“We want to live in the rule of law” – Ildikó Orosz sued the Security Service of Ukraine

In 2020, the Primary Teacher educational programme of the Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian College of Higher Education was granted accreditation for one year. Now the procedure needs to be repeated and the English Translator master’s degree program is being accredited as well. We asked Ildikó Orosz how things were going, what the reason was they got the accreditation for only a year, since primary school teachers for Hungarian schools are not being trained anywhere in Ukraine outside of the college, despite the fact that the 2017 Law on Education authorizes education in the native language only at the level of primary schools.

The process of the accreditation was not smooth, as the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) reached out beyond its competence and intervened in the process.

The Secret Service claimed that the person of the rector of the institute did not meet the requirements set out by the laws in force. Ildikó Orosz said that she had cleared herself of the accusations with official documents and, as a private individual, had filed a complaint against the SBU in order to preserve her moral purity and credibility. Let’s take a closer look at this case.


– We read on the college’s webpage that the Primary School Teacher training has been accredited in spring. How does this process take place?

– According to the Ukrainian regulations, the first step is to obtain an operating license from the Ministry, and then, before the first graduation and diploma award ceremony, we ask for accreditation, which is granted by an independent qualification verifying committee.

There is a professional procedure in place: a dossier has to be submitted and then a visiting committee is sent out to check on the spot whether the self-assessment is realistic. An expert council will then decide, taking into account the opinion of the committee, whether to propose the accreditation and, if so, whether it will be granted for one or five years.

Regarding the accreditation of the Primary School Teacher Master’s program, the visiting committee was here in January 2020, we went through the procedure with the expert committee, and there was only one thing left: the final decision to be made by the board of the Quality Control Committee, which in such cases is considered merely a formality.


– The decision didn’t come easy…

– To our greatest shock, the President did not put the proposal to the vote at the committee meeting, saying that they had received a letter from the SBU expressing their doubts about the diplomas of the Rector of the college. In addition, other doubts were raised, so it was suggested that the matter be re-examined, and that a secondary committee be sent to our institution.


– When did you find out that the vote had been postponed?

–This meeting is broadcast live, so anyone who is interested or involved in the situation of higher education institutions can listen to it. That’s what we did, along with 4.5 thousand other people, according to the counter on the website. We were shocked, as the SBU thus intervened directly in a professional process to which it is not legally entitled. It is not the job of the secret service to express an opinion on professional issues. Incidentally, this was also noted by the members of the committee at the meeting. Nevertheless, the vote did not take place, and then came the quarantine.


– What happened next?

Upon the request of the college, the Quality Assurance Centre sent us the letter written by the SBU and asked us to respond, supporting our reasoning with documents. And we did so. At its next meeting, the committee made a positive decision concerning the accreditation.

This means that the obstacle to the issuance of Master’s diplomas for primary school teachers has been removed. This is a major milestone in the life of the college, as all of our majors are accredited except for the Master’s in English, which is currently in progress.


– What did the SBU base its accusations on?

– To my greatest surprise, they were referring to websites, unknown pages emerging and disappearing on the internet that in recent months anonymously published articles aimed to discredit and belittle the college and my person. The articles were not signed, and the accusations were not substantiated by evidence.

We don’t usually react to such slander because we can’t argue with people who keep their name a secret.

Now, however, there is a name and institution behind the accusations – the SBU itself. This case also had a demoralizing effect on the college and on me, as it was stated in front of the whole country and the entire world that there were doubts about my PhD degree obtained in Hungary. All this was claimed referring to a newspaper article. This damages my self-esteem, my honour, my reputation in front of the academicians who listened to the broadcast and those who were present at the meeting who may assume that I received my degree in a dishonest manner.


– This means that they were also accusing those who awarded the diploma…

– Exactly. It’s not just about my person, but also about those who taught me at the time or took part in the process of awarding the doctoral degree, so I decided to file a lawsuit against the SBU as a private individual in order to receive an apology in order to preserve my moral purity and credibility. I did not ask for financial compensation, only symbolically for one hryvnia, because it is not about the amount of money, but about the violation of many important institutions and individuals in the scientific community.

