[lg policy] Lamberto Zannier: Ukraine needs inclusive, pragmatic and forward-looking policies

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed May 15 12:16:41 EDT 2019

Lamberto Zannier: Ukraine needs inclusive, pragmatic and forward-looking
By Lamberto Zannier <https://www.kyivpost.com/author/lamberto-zannier>.
 Published May 14. Updated May 14 at 4:52 pm
Participants in a rally in support of the Ukrainian language law carry a
large Ukrainian flag in front of the Ukrainian parliament on April 25, 2019.
Photo by Kostyantyn Chernichkin

I have lost count of the number of times I have visited Ukraine since it
chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2013,
first as the secretary-general of the OSCE and, more recently, as the OSCE
high commissioner on national minorities. This is my fourth visit to the
country in my current capacity, advising the authorities on measures they
can take to strengthen the cohesiveness of society, by respecting the
different identities which exist. This reflects a key principle: when a
state respects the diversity of its citizens, those citizens are more
likely to respect the state and to feel like valued members of it. And this
will, in turn, strengthen the cohesiveness of society as a whole.

Very few issues are as fundamental to a person’s identity as their native
language. Challenging this may provoke a defensive response. History
teaches us that any such attempts often end badly. I work with States to
moderate political pressures to impose restrictions on core aspects of
minority identity, because it is my job to take measures to prevent
conflict based upon ethnicity. In my view, such issues are best seen as
above party politics, as they impact the stability of the State itself. I
am here to propose solutions to the language question in a way that unites
rather than divides Ukraine’s diverse society; that accommodates its
regional differences and that relies on positive instead of punitive

I am not the first OSCE High Commissioner that comes to Ukraine with such
advice. In 2012, High Commissioner Knut Vollebaek advised against the
one-sided adoption of the Kolesnichenko-Kivalov law, saying that it
disproportionally favored the Russian language and as such risked
undermining Ukraine’s cohesion. In February 2014, High Commissioner Astrid
Thors called upon Ukraine not to take hasty decisions that would further
divide society, and she urged the authorities to take time to adopt a
balanced language policy.

For my part, I am asking the Ukrainian government to be mindful of my
recommendations as it starts to implement the newly adopted law on the
state language. I view integration as a two-way process. Balance is key. On
the one hand, all governments should ensure respect for minority rights. On
the other hand, minorities have a responsibility to participate in the
political, cultural, social and economic life of their State. From my work
with the 57 members of the OSCE, while no situation is the same, I find
lessons to be drawn, which I offer.

The need for balance applies, particularly to language and education
policies. In the sphere of education, for example, my institution has been
promoting multilingual education as one of the ways to strengthen the role
of the state language as a tool for integration, while protecting and
promoting minority languages.

Change cannot happen overnight. A gradual approach that takes into account
the views and perceptions of all those concerned, including national
minorities, and that operates through incentives, rather than punitive
measures, has proven fundamental to build acceptance and to ensure
sustainability and ownership of decision-making processes.

These principles, today more than ever, are particularly relevant to
Ukraine. As Ukraine’s language policy is being revisited, it is in the
State’s interest to ensure that policies related to identity, language and
education are inclusive, pragmatic and forward-looking. Only in this case
will such policies cater to the interests of all groups within Ukraine’s
diverse society, and become tools for building bridges, rather than
reinforcing divides. I look forward in the coming days to meeting with
representatives of the new government of Ukraine, to discuss these
important issues.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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