FUEN: The new Ukrainian Law on National Minorities does not offer an adequate solution to the requests of the national minorities09.11.2023
One of the conditions for Ukraine to start negotiations on its accession to the European Union is a law on national minorities. The Ukrainian Parliament (the Supreme Council) adopted a new law on national minorities in December 2022.
The bill sets out the definition of national minorities (communities), the rights and obligations of persons belonging to national minorities, the rights of their representatives and the specific features of state policy for the enforcement of the same. The law was severely criticised by the minorities of Ukraine, EU member states and NGOs. Later, the Venice Commission issued an opinion, including a set of recommendations to improve the law. Following the recommendations, an amendment was adopted on 23 August 2023 by the Supreme Council of Ukraine, and President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on 3 November 2023 that he has signed it.
According to the initiators of the amendments, the purpose of the draft law is to improve the legal regulation for the protection of the freedoms and rights of persons belonging to national minorities (communities) in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the relevant recommendations of the Venice Commission. They consider that the enactment of the provisions of this document will allow the European Commission to implement Ukraine's full membership of the EU.
FUEN appreciates Ukraine’s willingness to amend its Law on National Minorities but considers that the amendments do not significantly improve the legal framework for the implementation of the freedoms and rights of persons belonging to national minorities, and thus do not achieve the goal set by the initiators. FUEN’s President, Member of the European Parliament Loránt Vincze says: „The Law on National Minorities does not cancel the negative effects of the Education and Media Laws and the Law on State Language, the problems remain. The new law does not offer an adequate solution to the requests of the national minorities. Even worse, in some cases these amendments create further confusion, for example when they leave out the word „traditionally” from the definition of national minorities (communities) […a permanent (settled, stable, solid) group of Ukrainian citizens, whose members are non-ethnic Ukrainians, traditionally living in Ukraine…].”
Evaluating the amendments makes it obvious that the right to use the language in the public is further constrained since the mother tongue may be used only at events organised for members of national minorities, while the earlier version referred to events organised by the national minorities. Other constraining provisions:
- The mass media in the minority languages remains severely impacted, all content must be translated in the state language.
- Book distribution in minority languages is possible only in special libraries established and maintained by state authorities.
- The use of mother tongue in emergency services is only possible in elderly care homes and only if the language is understood by the other party.
- The regulation of the use of the minority languages in local public institutions remains ineffective since it refers to subjective criteria, such as “municipalities in which minorities traditionally live in”, “settlements where minorities live in big numbers”, “at the request of the minorities” or “real needs” without giving any further hints.
„Ukraine should consider a law on minorities not only as a requirement for its accession in the EU, but as a real chance to improve the situation of many of its citizens and to foster collaboration between majority and minorities and to create the conditions of long-term stability. We stand by our position that a proper legal framework for minorities can only be achieved with the inclusion and contribution of the national minorities living in Ukraine” – says the FUEN President.
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