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Ukraine Vows To Protect Minority Rights Amid Spat With Hungary

Participants of the NATO-Ukraine Commission pose for a picture after their talks in Kyiv.
Participants of the NATO-Ukraine Commission pose for a picture after their talks in Kyiv.

In a joint statement with NATO, Ukraine vowed to respect minority rights and implement a set of recommendations regarding an education law that Hungary opposes.

The NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting in Kyiv released the statement on October 31, a day after NATO-member Hungary vetoed an earlier draft because it didn’t include a clause that mentioned the “deprivation of rights” of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine.

The move came simultaneously when Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Hungary and NATO’s leadership was visiting Ukraine.

The joint NATO-Ukraine statement stipulates that Ukraine vows to continue “wide-ranging reforms” that are anchored in European democracies, including the “respect for minority rights.”

Regarding Ukraine’s education law adopted in September 2017, the alliance urges Ukraine to “fully implement the recommendations and conclusions of the Venice Commission,” an EU expert body on constitutional law.

Changes made to the law two years ago, according to Hungarian officials, curtail minority rights, including the roughly 125,000 ethnic Hungarians who reside mostly in the westernmost region of Zakarpattya.

Kyiv in contrast maintains the law strengthens knowledge in and the status of the Ukrainian language as a crucial component of national identity and a guarantee of sovereignty.

Ukraine’s Education Ministry has said the law isn’t discriminatory and doesn’t forbid pupils from seeking further language study in their native language at private institutions or through other avenues, such as self-organized groups or home tutoring.

One of the Venice Commission’s recommendations is to “ensure a sufficient proportion of education in minority language in addition to Ukrainian, allow more time for gradual reform, exempt private schools, and enter into a new dialogue with minorities,” Reuters reported.

Language is a sensitive topic in Ukraine, where some citizens argue that the dominance of Russian over the centuries has undermined Ukraine’s identity and culture.

Speaking at a briefing alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he assured his NATO allies “that Ukraine is complying with all the recommendations of the Venice Commission on the education law.”

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the NATO statement indicated that Kyiv should return the rights that it had purportedly stripped from its national minorities.

“Hungary is ready for consultations with the new Ukrainian leadership,” he said in a statement.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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