Protest against the New Ukrainian Law on Education

 

The Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine adopted the Law on Education (bill 3490-d) in the second and final reading on 5th September 2017. Article 7 of the bill significantly violates the fundamental right of national minorities, including the 150 thousand strong Hungarian minority of Transcarpathia Region, to receive education in their mother tongue.

In general, the Law drastically curbs the already acquired level of minority rights in education and language use instead of guaranteeing and widening them in accordance with European values and international standards. It represents an unprecedented legal regression even in comparison with the standards of the Soviet era.

  • The Law continues to allow persons belonging to national minorities to acquire nursery and primary (1-4th grade) education in their mother tongue, but abolishes this right from 5th grade onwards (secondary school and higher education). All subjects – with the possible exception of one or a few subjects – shall be taught exclusively in Ukrainian.
  • In secondary and vocational training, as well as in higher education, Ukrainian would be the only language of tuition. The Hungarian Faculty of the Uzhhorod State University would cease to exist.
  • The new law makes it impossible to pass a school-leaving exam and acquire a diploma in Hungarian language.
  • The full-scale (1-12th grade) minority language education besides Ukrainian language is only provided for “indigenous minorities” (Crimean Tatars, Karaims and Krymchaks), but not for “national minorities” (Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians, Russians, Bulgarians etc.). Differentiation between minorities (giving more rights to specific linguistic groups while curbing the rights of others) is profoundly discriminative and unconstitutional (Article 24).

 

The new rules would be introduced gradually from 1 September 2018. For those who started their studies earlier, the new rules would be fully applicable from 1 September 2022, but the number of subjects taught in Ukrainian would be gradually increased already during the transition period.

Purely Hungarian-language schools, of which there are 71, shall therefore be eliminated within 2 years, by 2020.

The Hungarian government has been expressing its concerns regarding the amendment of Article 7 of the Law, and was reassured on multiple occasions by the Ukrainian counterparts that there would be no reduction of the rights of the Hungarian minority.

 

The passing of the new law occurred in a difficult period for Ukraine that has seen Hungary stand by its troubled neighbour and provide significant assistance to it in various ways, such as medical treatment of wounded soldiers, energy efficiency upgrades of educational and health institutions, supply of medicines and vaccination, holiday camps for 2600 war affected children, hundreds of full state scholarships for university students and contribution to the OSCE SMM and NATO Trust Fund for cyber security, etc. Hungarian assistance for Ukraine made up 25 million USD in the period of 2013-17. In addition we are providing a 50 million USD stimulus package for Ukrainian economic actors in the period 2016-18, as well as a 50 million EUR tied-aid credit line for infrastructure development in Ukraine.

 

If implemented, the Law will have a devastating effect on the Hungarian-language education system in Transcarpathia with the possibility of fully liquidating the Hungarian-language educational institutions whose functioning was ensured even during the Soviet era.

 

The new Law on Education violates:

 

  • The Ukrainian Constitution (Art. 22: the content and scope of existing rights and freedoms shall not be diminished in the adoption of new laws or in the amendment of laws that are in force.; Art. 24: there shall be no privileges or restrictions based on … ethnic, linguistic … characteristics);

 

  • International standards and directives concerning national minorities as laid down in bilateral intergovernmental agreements, notably the Hungarian-Ukrainian Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Cooperation (Basic Treaty) and its Declaration on cooperation for ensuring the rights of national minorities (Art. 10: the parties ensure the possibility that national minorities can learn their mother tongue and can study in their mother tongue at every level of the education system).

 

  • The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (Title II, Art. 4: “to strengthen respect for democratic principles, the rule of law and good governance, human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, non-discrimination of persons belonging to minorities and respect for diversity, and to contribute to consolidating domestic political reforms”)

 

  • PACE Resolution 2145 (2017) on the functioning of democratic institutions in Ukraine (13. It is of foremost importance that, under the legal regulations to be modified, national minorities can preserve current rights to use their minority languages, which are provided by the Constitution and by all international commitments of the country. Emphasising the importance of the continuation of an inclusive policy towards minority languages for the stability of the country, the Assembly calls on the authorities to ensure that, in the event that the Law on the Principles of the State Language Policy is repealed by the Court, the low threshold for the use of minority languages contained in that law is maintained.)

 

We call on all parties concerned with the future of Ukraine, the rule of law in that country and its rapprochement to the European Union to address the severe violation of fundamental minority rights inherent in the Law. Hungary will continue to do so as long as at least the previous standards are not restored.