Protest against Ukraine’s education law

On September 5, 2017 the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) passed an education bill that will prove to be detrimental to Hungarian and other minority communities and their ethnic languages. The new bill stipulates that Ukrainian should be the official language of instruction from grade five onwards, limiting access to education taught in the Hungarian language for kindergarten and primary school students and making Ukrainian the sole language of secondary and higher education. The law will greatly curtail linguistic rights and must be closely followed to determine if it violates Ukrainian constitutional law and European values. Hungarian Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto noted that Ukraine has “stabbed Hungary in the back” with the new law.

The National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada, NAHC (Kanadai Magyarok Országos Szövetsége, KMOSz), officially submits its protest to the new education law and vows to bring further attention to the discriminatory nature of the law and its harmful regulation against the Hungarian language and those of Ukraine’s other minorities. The survival of Hungarian linguistic and cultural heritage and identity in the Ukraine depends on its ability to use and learn its ethnic language as a means to protect and preserve more than a millennium of Hungarian heritage in Transcarpathia. We call on all organizations to demand that the President of Ukraine send this bill back to parliament for review, and that ethnic minorities in Ukraine be allowed fair input to determine educational reform that befits Ukraine’s European integration.

Ukraine’s new education law further restricts the Hungarian language by regulating the use of the Hungarian language in school from grade five onwards, where only two subjects may be taught in a minority language of the European Union (of which Hungarian is a part). Similarly, there are Hungarian language schools and colleges in Transcarpathia which remain a vital component of Hungarian minority education in Ukraine. The NAHC/KMOSz fears for the future of Ferenc Rákóczi II Sub-Carpathian Hungarian College and the Uzhgorod National University both of which currently instruct in the Hungarian language. We understand that Ukrainian must undoubtedly remain the official language of Ukraine, but almost 20 percent of Ukraine is comprised of ethnic minorities. Their culture must be defended and protected equitably.

Some in the media and among opposition parties in Hungary have shamelessly labeled Hungary’s call for the protection of minority rights for Hungarian minorities in Ukraine as mere nationalism. However, the only culprit responsible for stoking the cauldron of nationalism are those nations that continue to refuse their ethnic minorities the rights and protection guaranteed by both national and European laws and convention. Ukraine has despairingly abandoned its promise to further European integration. If Hungary is not allowed to stand up for its ethnic kin in neighbouring states without rebuke then the whole mechanism for which the protection of minority rights in Europe exists must be called into question. Hungary has witnessed almost a century of ethnic cleansing, discrimination, and assimilation of its ethnic kin in neighbouring states without the voice or means to affect change. It is within Hungary’s right – indeed obligation – to defend the rights of Hungarian minorities and for organizations around the world to raise their concerns to such a discriminatory Ukrainian law.

Hungary has taken every diplomatic effort, including blocking membership to international organizations and turning to the United Nations, to affect change in Ukraine and other neighbouring states who have ignominious records of minority rights protection. It is both ironic and hypocritical that Romania for example has aggressively lambasted the new Ukrainian education law when in fact Romania has denied on numerous occasions those same rights to the sizable Hungarian minority in Transylvania. Further, it is unfortunate that Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, and to a lesser extent in Croatia and Slovenia, must face continuous efforts by national governments to suppress the rights of Hungarian minorities.

A local Transcarpathian politician Andrea Bocskor noted:

“The anti-minority measures of the educational reform are highly disappointing, because Ukraine had already pledged its commitment towards European integration several times. It is impossible to foster the learning of the state language with coercive methods.

Appropriate means, motivation and good examples are the better approach. The forced integration of Ukrainian minorities is a sign of a policy of open assimilation. Adopting this legislation reflects Ukraine’s true standpoint on European integration, European values and the rule of law.”

The Reformed Youth Organisation of Transcarpathia (KRISZ) also:

“Noticed with consternation and was shocked about the decision of the Ukrainian Parliament adopting a law on education which restricts the basic rights of minorities of the country regarding the use of their mother-tongue, including Hungarians, and contradicts European democratic principles.”

The National Alliance of Hungarians in Canada (Kanadai Magyarok Országos Szövetsége) pledges its continued solidarity with the Hungarian minorities in the Ukraine and calls on all international organizations, the European Union, national governments, and concerned citizens to demand that the destructive nature of the new Ukrainian educational law to minority languages and cultural identity goes against the fabric of a democratic and multi-ethnic Ukraine.