‘Major impediment’: PACE says Ukraine education law violates ethnic minority rights


A new Ukrainian education law fails to “strike a balance” between the official language and those of minorities, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said in a resolution, adding that it is not conducive to “living together.”

PACE expressed its concerns over the articles relating to education in minority languages in the law recently adopted by Kiev. It “entails a heavy reduction in the rights previously recognized to ‘national minorities’ concerning their own language of education,” according to the document.

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“The new legislation does not appear to strike an appropriate balance between the official language and the languages of national minorities,” the resolution adopted by PACE on Thursday says. The document was supported by 82 members of the 110 who took part in the vote, RIA Novosti reports. Only 11 parliamentarians opposed it while 17 others abstained.

The resolution further says that the Ukrainian education act “is not conducive to ‘living together,’” which particularly encompasses the principle of non-discrimination. PACE noted that any country’s measures aimed at promoting its official language must “go hand in hand with measures to protect and promote the languages of national minorities.”

The assembly said it “deplored” the fact that no consultations with the national minorities in Ukraine were held ahead of the adoption of the law. It further “expressed dissatisfaction” that the text of the legislation was submitted to the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) for an opinion only after it was approved by the Ukrainian parliament – the Supreme Rada – and signed by the president, Petro Poroshenko.

The resolution called on Kiev to ensure that there is enough “flexibility” in the planning and implementation of the educational reform to “avoid hasty changes prejudicing the quality of education provided to pupils and students belonging to national minorities.”

It also asked the Ukrainian authorities “to fully implement” the recommendations of the Venice Commission, which it is expected to deliver by the end of 2017. The controversial legislation adopted by the Supreme Rada on September 5, and signed by Poroshenko on September 27, is still causing concern in neighboring European countries.

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The head of the Hungarian delegation at PACE, Zsolt Nemeth, accused Kiev of being at odds with European values and said that the newly adopted law could lead to instability in the western Ukrainian regions. He also called on European countries to “continue to exert pressure” on Ukraine to make it “stay within the framework of European values,” as reported by TASS.

Moldovan MP and also PACE member, Vlad Batrincea, said that Kiev is cherry-picking European values. Ukraine acts as if it had a “menu in a restaurant,” the MP said, adding that Kiev adopts some European norms but pretends it is unaware of others.

Following the adoption of the law, Romania cancelled a state visit to Ukraine by President Klaus Werner Iohannis and refused to host a parliamentary delegation from Ukraine in protest.

Moldovan President Igor Dodon warned that Ukraine’s Moldovan and Romanian minorities risked “denationalization” under the new law, while Hungary called it a “stab in the back.”

Later, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto threatened to block Ukraine’s EU integration under the Eastern Partnership program in response to the adoption of the law.

The legislation is expected to affect at least 400,000 children studying in 735 Ukrainian schools which offer instruction in minority languages. The majority of these children are ethnic Russians, but other minorities in Ukraine include Romanians, Hungarians, Moldovans and Poles.

Under the newly adopted law, only children in grades 1-4 would be allowed to learn the curriculum in their native tongues in Ukraine starting from 2018, and by 2020 even that will no longer be legal.

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