Ukrainian Parliament to mull ratification of minority-language charter

curt fredric woolhiser cfwoolhiser at
Tue Dec 3 22:18:26 UTC 2002

>RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report
>Vol. 4, No. 46, 3 December 2002
>A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the
>Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team
> ************************************************************
>October, President Leonid Kuchma again submitted the 1992 European
>Charter for Regional or Minority Languages for ratification by the
>Ukrainian parliament. The manner in which the charter would be
>applicable would be important to Ukraine's largest minority,
>Russians, as well as to smaller ethnic groups, such as Romanians,
>Hungarians, Poles, Tatars, and Jews.
>	President Kuchma has backed ratification of 42 paragraphs of
>the charter, although only 35 are needed for it to be adopted. The 42
>paragraphs contain provisions for protecting and promoting the
>linguistic and cultural rights of minorities in courts, as well as in
>cultural, educational, and state institutions.
>	Ukraine joined the Council of Europe in 1995 and promised to
>ratify the charter within 12 months. It was finally ratified by the
>parliament in December 1999, but the Constitutional Court declared
>its provisions unconstitutional. One constitutional clash concerned
>the question of which languages could be used by state officials.
>	One expert in attendance at a Council of Europe seminar held
>in Kyiv on 18-19 October tried to dissuade the fears of Ukrainian
>speakers that the charter would primarily promote Russian. According
>to that expert, Council of Europe officials claimed at the seminar
>"that the language charter is called to protect all languages. The
>bigger the ethnic group, the greater protection liabilities the state
>should assume to protect its language."
>	Nevertheless, opposition to the charter is again likely to
>come from national democrats who now possess the largest faction in
>the Verkhovna Rada: Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine. Especially
>as the new presidential push to ratify the charter follows a move
>allegedly instigated by the head of the presidential administration,
>Viktor Medvedchuk, during the Council of Europe seminar to make
>Russian a state language. In addition, protests will inevitably be
>submitted to the Constitutional Court.
>	Although the Council of Europe seminar claimed that the
>Ukrainian language would also benefit from the charter, this is
>unlikely. The newly submitted charter for ratification by Kuchma only
>refers to non-Ukrainian ethnic groups, although Ukrainians are
>designated constitutionally as the "titular nation." Ukrainophones
>often feel that they have a minority status in eastern Ukraine and
>Crimea where their linguistic rights are ignored. The Council of
>Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe do
>not apply national-minority and linguistic rights to the titular
>nation, assuming that it is the duty of the state to promote its own
>dominant ethnic group. This, of course, is true theoretically, but in
>the case of Ukraine and, to an even greater extent, Belarus, this is
>not always the case.
>	The charter also promotes the use of minority languages by
>state officials, whereas the Constitutional Court ruled in December
>1999 that all state officials should use only Ukrainian. Official
>documents produced in Kyiv, including during elections by the Central
>Election Commission, are only in Ukrainian regardless of whether they
>are sent to Lviv or Crimea.
>	Ukraine is not alone in debating the role of the charter as
>the entire subject of national-minority and linguistic rights is
>highly charged both in the West and in the East. The Council of
>Europe and the OSCE have de facto adopted the widely shared
>assumption that Western, "civic" states are consolidated, mature
>democracies and do not require active intervention in minority and
>ethnic problems.
>	The opposite is held to be true of the East, which is assumed
>to be less democratically advanced and more prone to ethnic
>discrimination and conflict. The EU has only demanded that
>postcommunist states that desire EU membership uphold good minority
>policies, a demand not made to Western European states that were
>invited to join earlier. The OSCE has only intervened in ethnic
>conflicts in postcommunist states, despite the fact there exist more
>and longer-running conflicts in the West. The United Kingdom, Spain,
>and Turkey have refused to sanction intervention by the OSCE because
>they have defined their ethnic conflicts as "terrorism."
>	Three other problems have rested on the question of how to
>define "national minorities" and whether migrants and linguistic
>groups also have rights. No common definition of "national
>minorities" exists in Europe among states or the OSCE, and each state
>has been left to its own devices either to define them or to deny
>their existence. The legislation of some states, such as the United
>States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Turkey, and
>Greece, denies that national minorities exist and prefers to support
>only civic rights provided to individuals, rather than collective
>rights to ethnic groups.
>	Most states deny that migrants, especially economic ones,
>should be able to claim state assistance to protect their cultures.
>Russia has defended the rights of Russian-speaking "compatriots" in
>the former Soviet Union, not Russians, although linguistic groups are
>not traditionally afforded protection as a group.
>	Ukraine is therefore not alone in having reservations about
>the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. As of July 2001, only
>15 states had ratified the charter. France refused to ratify it
>because it contradicted its constitution, which provides rights to
>individuals, regardless of ethnicity, language, or religion. Belgium,
>Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Turkey had not even signed the charter
>while other Western European states ratified it with heavy revisions.
>	Most states have opposed any concept of collective rights,
>such as separate ethnic universities (which Albanians have demanded
>in Macedonia) and have allocated quotas in parliaments. They have
>also demanded that all citizens should learn the official (state)
>language. Some have opposed granting provisions to nonterritorial
>languages, such as Roma, and some states have insisted that they have
>a right to define to which languages the charter applies.
>	Most states have adopted a compromise policy of integration,
>in contrast to the provision of collective rights through
>multiculturalism (as in Canada) or full-blown assimilation, which was
>the most commonly held policy prior to the 1960s.
>	The dividing line between "integration" and moderate
>"assimilation" is, however, hazy. Moderate assimilation "is opposed
>not to difference but to segregation, ghettoization. and
>marginalization," the well-known U.S. scholar Rogers Brubaker
>concludes in the July 2001 issue of "Ethnic and Racial Studies."
>Integration of minorities into mainstream society, while providing
>for their rights, has always been the policy implemented by Ukraine.
>(This report was written by Taras Kuzio, a resident fellow at
>the Centre for Russian and East European Studies and adjunct staff in
>the Department of Political Science, University of Toronto.)
>(Compiled by Jan Maksymiuk)
>Copyright (c) 2002. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.
>"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" is prepared by Jan
>Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by
>"RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed
>every Tuesday.
>Direct comments to Jan Maksymiuk at maksymiukj at
>For information on reprints, see:
>Back issues are online at
>Technical queries should be e-mailed to: iteam at
>Send an e-mail to pbureport-subscribe at
>Send an e-mail to pbureport-unsubscribe at

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list