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PACE Criticizes Ukraine Over New Law On Education


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the new legislation into law on September 25. (illustrative photo)

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has expressed concerns over articles in Ukraine’s new education law relating to teaching in minority languages.

In addition, several European Union diplomats told RFE/RL on October 13 that Hungary will bring up the law when EU foreign ministers meet on October 16 in Luxembourg.

Meeting in plenary session in Strasbourg on October 12, the PACE voted for a resolution criticizing the new legislation, saying it "does not appear to strike an appropriate balance between the official language and the languages of national minorities."

"In particular, the new law entails a heavy reduction in the rights previously recognized to 'national minorities' concerning their own language of education," they said.

EU diplomats told RFE/RL that Hungary had threatened to review the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement that entered into force on September 1. Since this can only be done by unanimous agreement of all EU members, Hungary instead said it will bring up the issue at the Luxembourg meeting.

Hungary also included the issue in the Eastern Partnership declaration that EU ambassadors agreed to on October 11 and that leaders plan to issue at the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on November 24.

The draft text says parties should "ensure respect for rights already exercised of persons belonging to national minorities as enshrined in UN and Council of Europe conventions and related protocols."

The EU officials also said Budapest would consider pushing for tough language on the matter during an EU-Ukraine association council session in December if the issue remains outstanding.

Poland and Romania, which both expressed concerns about Ukraine's education law, have not joined Hungary in any of the actions, the officials said.

After days of criticism from Ukraine’s ethnic minorities and its neighbors, President Petro Poroshenko on September 25 signed the legislation into law, which makes Ukrainian the required language of study in state schools from the fifth grade on.

The law does not outlaw instruction in languages other than Ukrainian, and students can still learn their native languages as a separate subject.

But the new law's language requirement overturns a 2012 law that allowed for minorities to introduce their languages in regions where they represented more than 10 percent of the population.

No 'Real Consultation'

PACE said that the new law was adopted without "real consultation with representatives of national minorities."

It also expressed dissatisfaction that Ukrainian authorities submitted the text of the bill to the Council of Europe's Venice Commission of legal experts for an opinion only after its adoption by lawmakers.

The assembly urged the authorities "to fully implement the forthcoming recommendations and conclusions of the Venice Commission and to modify the new Education Act accordingly."

In signing the bill, Poroshenko insisted that it was "in harmony with European standards" and "ensures equal opportunities for all," according to a statement on the presidential website.

But that hasn’t assuaged the concerns of groups such as Poles, Romanians, and Hungarians, all of whom have sizable ethnic communities in Ukraine. The law has also incensed officials in other countries neighboring Ukraine as well, particularly Russia and Hungary.

On October 12 in Budapest, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Hungary will continue with withhold support for Ukraine's further integration with the European Union as long as the law remains unchanged.

"We consider the new Ukrainian education law a stab in the back of our country," he said.

He was speaking at a joint news conference with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin, who said that not knowing the native language made it hard for minorities to be successful in Ukraine.

"Everyone needs the opportunity to fulfill themselves in their country of citizenship," Klimkin said. "But this is not possible without knowing the language."

He added that "not a single school" would be closed or "a single teacher" dismissed because of the new language requirement.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said that the law is designed to "forcefully establish a mono-ethnic language regime in a multinational state." Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that Ukraine "stabbed Hungary in the back" with the law.

With reporting by AP and Reuters