Lan­guage law puts Ukraine un­der pres­sure

The Irish Times - - World News - DANIEL McLAUGH­LIN in Bu­dapest

Ukraine has as­sured Hun­gary it has no in­ten­tion of re­strict­ing mi­nor­ity rights with a new ed­u­ca­tion law that prompted Bu­dapest to call for a review of re­la­tions be­tween Kiev and the Euro­pean Union and threaten to block closer ties.

Hun­gary and Rus­sia have led crit­i­cism of new rules that would re­duce teach­ing in mi­nor­ity lan­guages in Ukraine and in­crease classes in Ukrainian, which the Kiev gov­ern­ment says needs sup­port after cen­turies of Rus­sian dom­i­na­tion. Vary­ing de­grees of con­cern have also been ex­pressed by Ro­ma­nia, Bul­garia, Greece and Poland – EU and Nato states that Ukraine can ill af­ford to anger as it seeks to main­tain west­ern sup­port for its re­sis­tance to Rus­sian ag­gres­sion.

“It is ex­tremely im­por­tant to have open and con­struc­tive dia­logue on the ed­u­ca­tion law. Above all, it is about peo­ple,” Ukrainian for­eign min­is­ter Pavlo Klimkin told Hun­gar­ian tele­vi­sion be­fore talks in Bu­dapest yes­ter­day.

“Ukraine does not want to as­sim­i­late the Hun­gar­ian mi­nor­ity or de­prive it of its iden­tity or lan­guage,” he added, in com­ments re­leased by a spokes­woman.

“Our aim is to en­sure the role of the Ukrainian lan­guage as the state [lan­guage] on the same level as it is en­sured in all Euro­pean coun­tries, in­clud­ing Hun­gary.”

Mr Klimkin was due to meet Hun­gar­ian coun­ter­part Peter Sz­i­j­jarto to dis­cuss the ed­u­ca­tion law and Bu­dapest’s an­gry re­ac­tion to it, which some Ukrainian deputies say is part of the rul­ing Fidesz party’s cam­paign for re-elec­tion next spring.

‘Stab in the back’

Since the law was passed last month, Mr Sz­i­j­jarto has de­scribed it as a “stab in the back” and pledged that Hun­gary would “block all steps within the Euro­pean Union that would rep­re­sent a step for­ward in Ukraine’s Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion process. We can guar­an­tee that all this will be painful for Ukraine in fu­ture.”

“The ed­u­ca­tion law fun­da­men­tally vi­o­lates the as­so­ci­a­tion agree­ment con­cluded by Ukraine and the Euro­pean Union, and with re­gard to this, I shall ini­ti­ate a review of the ... agree­ment at the meet­ing of [EU] for­eign min­is­ters to be held in Lux­em­bourg next Mon­day,” he said this week.

Un­der Ukraine’s new rules, teach­ing in el­e­men­tary school can be in any lan­guage but in se­condary school most classes must be in Ukrainian and only a few can be in a mi­nor­ity lan­guage.

Of­fi­cials in Kiev say this will com­bat the abysmal level of Ukrainian lan­guage abil­ity in some ar­eas of the coun­try with large eth­nic mi­nori­ties.

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