Language law puts Ukraine under pressure
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.