They insulted my advisor because, among other things, they questioned the existence of my academic degree because they did not find my dissertation on his personal page. They could not have found it, because in 2001, the dissertations had to be submitted only in paper form, a copy of which is kept in the scientific section of the university library. Anyone wishing to examine the dissertation can request it based on the catalogue sheet. I just did this to prove its existence. Since then, it has also been freely available on edu.com (a website that publishes scientific papers – ed.).

Thus, it is offensive to both the professor and the Debrecen Scientific Council to assume that someone may have been awarded a doctoral degree without participating in the procedure or submitting a dissertation.


– Did you have to nostrify the degree in Ukraine as well?

– Yes. Under the Ukrainian-Hungarian equivalence agreement, both countries nostrify degrees obtained in the other country according to their own regulations. In order to submit the application of nostrification for my degree, on the one hand, I had to receive an “apostille” at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which authenticated my diploma. This became possible only after the authenticity of the diploma had also been verified at the Ministry of Education.

After that, I also had to ask the Ukrainian Embassy in Budapest for a certificate that Ildikó Orosz is the same person who appears in my Ukrainian passport as Ildiko Oros, as our names were transcribed from Cyrillic according to the French transcription, thus distorting the names.

So when they wrote and claimed in front of the public that there were problems or doubts about my degree, they also insulted the Hungarian Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or at least assumed that they had not acted honestly. They also insulted the Ukrainian embassy, ​​which issued a certificate stating that I was the same person who obtained a degree at the University of Debrecen after three years of full-time study.


– How did the Ukrainian procedure take place?

 In Ukraine, according to the rules of the nostrification procedure, I had my gradebook, my diploma with an apostille, my thesis booklet translated, notarized, and then I had to prepare a more detailed thesis booklet in Ukrainian that contained at least one third of the dissertation. I then submitted all this to the Ministry of Education along with my publication. After that, the Ministry issued my Ukrainian expanded thesis booklet to two independent professors unknown to me for reviewer’s evaluation. Following their positive feedback, I was also able to defend my dissertation in Ukrainian in front of the Pedagogical Scientific Council of the University of Ternopil during a public defence, the second one after Debrecen, after which my dissertation was accepted by secret ballot without a single vote against, and I received my degree as a Candidate of Sciences from the University of Ternopil.

That is, whoever assumed that I had not defended my dissertation questioned the honesty and work of the Ukrainian notary offices, the work of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, the work and honesty of the Doctoral Council of the University of Ternopil, and all 20 renowned professors who cast the secret ballot and after my public defence, allowed me to be awarded the Candidate of Sciences degree in Ukraine.

We can see that it is not just about my person, but about questioning the work of many honest people working in science. That’s why I felt the need to make a formal complaint.


– What do you think was the purpose of the accusations?

– This is not the first time that I or the college appeared in the crossfire of the media with unfounded accusations, this time because of unknown, anonymous organizations and journalists, whom the SBU believed beyond any doubt.

There have been such cases earlier. Now I feel like they wanted to spoil the prestige of the college by tarnishing my name. But this is not the first time we have experienced this, either. The same thing happened in the mid-2000s, when the institution was also attacked through my person. Then the Carpathian True Word (Transcarpathian Hungarian weekly newspaper, originally titled Kárpáti Igaz Szó) took on the task. Since there was an official media and the name of the publicist, the person to file a complaint against was available. I won a personality rights lawsuit against the paper then. There were other attempts to discredit me, as well – most recently last year, when I was listed as an oblast representative and as a major separatist on some posters of unknown origin, after I stood up for justice for my community. The court ruled in my favour, but unfortunately the proceedings have been constantly postponed, despite the fact that the evidence is clearly on my side.

The strangest thing to me is that the SBU whose task is to uncover the events that provoke ethnic conflicts is the one making the accusations. It should side with the Ukrainian citizens and deal with such cases. That’s why I decided to try to enforce my right in court.


– What do you expect from the lawsuit and what progress has been made in the case?

