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Congress of National Communities speaks out over recent criticism of OSCE official


A recent letter supposedly from 120 national minority organizations expressing anger over a report, not yet published by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, is baffling for a number of reasons and can in no way represent the position of any of the national minorities as a whole

Statement by the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine

A statement entitled “Regarding the initiating of the dismissal of the OSCE High Commissioner on the National Minorities Knut Vollebaek” has recently appeared in the media.  The version of the letter published, which contains no authentic signatures is addressed to OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier at the OSCE Warsaw office and to the Secretary General of the European Council Thorbjorn  Jagland. It asserts that “the activities conducted by the current Commissioner of the OSCE Knut Vollebaek towards Ukraine do not comply with his mandate and violate the fundamental democratic principles and norms of the human rights that contributes to the rise of intolerance in Ukraine and provokes the appear of the ethno-national conflicts”.

“The national minorities of Ukraine”, as the authors call themselves, also state that they refuse to have any further meetings with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities as represented by Knut Vollebaek (‘this kind of protection’) until the latter’s dismissal.

The statement stresses that it has been signed by “all the main national minorities of Ukraine - Hungarians, Romanians, Russian, Tatars, Jews, as well as Kurds, Koreans, Gagauz, Moldovan, the representatives of the Russian and Islamic community, and others. These include, for example, “the National Congress of Armenians of Ukraine; the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Ukraine; the Ukrainian National Cultural and Educational Community ‘Russian Gathering; the Jewish Forum of Ukraine; the Interregional Association ‘Romanian community in Ukraine’; OA ‘Kurdish Diaspora’; the Human Rights Public Movement ‘Russian-speaking Ukraine’; the Islamic Cultural Centre; the Council of National-Cultural Communities in Ukraine and others.”

The Congress of National Communities of Ukraine, which unites 15 pan-Ukrainian organizations of national communities, is thus compelled to make the following statement:

With regard, firstly, to the consolidated position of the “main national minorities”. We have spoken with the leaders of the largest and most influential organizations in Ukraine (namely, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People (headed by Mustafa Dzhemiliev); the Ukrainian Federation of Greek Communities (Aleksandra Protsenko-Pitchadzhi); the Estonian Zemlyachestvo (Fraternity) in Ukraine (Mare Litnevskaya), ; the All-Ukrainian Society of Russian Culture (Valentina Yermolova); the Association of Jewish Organizations (VAAD) of Ukraine (Josef Zisels); the Czech Council of Ukraine (Lyudmila Mukhina); the All-Ukrainian Union of Belarusians (Iryna Orzhekhovskaya), ; the Congress of Roma of Ukraine (Petro Grygorichenko); the Union of Ukrainian Poles (Anton Stefanovich); and the Association of Bulgarians of Ukraine (Deputy Head Svitlana Drageva)). From these talks it is clear that some of them received (but did not sign) the letter in questions, others were not even aware of its existence, while some received two letters by E-mail — the aforementioned letter and a letter regarding the restoration of the State Committee on Nationalities and Minorities. This prompts some of their leaders to presume that their signature in support of the State Committee might have been used without their consent for the letter against Vollebaek.

Secondly, it should be understood that Romanians, Hungarians, Jews, Russians, and other minorities all have several organizations with different statuses, and the fact that one of them may have signed a document does not in any way make the document a reflection of the position of an entire minority community. .

Thirdly, the Council of National Communities of Ukraine, which has from the outset been headed by Ilya Levitas is not the “Council of National and Cultural Communities of Ukraine.” This “Council” is, in essence, an illegitimately elected consultative council of national minority organizations attached to the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions. The Council was dissolved together with the State Committee and its former head, therefore, has no authority to sign any kind of document.

Fourthly, any appeals announced as being from “the main national minorities” of the country must be signed and declared only following open discussion by the members of the said minorities. Since even Vadim Kolesnichenko, who is the driving force behind this action, notes that “national cultural unions are representatives of active civic society, structures that create a society of equal rights and opportunities, which is called cultured and European, “ then it is necessary for them to follow, not disregard, these same democratic principles and legal regulations even when lobbying their own draft laws. This includes Draft Law 9073 “On the Principles of the State Language Policy” from 25.08.2011, which formed the grounds for demanding measures against OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollenbaek.

Finally, it is important to note that neither the Law on the ratification of the Charter of Regional or Minority Languages, nor the Draft Law on the Principles of the State Language Policy have had unequivocal support either from among national minorities or  from the Ukrainian public in general.  National minorities in Ukraine have not once held open discussions regarding the draft law, have not heard the arguments of its authors and have not made their own positions or comments known.

Therefore comments from such an experienced European diplomat as Knut Vollebaek, a person who has done much to regulate issues pertaining to protection of the interests on national minorities in European countries, should not be received aggressively, much less with threats and ultimatums, especially when Ukraine has declared its commitment to European integration. It should be understood that this involves observing civilized standards in mutual relations. 

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