The new Ukrainian education legislation creates a worse situation for Hungarians and other minorities than the situation they found themselves in regarding education in the Soviet Union, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó stated in Ungvár who will initiate a review of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement at the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Member States of the European Union to be held next week.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade spoke about this after had had consulted with the leaders of Hungarian organisations and historical churches in Transcarpathia with respect to the situation that had evolved in the wake of the new education law.

Mr Szijjártó said: at the meeting the parties came to the obvious conclusion that the education law which recently entered into force practically frustrates the operation of Hungarian schools in Ukraine, revokes the already acquired right of studying in the mother tongue over the age of 10 years, and in consequence, Ukraine violates all its existing international obligations. “We cannot allow this, the Hungarian Government will take the toughest action to combat these measures”, he added.

The Minister highlighted: “the education law fundamentally violates the Association Agreement concluded by Ukraine and the European Union, and with regard to this, I shall initiate a review of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement at the meeting of Foreign Ministers to be held in Luxembourg next Monday”. According to the regulations of the European Union, if either party violates the terms of the Association Agreement, there is scope for the review of the Association Agreement, he underlined. He took the view that the EU cannot turn a blind eye to this gross breach. He remarked that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will discuss the matter on Thursday, but “we expected the EU to take a tougher stance than that which we have observed so far”. He added: the EU and its Brussels institutions take express pleasure in criticising certain Member States if they believe that they do something that may be contrary to the democratic rules of the game, while there is a country here which would like to engage in closer ties with Europe and meanwhile tramples minority, and consequently human rights, underfoot.

In answer to the question as to whether he believes there is any realistic possibility of Ukraine amending its education law which stands in violation of minority rights, Mr Szijjártó said: the only possibility is to increase the international pressure on Ukraine as the fact that the Ukrainian Parliament passed this law and the head of state signed it forms part of a carefully considered strategy that is designed to yield internal political benefits. The politician believes it is shocking that the Ambassador of the United States to Kiev welcomed the law which grossly violates minority rights. In Mr Szijjártó’s view, in light of this, there is no other option than to step up the international pressure on Ukraine at European forums.

The Minister said it is unacceptable that “right next door to the EU, schools must be closed down in the 21st century because they provide education in minority languages, and as a result, teachers must be laid off and minorities must be stripped of an already existing right”. This constitutes an utter violation of the Association Agreement requiring the broadening of minority rights which must be prevented through the exertion of international pressure, he stressed.

The Foreign Minister indicated that he will have talks with Hennadiy Moskal, Governor of the Transcarpathia Oblast, who firmly stands up for the rights of Hungarians in Transcarpathia, bearing in mind that there is a 12 per cent Hungarian population in the county. He said it is a positive development that the county council (general assembly) took an express stance in favour of the preservation of minority education rights.

Regarding the fact that Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin repeated his proposal on Monday that they should pay a joint visit to Transcarpathia and discuss the issues related to the education legislation together with the representatives of the Hungarian community, Mr Szijjártó pointed out: his Ukrainian counterpart is late with his proposal. Members of the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia should have been consulted first, before the passage of the law.

The Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine entered into full effect on 1 September this year. Pursuant to the agreement, Ukraine pledges to implement structural reforms in the areas of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, responsible governance, trade and sustainable development. Ukraine is to reinforce its cooperation in environmental protection, defence, transport and consumer protection as well as in the fields of equal opportunities, education, youth policy and culture according to the agreement.

(Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister/MTI)