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Maidan: Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó

Hungary threatens to block Ukraine from EU after controversial language law

The Hungarian government has announced measures against efforts by the European Union aimed at bringing the EU closer to Ukraine.

Published: September 28, 2017, 8:48 am

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    Hungary has pledged to block Ukraine’s integration after Kiev enacted a controversial education law to restrict the use of minority languages in schools.

    The new law makes it illegal for education to be delivered in any other language but Ukrainian, despite sizeable European minorities present in the county.

    With the signing by of the language law, the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the law “shameful,” and dismissed president Poroshenko’s declarations of closer cooperation with Europe outright. “They are far from Europe, because a huge step was taken in the opposite direction,” Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said.

    “We can guarantee that this will hurt the future of Ukraine,” he added. His comments come two months ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels. Moreover, the statement of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that Ukraine “could forget about integration into Europe.” and also that “Hungary will block any initiatives beneficial to Ukraine in international organisations, especially in the EU”.

    Ethnic communities in Ukraine, including Poles, Romanians, and Hungarians are sceptical about Poroshenko’s hollow-sounding assurances about the law. Instead of assuaging the fears the fears minorities, the law has incensed officials in other countries neighbouring Ukraine.

    Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has canceled a planned visit to Kiev, warning that the legislation “drastically limits” minority groups’ access to their respective native languages.

    Russia too has noted the balatant discrimination aimed at Russian speakers in Ukraine month, saying that the legislation was designed to “forcefully establish a mono-ethnic language regime in a multinational state”.

    According to president Poroshenko, the new law “raises the role of Ukrainian as a state language in the education process” and “ensures equal opportunities for all”, which would in fact would not be the case. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin responded to minority concerns by calling the issue a mere “misunderstanding”.

    But a spokeswoman for the European Union called on Ukraine to make good on Kiev’s pledge to submit the new law to the Council of Europe to obtain an “expert opinion” on whether it would meet the EU’s stated language policy.

    Maja Kocijancic said such language laws “need to be carefully balanced” so as to address “the need the protect minority and regional languages”. The Council of Europe’s opinion according to Kocijancic, “should be duly taken into account…in advance of implementation of the legislation”.

    From next year, only kindergarteners would be allowed to learn the curriculum in their native tongues in Ukraine, and by 2020, it would actually become illegal under the newly signed law.

    The new law’s language requirement overturns a 2012 law passed under then-President Viktor Yanukovych, that allowed for minorities to introduce their languages in regions where they represented more than 10 percent of the population.

    One resident who doesn’t see much of a future for her four children in Ukraine, told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service in a recent interview that things were not improving in the country, “and I don’t think it’s going to get better, only worse”.

    The ethnic Hungarian from Mali Heivtsi in the west of the country, said that learning her native tongue was the only way to secure the future of her children.

    In June, the EU allowed visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens to most EU countries in what Poroshenko called a “final exit of our country from the Russian Empire” and in September, an Association Agreement strengthening ties between Ukraine and the EU entered into force.

    Yanukovych’s decision not to sign that agreement in 2013 has been presented as an excuse for his ouster.

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