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Kyiv 'Disappointed' As Romanian President Cancels Ukraine Visit Over Language Bill

Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis speaks to the press in New York on September 21.
Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis speaks to the press in New York on September 21.

Kyiv has voiced disappointment after Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said he would not travel to Ukraine next month in protest over a bill that obliges schools to teach in the Ukrainian language only.

Iohannis said the bill "drastically limits" the access of minorities to education in their native language, adding that the cancellation of his visit is a very strong signal.

A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman on September 22 confirmed that the visit had been canceled.

"We are disappointed that the Romanian side doesn't want the leaders to have dialogue," she said.

Iohannis told reporters on September 21 that the legislation, if signed into law by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, "will drastically limit the access of minorities to education in their native language."

"We are deeply hurt by this," Iohannis said on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. "We have many Romanians in Ukraine."

Iohannis said that he and Poroshenko had planned a visit together in Ukraine's western region of Bukovina, where many ethnic Romanians live. Ukraine's ethnic Romanian minority numbers some 400,000 people.

"The legislation comes at the wrong time and the entire approach, as far as I am concerned, needs to be questioned," Iohannis said.

Iohannis described his decision as "an extremely...tough diplomatic signal."

The Romanian president said he personally told Poroshenko about his decision when he met him on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, adding that Poroshenko was in "a pensive mood" after his discussion with Iohannis.

Romania has withdrawn an invitation for the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Andriy Parubiy, to visit Bucharest, Iohannis said.

Iohannis also said he had withdrawn an invitation for Poroshenko to visit Bucharest.

The bill, approved on September 5 by the Ukrainian parliament, says the Ukrainian language will be the main language used across the country for school classes above the fifth grade.

Hungary, Moldova, and Russia have also denounced the legislation, calling for it to be revised.

Around 8 million Russians, making up some 17 per cent of the population, are the largest minority in Ukraine.

On September 12, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the bill would hurt the interests of Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

There are also an estimated 140,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on September 21 that "withdrawing existing minority rights is not usual in European culture" and that it drives Ukraine further from EU membership, while Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said that, by approving the law, Ukraine had "stabbed Hungary in the back."

But Ukrainian officials reject charges that minority languages will be sidelined.

They note that the law guarantees students from national minorities of Ukraine the right to study in municipal institutions using their language along with Ukrainian.

It says classes for students from national minorities should be taught in their languages as well as Ukrainian.

With reporting by, AP, Interfax, and dpa

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