The new Ukrainian law on education: a major impediment to the teaching of national minorities' mother tongues
- Parliamentary Assembly
debate on 12 October 2017 (34th Sitting) (see Doc. 14415, report of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education
and Media, rapporteur: Mr Andres Herkel). Text
adopted by the Assembly on 12 October 2017 (34th Sitting).
1. The Parliamentary Assembly is concerned
about the articles relating to education in minority languages of
the new Education Act adopted on 5 September 2017 by the Verkhovna
Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) and signed on 27 September 2017 by the
Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko.
2. Various neighbouring countries have claimed that this act
infringes the rights of persons belonging to national minorities
and also raises sensitive legal issues under the Ukrainian legal
order. The Assembly deplores the fact that there was no real consultation
with representatives of national minorities in Ukraine on the new
version of Article 7 of the act adopted by the Verkhovna Rada. The
Assembly notes that the Ukrainian authorities have submitted the
text of the Education Act to the European Commission for Democracy
through Law (Venice Commission) for an opinion, which shall be delivered
by the end of 2017. However, the Assembly expresses dissatisfaction
that this step was not taken before the adoption of the Education
Act. In addition, the Assembly is aware that in March 2017 the Advisory
Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities adopted its opinion on Ukraine (4th cycle) which should
become public at the beginning of 2018 and that a report on Ukraine
submitted by the Committee of Experts of the European Charter for
Regional or Minority Languages is being considered by the Committee
3. The Assembly takes note of serious concerns expressed on a
number of legal issues. It believes that it is important to fulfil
the commitments based on the European Convention on Human Rights
(ETS No. 5), the Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities (ETS No. 157, “Framework Convention”), and the European
Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ETS No. 148), and to
help re-establish a constructive dialogue between the different
parties concerned. In this respect, for the Assembly, three interconnected
principles must guide the stakeholders towards more consensual arrangements.
4. The first is that knowledge of the official language(s) of
a State is a factor of social cohesion and integration and it is
legitimate for States to promote the learning of their official
language(s) and to ask that the State language(s) be the language(s)
of education for all.
5. The second is that, as stated by the Advisory Committee on
the Framework Convention: “Language is an essential component of
individual and collective identity. For many persons belonging to
national minorities, language is one of the main factors of their
minority identity and identification.” (Thematic Commentary No. 3, ACFC/44DOC(2012)001).
Thus, where States take measures to promote the official language(s),
these must go hand in hand with measures to protect and promote
the languages of national minorities. If this is not done, the result
will be assimilation, not integration.
6. The third is the principle of non-discrimination. This principle
not only applies to the recognition and effective protection of
the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, as enshrined
in the Framework Convention, and of the specific rights enshrined
in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, but
also to “the enjoyment of any right set forth by law”, according
to Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human
Rights (ETS No. 177).
7. For the Assembly, these three principles are essential elements
of a wider concept of utmost importance, which in fact underpins
the entire Framework Convention: the concept of “living together”.
8. Based on the above-mentioned principles and the encompassing
concept of “living together”, the new legislation does not appear
to strike an appropriate balance between the official language and
the languages of national minorities.
9. In particular, the new law entails a strong reduction in the
rights previously conferred on “national minorities” concerning
their own language of education. These national minorities, who
were previously entitled to have monolingual schools and fully fledged
curricula in their own language, now find themselves in a situation
where education in their own languages can be provided (along with
education in Ukrainian) only until the end of primary education.
For the Assembly, this is not conducive to “living together”.
10. In planning the implementation of the reform, flexibility
should be ensured to avoid hasty changes affecting the quality of
education provided to pupils and students belonging to national
11. In this respect, a three-year transitional period may prove
to be too short. Therefore, the Assembly urges the Ukrainian authorities
to also introduce flexibility regarding the length of the process
and allow for arrangements tailored to the real-life circumstances
of the communities concerned and the situation in different areas.
12. The Assembly is aware that Ukrainian-speaking minorities in
neighbouring countries are not entitled to monolingual education
in their own languages and do not benefit from arrangements which
seek to promote bilingual education. Therefore, the Assembly recommends
that the authorities of neighbouring countries, which legitimately
call for the protection of their minorities, show readiness to offer
to the Ukrainian communities resident in their respective countries
similar arrangements to those that they claim for their own minorities.
13. The Assembly recommends that Ukraine examine best practices
in Council of Europe member States in the field of teaching official
languages, with special learning methods designed for schools using
regional or minority languages as the language of education.
14. The Assembly decides to follow the developments in Ukraine
with regard to the protection and promotion of regional and minority
15. The Assembly asks the Ukrainian authorities to fully implement
the forthcoming recommendations and conclusions of the Venice Commission
and to amend the new Education Act accordingly.