods. We've made a lot already, but still it is not enough.

Lana: Good day, Mr. Ambassador! I've read in the news that the prices for communal services have been reduced by 10% since January first. How have you managed to do this? Don't you afraid that it can affect the budget of Hungary?

- Hungary buys gas at the highest price. There are many reasons to this, one of which is big "expenses" of energy companies, which provide the population with gas, electricity and heating. Under the conditions of the crisis, the Hungarian government has decided to divide expenses among different players on the market. Moreover, the Hungarian government has bought back the underground gas storage facility from German company EON, and we expect to reduce the expenses for its maintenance. All these factors have enabled the government to reduce communal service tariffs, and I believe the population will appreciate it.

Galyna: Good day, Mr. Ambassador. What is Hungary for you? Do you have favorite places in your native land you like to revisit?

- Hungary is y Motherland. Whatever I do, whenever I stay, I work for Hungary. When a person lives abroad for a long time, the community spirit becomes stronger. Budapest is my first favorite place. I live there when I work in the HQ of the Ministry. The second place is my native city, where I lived for 18 years and where I try to get whenever possible.

A Kyiv resident: Do you take Kyiv metro? Does it differ much from Budapest transport?

- Yes, I've taken it couple of times. You have beautiful metro, and the cars are wider than in Budapest. However, I am a little bit spoiled, thus I prefer the comfort of a car.

Ivan: Ten years ago I was in Budapest on business trip, and I noticed negative attitude towards Russian speaking people. Back then we thought it was the fault of Soviet regime. What about today? What is the attitude towards Russians and Ukrainians?

- Hungarian people studied the Russian language for decades, but this process has not resulted into some serious changes. The majority of Hungarians, who studied Russian for 8-10 years, do not understand it. It is a fact. Many people still remember the times when Soviet army occupied our territory, and memories are not positive. However, the Hungarian society does not care much about this part of our past. Undiplomatically speaking, USSR did not leave scars in the mentality of the Hungarian society. As for you question about attitude, I've never heard negative comments of Ukrainian or Russian tourists about attitude of locals. In fact, tourist inflow from Ukraine and Russia grows. More than 42% of Hungarian visas are issued in Ukraine. 

Solomia: I've heard that the Fish Festival will start soon in Hungary. Will you go home for the holiday? How popular is this festival?

- You have not mentioned which fish festival you mean. The most popular one is the Festival of fish soup, being held in Baia city. Frankly speaking, Hungarian people do not eat much fish. Many Hungarians believe that fish is not meat.

A student: Last year I was in Zakarpattya and tried Hungarian cuisine. It turns out it is similar to Ukrainian. What Hungarian and Ukrainian dishes do you like?

- Let's start with Ukrainian cuisine. My favorite dish is Ukrainian borsch with rye bread. When I was a student in Moscow, borsch saved my budget many times. If I did not have enough money, borsch and rye bread helped me to last till dinner. For this, my love to borsch is eternal. As for Hungarian cuisine, I don't have clear preferences, but I love sweets my wife bakes. I also like our national dish - stuffed peppers in tomato sauce. 

WWW: Mr. Ambassador, does your family live in Kyiv? Do they like our country?

- I have a wife and two grown-up children. In Kyiv, I live with my wife, who helps me a lot with my work, though she has nothing to do with the embassy. If we put apart traffic jams, Kyiv is a very nice cities. There is always something interesting happening here. Besides, we like your enormous green parks. Unfortunately, I don't have enough time to enjoy the parks and social life as much as I want to. Kyiv embassy is one of the biggest in Hungarian diplomatic activity, and often I have to work even on weekends. 

I want to thank you all for your question. I have understood that you studied my biography, and I am glad you reminded me the times when I was a young diplomat and worked on other continents. I am happy that Ukrainian people show much interest in Hungary. We intend to deepen this interest organizing cultural exhibitions in various Ukrainian cities, like Kyiv, Odessa, Simferopol, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Lviv and Uzhgorod. I hope our activities will encourage our Ukrainian friends to visit Hungary, to improve business and cultural contacts.


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