Tuesday,
24 October 2017
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OpinionWhat to expect from language debate in PACE

The upcoming debate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Article 7 of the new Ukrainian law on education will be useful for Kyiv as it will enable the authorities to communicate calmly and impartially to all PACE members the country’s absolutely adequate position on the issue. With its new education law, I believe, Ukraine violates no international agreements on human rights and protection of national minorities. Concerns expressed by the representatives of Hungary, Romania and several other countries, not taking into account Russia, are, in my opinion, exaggerated, and it is unlikely that the PACE will side with these countries. Moreover, as of today, the Venice Commission has not yet issued an opinion in response to Ukraine’s appeal to assess the new legislation.

Therefore, the debate will remain a debate. Perhaps some sort of resolution will be adopted which, I suggest, will contain appeals to Ukraine and to the countries that initiated the debate to find an understanding within the limits of international instruments regulating this particular issue. That's all.

Of course, Ukraine will have to take into account the concerns of its partners within the organization; otherwise, Ukraine will behave as Russia traditionally does, which would be unacceptable. Ukraine must listen, Ukraine must understand their concerns, but it should also clearly and definitively prove their legal position.

Neither PACE nor the Venice Commission can force Ukraine to anything. Their remarks are recommendations that Ukraine, as a member of a civilized community, has to take note of. But if Kyiv does not violate international law, then this is only a recommendation, nothing more.

Perhaps some sort of resolution will be adopted which, I suggest, will contain appeals to Ukraine and to the countries that initiated the debate to find an understanding within the limits of international instruments regulating this particular issue. That's all.

All the more so, the law does not rule out a certain settlement at a bilateral level that could take into account all concerns that have emerged among Ukraine’s neighbors. But still, the Ukrainian language should be the language of instruction in the Ukrainian state. Meanwhile, particularities of teaching minority languages or individual classes in the languages of national minorities are the subject of additional consultations and additional intergovernmental or inter-state agreements. However, it is obvious that no national minority language can replace the Ukrainian language as the language of interethnic communication and the language of instruction in Ukraine.

In addition, speaking about this whole row, I would not use the phrase "language scandal". In fact, there is no scandal, but there are attempts by individual member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union to exploit the current circumstances in order to force Ukraine to do what no country in Europe does. This is exactly where the scandal is. It’s not about Ukraine trying to bring its legislation in line with international law. It's a pity that Ukraine did not do this 25 years ago.

In fact, there is no scandal, but there are attempts by individual member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union to exploit the current circumstances in order to force Ukraine to do what no country in Europe does

It’s not those individual provisions of the new law on education, as, for example, its article 7, which are scandalous, it’s the attempts by some countries which are part of the European Union and should demonstrate the highest standards, in particular in language matters, to impose things on Ukraine that, in my opinion, are incompatible with such standards.

It can be qualified as direct interference in Ukraine's internal affairs and gross violation of the same international legal norms that these countries have taken to implement after ratifying the relevant conventions.

Therefore, I don’t think that the debate in the PACE could hinder Ukraine if the delegation clearly and definitively explains the essence of this law to its PACE partners. I hope that the Ukrainian delegation will be skilled enough to do it.

Volodymyr Ohryzko is a Head of the Russian Research Center, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

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