– I want to live in a democratic country where, as Petőfi wrote, everyone is equally seated at the table of the law, but that requires that we be able to assert our righteousness.

So far, I have found that the grievances that have befallen us have not been revealed, no one has been held accountable for the crimes committed against us. To this day, we do not know who broke the sword of the Petőfi statue in Uzhhorod, and the arm of the Petőfi statue in Berehove multiple times, or who vandalized the statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the Roman Catholic Church in Berehove. Who tried to break the peace among the inhabitants of Transcarpathia with Hungarian posters written in our names and full of spelling mistakes? No one was punished for the burning and destruction of the Verecke conquest monument, for the frightening marches of individuals covering their faces and chanting: “put Hungarians on the knife’s edge”. We do not know who tore off the cockade and intimidated the Hungarian youth on March 15 in Uzhhorod. To date, no verdict has been handed down over the political poster battles of 2018 when we were proclaimed the country’s enemy.

I believe that we must stand up for our justice by the means of law. I decided to file the lawsuit to finally find out whether the law protects citizens, their honour, or if it only functions as a tool against them. Unfortunately, nothing has changed in this area, democracy has fainted and is not waking up. The lawsuit was not being registered for a long time and then the proceedings were refused on the grounds that they saw no crime and no breach of privacy.


– In such cases, what can be done, what do you intend to do?

Of course, I asked my lawyer to file the lawsuit again. This is also due to the fact that the accreditation of the English programme is now underway, which took place online; it was complicated, but the visiting committee expressed its satisfaction at the closing meeting and promised that their report would be published in writing on the online interface within the deadline. This, however, has not yet taken place, although the statutory deadline has expired. On December 2, they had to upload the self-assessment for the re-accreditation of the Primary School Teacher program on the quality assurance agency’s website, which we completed and uploaded in time, but we received feedback that it would only be accepted after January 12th. In the meantime, the SBU’s planned action, the house search, took place in the offices of several Transcarpathian NGOs, including the Charity Foundation for the Transcarpathian Hungarian College and the home of its president, László Brenzovics. Thus, one has a feeling of déjà vu, as if last year’s procedure was being repeated, and as if the professional body was waiting for the opinion of the SBU, the organization not entitled to form opinions on such professional issues. Yet since the spring procedure, my term as rector has expired and the institution has a new rector, so suggestions about my person could not be relied upon, while I proved the claims of the SBU are not credible, since we finally got the one-year accreditation. In a state governed by the rule of law, the Secret Service should not interfere with the accepted and effective order because it is not their job to do so. This is enshrined in a number of international treaties and recommendations, such as the OSCE Ljubljana Guide to the Integration of Diverse Societies and Explanatory Notes, Recommendation 46 of which states: “Security and law-enforcement agencies should be professional, accountable and fully respectful of human rights.” I think it is important to draw the attention of the domestic and international community to this, because things in our country are not moving towards democracy. I would like to inform the representations of the EU and NATO countries accredited in Ukraine about this case.


– What do you hope to achieve?

I have no illusions, because as my experience shows so far, the issue of the Hungarian minority is not of interest to the public in Europe and the around world, whatever happens to us, any deprivation of minority rights, different threats occurring almost every month, they can’t break through their stimulus threshold, they don’t react to it, as if Hungarian life didn’t matter. My conscience, however, does not allow me to stay silent because, as we know from Babits’ work, “he, who is silent is an accomplice among sinners”. Unless we knock down the barriers preventing democracy and the rule of law, they will never collapse. It is an experience that if we do this many and many times, we can damage the wall sooner or later, which can cause it to collapse. I call on the attention of all victims, not to keep the various violations a secret, to make a report, not in the hope that their right will be acknowledged, but in order to document it, so that it cannot be denied at international forums how many violations we are exposed to. What I would also like to draw the attention of all citizens to is to hold on to their faith as Christians, and as we read in several places in the Bible, the one who believes in God is not afraid. Today, everyone who lives in Transcarpathia as a Hungarian needs this strong faith in God, because they want to achieve that, as Attila József put it, “crafted fear” will guide us.

Marianna Pallagi