February 2, 2018

Between the Principled Stand and Stubbornness

Zoryana Lebedivna

What has changed in recent months in the positions of Ukraine and, in particular, of its Ministry of Education, in defending the language article of the law “On Education”, adopted in September last year?

Our experts explained the following: the language article in no way restricts the cultural rights of national minorities, but on the contrary — gives them the opportunity of social and career realization. And responding to the neighboring foreign states' dissatisfaction with Article 7 of the Law “On Education”, in our turn, we can point out the fact that there are no Ukrainian-language educational institutions on their territory for the Ukrainian minority. While there are more than enough such educational institutions for national minorities in Ukraine.

In October–December 2017, Hungary and Romania kept criticizing the said Article 7. In response, Minister of Education Lilia Hrynevych had to argue in favour of provisions of this Law of Ukraine. One of the most successful arguments is statistical data on the percentage of the successful passing the External Independent Evaluation by representatives of national minorities. For example, referring to official statistics of the Ukrainian Center for Educational Quality Assessment, the Minister stated that 62 % of the Hungarian minority school graduates did not pass exams in the Ukrainian language and literature; respectively for Romanian minority the figure is 55 %.

Ministers Pavlo Klimkin and Lilia HrynevychIt should be noted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine provided absolute support for Ukraine's position. Thus, Foreign Minister, Pavlo Klimkin, who held a number of diplomatic meetings and events, in particular with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, actively defended our position. For example, in December 2017, Pavlo Klimkin visited a schools in the Transcarpathian region, where at a specially organized briefing he actively supported Minister of Education Lilia Hrynevych's position. These measures were of great importance, because our neighbor Hungary, trying to criticize and block the implementation of the language article of the new Law, decided to rely on the support of the… Russian Federation. In particular, the above-mentioned Hungarian Minister P. Szijjártó with his Russian counterpart S. Lavrov met in New York in September 2017 and jointly expressed a concern about limited possibility for the representatives of national minorities in Ukraine to study in their native language in accordance with the new Law “On Education”. What was the real reason for such an “alliance” is anybody’s guess…

But how is this law perceived by the civilized world which always seeks to take into account the legal field? Here we have won: in late 2017 was adopted the Venice Commission’s opinion on the provisions of the Law “On Education”, which concern the use of the State Language and Minority and other Languages in Education. The Commission concludes that although there are certain differences in Article 7 of this Law, all the rights of national minorities are guaranteed in full, in particular, the possibility of teaching in the language of minorities at primary schools. Thus, the Venice Commission has supported Ukraine's positions set out in the Article 7 of the Law “On Education”. This has given us additional advantages in solving the so-called local conflict.

The EU Council and the Baltic States have also supported us with official rhetoric. In particular, with Estonia chairing the Council of the European Union, consultations were held on the settlement of this conflict situation, and it supported Ukraine, advising us to enlist the support of those countries whose natives live in Ukrainian territories as national minorities. Ukraine immediately implemented this.

In general, Ukraine's active position only contributed to the settlement of the conflict situation: a declaration was signed with Poland on the implementation of Article 7; Bulgaria has expressed a desire to work on textbooks and programs, in particular, to prepare teachers for the Bulgarian minority's schools; representatives of Hungary agreed to work with Ukrainian educators on the development of documents regarding the implementation of Article 7 of the above-mentioned Law.

However, the position of Ukraine is somewhat weakened by Paragraph 4 of Article 7 of the Law “On Education”, which states the following: “In educational institutions, according to the educational program, one or more subjects can be taught in two or more languages — in the state language, in English, in other official languages of the European Union”. Not completely clear wording of this paragraph creates a kind of “niche” for its violation by representatives of national minorities in the form of evasion from compulsory teaching of disciplines in the state language. Thus, the Minister of National Education of Poland Anna Zalewska said that she wants to hear about the guarantees that will prove the possibility of teaching in Polish at the Polish minority's schools in Ukraine.

So, Ukraine continues to defend its principled stand regarding Article 7 of the Law “On Education”. Within less than half a year, Ukraine managed to take a series of measures to resolve the conflict situation, to ensure the neighboring countries, the Council of the European Union and the Venice Commission's support. There are certain differences that somehow create the above-mentioned field for speculation on the implementation by national minorities of Article 7. However, these differences will be clarified in due course. The main burden has fallen on the shoulders of our two Ministries — Ministry of Education and Ministry of Foreign Affairs — which jointly have reinforced the anti-Russian information front and contributed to strengthening Ukraine's diplomatic positions in the world.