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New Ukrainian Education Law Discriminates Against National Minorities, says Science Academy

Péter Cseresnyés 2020.02.06.

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) has expressed its concern about the Ukrainian education law adopted in mid-January. In their statement, they emphasize that the law severely restricts the right of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine to study in their native language.

Should the law come into effect, it “would contribute to the loss of language, the disappearance of national culture, the isolation of some communities connected to the Hungarian language, and the rapid dissolution of others,” the Academy writes.

“We hope that the leaders of Ukraine will recognize these threats as well,” the text adds.

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“Continuous education in the minority languages ​​of a multicultural world is both a guarantee of the survival of minority communities and that of the representation of all human values, and at the same time is the key to the harmonious development of the individual in this linguistically and culturally complex world, MTA concludes.

According to the law, Hungarian students in Ukraine will be limited to learning in Hungarian in nursery and the first four grades of primary school.

As the law requires 40% of the subjects to be taught in the state language by the end of primary school, this also means a sudden change in language in schools without any transitional periods.

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Also, Hungarian language would not count as a mother tongue, but as a foreign language. If students chose their native language, they would not be able to learn a universal language like English or Spanish.  Or they could decide to give up learning Hungarian in school, “gradually breaking away from their national culture, which is rooted in their mother tongue.”

In secondary and vocational training, as well as in higher education, Ukrainian would be the only language in use.

The law makes it impossible to pass high school graduation exams and college entrance exams in Hungarian. Consequently, Hungarian-speakers would be put at a competitive disadvantage at all levels of the education system compared to Ukrainian-speakers.

If Ukraine’s President signs this legal document, then the law will come into force.

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The controversial Law on Education was adopted in 2017, during Petro Porosenko’s presidency. Ukraine’s neighboring states, including Hungary, tried to protest against the regulation without any meaningful success. In 2019, a language law in a similar spirit was also introduced.

The Hungarian Government was hopeful that Volodymyr Zelensky, the new president elected in April, would abolish the two laws, but this has not yet happened. Ukraine had made some changes to the laws on language use and education but these still discriminate against national minorities. In response, Hungary has been blocking the country’s NATO accession ever since.

Featured photo illustration by János Nemes/MTI