25 January 201911:03

Remarks by Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on the violation of linguistic rights in Ukraine, Vienna, January 24, 2019


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Mr Chairman,

We would like to draw the attention of the Permanent Council’s members to another violation of linguistic rights in Ukraine. The authorities of that country strive to artificially expedite the adoption of a new draft law On Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as a State Language. They are planning to complete the procedure already in the first half of February. It appears that they are rushing to accomplish this in the run-up to the Ukrainian presidential election, in order to please the radical circles.

The draft law aims to completely “Ukrainise” all areas of state and social life and to drive out the Russian language, as well as the languages of ethnic minorities, including Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Polish, Greek and other languages. Senior Verkhovna Rada officials do not conceal the fact that they will continue to implement this tough nationalities policy, which essentially boils down to a nationalist policy. We hear no response from the European Union to these harsh measures with regard to the languages of some of its member countries. Or is Brussels hoping to obtain concessions from Kiev during bilateral talks through the discrimination of the Russian language?

To be more specific, we must note the draft law’s Article 17. In effect, its new version reproduces Article 7 of the above-mentioned Law on Education and states expressly that the use of the Ukrainian language in “external independent evaluation or entrance exams” and also “in foreign language courses” is mandatory. The draft law’s Article 15 formalises a monopoly procedure for using the Ukrainian language during electoral processes, and its Article 21 notes the need for publishing Ukrainian language versions of ethnic minorities’ print media. There are many other restrictions. Therefore, this essentially implies an all-out linguistic purge.

Additionally, the draft law contains a number of terms, including “the private communication sphere,” “the public humiliation of the Ukrainian language” and “attempts to introduce an official multi-lingual status in Ukraine” that do not meet the requirements of clear legal definitions. This is also detrimental to the rights and legitimate interests of citizens.

The other day Nikolay Knyazhitsky, chair of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Culture and Spirituality who is responsible for promoting this draft law, said that the draft was unlikely to be seriously amended for the second reading. In other words, he has in fact ignored more than 2,500 amendments that have been submitted to the parliament within the framework of this initiative.

Moreover, he ruled out any possibility of sending the draft law for examination by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, as this was carried out earlier in connection with the controversial Law on Education. The fear that international organisations will again sharply criticise Kiev for neglecting its human rights obligations is clearly stronger than common sense, legal logic and the government’s obligation to work in the interests of the people, not contrary to them. It is noteworthy that the other day President of the Venice Commission Gianni Buquicchio confirmed in writing the commission’s negative attitude to the disputable Article 7 of the Law on Education. This may mean that the commission has a similar attitude to Article 17 of the new draft law.

The Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has major complaints against the Ukrainian authorities.

Indicatively, independent Ukrainian experts have concluded that this draft law is “the most conflict-prone of all the previously proposed laws on languages.”

Let us look at this initiative from the viewpoint of Kiev’s legal and political commitments.

First of all, these initiatives violate the Ukrainian Constitution, in particular Articles 10 and 24, which guarantee the “free development, use, and protection of Russian and other languages of national minorities of Ukraine (…) in Ukraine” and  “equal constitutional rights and freedoms” to Ukrainian citizens without any “privileges or restrictions” including those based on “linguistic or other characteristics.”

Second, they contradict Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Ukraine has ratified. This article says: “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.”

This provision can also be applied in full to the persecution of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, but this is a separate subject.

Third, there are Ukraine’s commitments within the framework of the Council of Europe and also the opinion of the Venice Commission, which I have already mentioned.

Fourth, with regard to the OSCE obligations, we would like to ask about the Ukrainian authorities’ compliance with Clause 35 of the 1990 Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). It says: “The participating States will respect the right of persons belonging to national minorities to effective participation in public affairs, including participation in the affairs relating to the protection and promotion of the identity of such minorities. “

Clause 34 of that document says: “The participating States will endeavour to ensure that persons belonging to national minorities, notwithstanding the need to learn the official language or languages of the State concerned, have adequate opportunities for instruction of their mother tongue or in their mother tongue.”

We would like to hear professional comments rather than implausible excuses and big words from the Ukrainian side.

Overall, we have to say once again that the so-called reforms leave the Russian speakers and other national minorities in Ukraine no hope for a prosperous and equal future. This is why it is imperative that the relevant OSCE agencies, including the current OSCE Chairmanship, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, treat this situation as a priority.