Saturday, 09 December 2017 13:08


Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 09.12.2017 
Ukraine’s education law is vindicated. As the Ukrainian government stated all along, a law on education that emphasizes teaching the state language in state schools is good policy and solidly in keeping with European practice. This is the conclusion of the European Commission for Democracy through Law, known as the Venice Commission, which is an advisory body of the Council of Europe. The Venice Commission found there was no merit in the complaint from Hungary that the language article of the law “On Education” narrows the rights of representatives of national minorities. 
The law “On Education” is innocuous. It says that Ukrainian is the state language of Ukraine. It says that state schools in Ukraine should teach pupils to read and write and speak and understand Ukrainian. All pupils in state schools have a right to an education where they are prepared to be fully-capable members of the community. In fact, this is a universal human right. Advising the Council of Europe – which is the oldest human rights body that Europeans have – the Venice Commission found that this is in keeping with the education law and policy of other European countries. French pupils study in French, and at school they are prepared to write university entrance examinations in French. This is hardly a surprise to anybody.
Hungary has taken strong exception to Ukraine’s education law, going so far as to demand that Ukraine withdraw the law altogether.  The Hungarian government claims that the rights of the Hungarian minority in Zakarpatia (the Transcarpathian or Subcarpathian region of Ukraine) are being trampled upon. The Venice Commission contradicted the Hungarian position, leaving no foundation for the Orbán government to continue its interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs. Nevertheless, Hungary continues to do so. Lacking rational arguments, Hungary now relies solely on threats. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, Péter Szijjártó, vows to block Ukraine-NATO meetings and Ukraine-EU meetings and to veto any moves towards eventual membership of Ukraine in NATO or the EU. Such vehemence is truly shocking, until one realizes that the nationalist segment of Hungarian society (represented politically by Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance and also by Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary) does not view the Hungarian minority in Zakarpatia as being Ukrainians loyal to Ukraine, but as Hungarians subject to a government in Kyiv by an accident of history. Greater Hungary thinking underlies the chauvinism of the Orbán government.
Hungary is finding it has few allies in its fight against Ukraine, except for Russia. It can pretend to be outraged at a violation of minority language rights, but the Venice Commission has denied that it exists. It can threaten to block Ukraine from NATO and the EU, but other members of those organizations are already chafing at Hungary’s obstructionism. On December 6, eleven NATO member countries, including Germany, wrote a letter opposing Hungary’s blocking of co-operation with Ukraine. On December 8, the European Commission took Czechia, Hungary and Poland to the European Court of Justice (the ECJ) over their failure to accept their required quotas for refugees. Things are not going well for Hungary in the vicious diplomatic battle it chose to start against Ukraine. On the Ukrainian side, diplomacy has gone very well. Tensions with Poland and Romania about the language provisions of Ukraine’s education law have mostly been smoothed over. Russia’s squawking about the Russian minority in eastern Ukraine has been passed over as so much noise at the OSCE foreign ministers meeting in Vienna.
Patience will reward Ukraine. The extreme language and outrageous demands of Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó will not win Hungary any friends. The calm diplomacy of Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin will continue to win Ukraine friends. Now, the findings of the Vienna Commission will bolster Ukraine and will undercut Hungary.
Ukraine has a sovereign right to teach Ukrainian in Ukrainian schools to Ukrainian pupils. Moreover it has a duty to teach the state language, to prepare young Ukrainians for life as Ukrainian citizens. The language provisions of Ukraine’s language law conform to the high standards of European human rights, and they do not narrow the the rights of representatives of national minorities in Ukraine.
Picture: map of Zakarpatia with Ukrainian, Hungarian and Romanian names of local cities
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