The De Jure and De Facto Opportunities for the Use of the Hungarian Language in Sub-Carpathia

Aniko Beregszaszi


Until 1919 the area of today’s Sub-Carpathia was a part of the then Hungary. The minority and language policies were naturally and primarily directed towards the local Slav populations (i.e. the Rusin and Ruthenians). On 21 December 1918 the counties of Ung, Bereg, Ugocsa and Marmaros (which had been Hungarian counties) became the autonomous territory of Ruszka Krajna through the self-determination of the local Rusin people. (This area represents almost exactly that of today’s Sub-Carpathia.) However, the significance of this was rather meagre because in practice it did not operate as an autonomous territory. In the period  between 1919 and 1939 -- when today’s Sub-Carpathia was created as a part of  Czechoslovakia -- there was no  major minority movement evident in the region. From 1944 until 1991 the region was a part of the Soviet Union and thus the effects of Soviet nationality and language policy were mainly felt. One of the central questions of Soviet policy on nationality was that from all points of  view a homogenous society should be established. In the “politics of homogenisation”  a central role was given to the ideology of internationalism,  which in fact pointed towards uniformity and taken one stage further actually served the process of Russification. In the former Soviet Union every nationality and language had equal rights to the extent that the country oficially had no state or official language. Russian was the dominant language in public administration, in the communist party, in education and in public life. In the member republics of the Soviet Union, in autonomous regions and within certain districts, beside the Russian language the language of the nationality giving its name to the republic had an official function (albeit only in a restricted sense). Those peoples and languages who did not have their own independent units of public administration could in practice only use their language in the private sphere and in education.

In 1991 Ukraine became independent. Right from the beginning, seven laws at various levels dealt with the status of languages and the respective spheres of their use; this study considers these laws in detail. It is affirmed that de jure Ukrainian is the state language of Ukraine, Russian has the status of an official language, and speakers of minority languages have the opportunity to use their mother tongue in all areas of public life in those areas where they make up the majority nationality. However, de facto,

beside the Ukrainian state language and despite administrative prohibitions, Russian is used as the official language in those eastern areas which are densely populated by Russians. However, minority languages can only be used in education, the press of the nationality, in radio and television broadcasts, in minority public life, in religion and in the private sphere. Therefore in practice the situation of the Hungarian language since Ukraine became independent has not changed much from the status it had in the Soviet Union.

In the second half of the study the experiences of students attending colleges of higher education (with respect to exercises for which they have prepared) are dealt with. These students came from Beregszasz and individual towns with Hungarian majorities. At the level of conversational tasks in most areas these comply with the rights laid down by law; however, with written exercises big deficiencies can be experienced: official forms, notices, advertisements and other information are mainly in the Ukrainian language.