OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities urges dialogue and compromise on «divisive’ language law


High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek. (OSCE/Arnaud Roelofsz)

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek described the situation surrounding a new language law in Ukraine as “deeply divisive” at the conclusion of his visit to the country on Thursday, and urged the authorities to engage in dialogue.

Vollebaek visited the country from 24 to 26 July to update himself on this and several other issues, including Ukraine’s Chairmanship of the OSCE next year.

The language law recently adopted by Parliament has proved controversial and has provoked strong reactions, he noted. Earlier this year the High Commissioner provided the authorities with an assessment of the law and advised against adopting it in its current form.

“The disproportionate favouring of the Russian language, while also removing most incentives for learning or using Ukrainian in large parts of the country, could potentially undermine Ukraine’s very cohesion, ” Vollebaek said. He warned that the law is likely to lead to further polarization of society.

In meetings with Members of Parliament, the High Commissioner also expressed concern at the manner in which the law was adopted. He particularly referred to the parliamentary majority’s refusal to consider any of the more than 2, 000 amendments put forward.

“In the present pre-election climate, tensions surrounding the language law could easily escalate, ” said Vollebaek. “I therefore call on all parties to engage in a substantive dialogue on the issues raised by the law with a view to finding a suitable compromise.”

While in Ukraine, Vollebaek also discussed the inter-ethnic situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. In this context, he welcomed the recent adoption, in its first reading, of long-stalled legislation to restore the rights of formerly deported people. He urged the authorities to continue working towards full adoption and implementation of this law. The High Commissioner also visited Crimea.

Vollebaek discussed the language law and other issues with Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, First Deputy Minister of Social Policy Vasyl Nadraga, First Deputy Minister of Culture Yurii Bohutskiy, leader of the United Opposition Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Members of Parliament from the ruling coalition and the opposition, and representatives of national minorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps. 

The successive High Commissioners have been engaged in Ukraine since the early 1990s, with a particular focus on legislation regulating minority rights and language use, the inter-ethnic situation in Crimea and education of national minorities.

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