The Law on Language still remains in focus – a statement by Ildikó Orosz on the investigation of the Venice Commission
Last September, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a new law on education, which not only makes it difficult, but also impossible, for minority schools to teach in their national languages. According to the law, Hungarian educational institutions should gradually switch to Ukrainian-language teaching from the 5th grade onwards. This is also in contradiction with Ukraine’s constitution and international commitments.
As it is known, a delegation of the Venice Commission was again investigating the law at the end of October in Kiev, and is expected to issue a resolution on the adopted language law by December. At the same time, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Vasil Bodnar told the Ukrainian newspaper Segodnya that Kiev will not abolish the 2017 Law on Education or the law on the functioning of Ukrainian as a state language, but is ready for an equal dialogue and an agreement with Hungary.
Ildikó Orosz, the rector of the Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute and the president of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Association spoke to us on the aforementioned statement and the possible upcoming changes.
– In 2017, Ukraine adopted the Law on Education, including its ominous Article 7, which is both unconstitutional and contradicts the Ukrainian law and the international commitments Ukraine has made, as well as agreements on cooperation, the President said.
According to the Venice Commission, this regulation needs to be changed as it negatively affects minorities’ acquired rights to education in their native language. It should be noted that former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko made a commitment to do so. He said that the proposals of the Venice Commission would be implemented. Unfortunately, I have to say that no progress has been made on this issue. The new government, with an absolute majority, has not taken any steps to address the issue, and in the last minute, the previous parliament had introduced an amendment to the law on education that will worsen the situation, despite the proposals of the Venice Commission.
According to the Law on Higher Education of 2014, privately owned higher educational institutions are free to choose the language of instruction, in line with the position of the Venice Commission. There has been a backlash since the law passed in 2017 has adopted the language of education at all levels to be Ukrainian, and the law adopted in 2014 was adjusted accordingly. This is contrary to the position of the Venice Commission. Therefore, we have concerns about whether there is any political intent to change this situation.
In primary and secondary schools there is a problem with teaching the native language and the foreign language. At present, students may learn Hungarian in the hours given for foreign languages. In the curriculum for elementary schools, a table showing the number of hours in different languages indicates the total number of hours that can be given to develop language competences and how much of these should be devoted to Ukrainian. The rest of the lessons can only be used for foreign and native language education. This means that teachers in Hungarian schools and nationality schools have to decide whether they will teach their native language or a foreign language.
When we raise this question, we get answers that, after all, the native language is a foreign language in Ukraine. Therefore, the Ukrainian Ministry of Education believes that the native languages of minorities a foreign languages and therefore does not provide a required number of hours. Or maybe they don’t want the children to learn a third foreign language, which would be natural in the 21st century. For the sake of clarity, the presidency of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Association held a meeting, and we also made suggestions to the new Ministry of Education to address the issues of nationality education.
During the past semester, we were not contacted to make any progress on any issue. We can’t wait anymore, it’s November, and it would take some work to start making meaningful decisions this school year. In any case, we will take the first steps, formulate our concerns, and send them to every organization in Ukraine that has the ability and authority to decide on the issues in question.
The eternal problem, that is, the matter of textbooks, remains unchanged. There are new obstacles to the provision of textbooks. Although it is November, there is no alphabet book for the first grade yet. Recently, we have read in the papers that, due to staff reductions, the only full-time head and staff member of the Hungarian textbook editorial office of the Lviv State Publishing House „Svit” has been dismissed. This practically eliminates the Hungarian textbook editorial office.
Referring to the fact that in Slovak schools students are taught entirely from Slovak textbooks, in Bulgarian schools they are taught from Bulgarian textbooks, we have also introduced Hungarian textbooks. We got permission for that. Thus, a year ago we succeeded in being able to teach the first grade from the alphabets and workbooks published in Hungary as alternative textbooks. It should be noted here that a workbook has not been issued to the first grade since Ukraine has existed. The Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Association has prepared it so that the children can learn. We managed to import textbooks last year, but we have had our books kept in Beregsurány for a year because the committee, which is in charge for declaring these books a humanitarian aid first rejected our request and secondly invited the representative of the Association and a lawyer to justify why these books are needed, stating that Ukraine supplies books to Hungarian schools. Permission has recently been granted, but it still takes two weeks to ship them. We are approaching December, and the first graders have not yet received the alphabet books.
Closing the textbook publishing is also an interesting question. Contrary to the committee’s announcement that all classes have textbooks, we read in the newspaper that the textbook publishing house will be closed from January. That is why we are going to turn to the Ministry for clarification, as we have been informed of the news from the newspaper and we have not read any official statements about it. If the decided not to publish books at all and do not want to allow foreign books, then how do they intend to support minority education, in this case Hungarian education and its development?
There are also problems with higher education. At the time of the 2014 law, Ukrainian Minister of Education Serhiy Kvit announced the opening of higher education towards Europe. He then hoped that within ten years the proportion of professors working in higher education would reach 20 percent. This will bring Ukraine closer to the level of the European system of higher education.
Contrary to Serhiy Kvit’s statement, foreign professors are still being blocked by various internal laws. For example, the title of a professor will only be taken into consideration for the qualification of an educational institution if the individual is naturalizing their scientific degree in a Ukrainian educational institution, which means almost a new procedure, that is, a one-year long procedure. Another difficulty is having to obtain work and temporary residence permits, which entails a great deal of bureaucracy. Currently, six such professors are employed by the institute as part of the Makovecz program. Two of them have residence permits for this year. However, the status our other four professors is pending. It is already November, but they still haven’t received their permission for the current academic year. It is strange to us, as they are very well-known, internationally recognized professors. At the same time, we read in the newspapers that anyone can get a temporary residence permit. Not to mention that the professors are granted a residence permit for just one year, and we would like them to be granted the permit at least for the teaching cycle so that they could be here to help the local teachers. That would be reasonable.