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Trilateral Meeting on the Ukrainian Education Law: “A Promise is Not Enough, We Need Legal Guarantees”

By Abraham Vass // 2018.01.25.

Ukraine’s contested new education law has been at the center of an extraordinary trilateral meeting on Wednesday between Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin and US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell.

After the meeting, Szijjártó said that his Ukranian counterpart agreed to start genuine consultations on the law, but added that Hungary needs legal guarantee that Ukraine won’t start to enforce the bill until they come to an agreement with the local Hungarian community. In addition, Szijjártó argued that it’s not true that the problem concerns only these two countries, as Ukraine violated the most basic standards of minority protection, and Hungary’s point of view corresponds to the expectations of the EU.

The meeting took place at Hotel Intercontinental in Paris, and was attended by head of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association László Brenzovics, foreign ministry deputy state secretary Tamás Menczer said. Szijjártó met Brenzovics in Budapest last week to discuss the education law, and the two were in agreement that it “essentially impairs minority rights”, and that the most effective way to resolve the conflict would be to amend it. However, since the Venice Commission assessed the law, the Ukrainian government has not consulted with either the Hungarian government or with Transcarpathia’s Hungarian minority. Mitchell and Szijjártó met in Washington, DC last week and agreed on the need to find a solution as soon as possible. According to Menczer, this is what led to the trilateral meeting.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó (left) with US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell (center) and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin (Photo: KKM)

Ukraine’s controversial education law, passed by its parliament on September 5th, states that its aim is to “modernize education”, through reforms to be introduced from September 2018. Concerning the language of education, the 7th paragraph of the law states that Ukraine’s official language in education is Ukrainian and the use of minority languages is allowed only in the first four grades of primary education.

The entire Hungarian political spectrum was on the same page in protesting against the bill. Shortly after its passage, the Orbán government declared that all diplomatic means would be used to make Ukraine withdraw the legislation. Since then, Hungary has vetoed a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission on Ukraine’s integration.


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