US-Ukraine Relations: Minority Rights, an Issue All Parties Can and Should Support

Following Ukrainian President Zelensky’s meeting with President Biden in Washington last week, the White House issued a joint statement on the US-Ukraine strategic partnership. In addition to issues of security, energy and economy, this partnership advocates reforms in the areas of democracy, justice and human rights.

Very good, but how can Ukraine “continue to advance respect for human rights, civil liberties and fundamental freedoms” as the Ukrainian parliament has passed a series of recent laws that radically reverse rights? of ethnic minorities, especially in the areas of education and language use?

Although the real target of this legislation is the Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine, other ethnic groups – Bulgarians, Hungarians, Poles and Romanians – are suffering collateral damage from Ukraine’s repression of minority rights.

Among these communities, the best organized minority are the 150,000 ethnic Hungarians from the region of Subcarpathia (western Ukraine). In addition to recent legal measures restricting the use of the mother tongue, Hungarians are repeatedly subjected to physical attacks and hate speech which identifies this minority as “enemies of the state”.

How can Ukraine commit to “reinforce the responsibility for violence against all people regardless of sex, race, ethnicity …” without prosecuting the perpetrators of these attacks and campaigns? of ethnic hatred?

The many American stakeholders in our strategic partnership with Ukraine – especially Congress – must send a clear message that Ukraine’s failure to ensure the physical and cultural survival of ethnic minorities is unacceptable and incompatible with reform. democratic.

Finding a solution that respects both universal principles and Ukraine’s current security concerns is a complex problem. But there are specific, good faith steps the Ukrainian authorities can take now to demonstrate their commitment to basic human rights:

  • Drop all pending charges against the leaders of the Hungarian minority and end the endless “investigations” into false corruption and “separatist” allegations;
  • Remove the extremist website Myrotvorets, with clear links to the government, which targets ethnic minority leaders, EU officials;
  • Fully implement NATO, Council of Europe, Venice Commission and European Union recommendations regarding Ukraine’s latest restrictions in education and state language laws ;
  • Adopt the revision proposals submitted by the Hungarian ethnic community to the new draft law on national communities.

The protection of the linguistic rights of national minorities is nothing extraordinary; these protections are well established in international agreements to which Ukraine is a signatory.

László Brenzovics, president of the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Subcarpathia, wrote to President Zelensky in an open letter on September 1: “National minorities in Ukraine are not newcomers; this region has been our home for over a thousand years. As Hungarians from Subcarpathia, we don’t want special or privileged treatment. We don’t want to be called enemies of the state; we have always been loyal to Ukraine. We only want to be recognized as the indigenous national minority that we are; preserve our language and cultural identity, and work together with the majority population on an equal footing to ensure a prosperous future for Ukraine.

Ukraine is waging the wrong war – instead of negotiating a closer partnership with NATO, it is alienating its regional neighbors, just when it needs it most, by implementing policies that discriminate against it. against ethnic minorities.

President Biden has rightly pointed out that promoting human rights will help restore America’s standing in the world. While US-Ukraine relations involve many thorny issues, minority rights are an issue that all parties can and should support. Democracy in Ukraine cannot prevail without the full implementation of legal protections for ethnic minorities.

Let us not fail to raise our voice for democracy in Ukraine.

• Emese Latkoczy is Executive Director of the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based NGO which, since 1976, has been monitoring the rights of ethnic Hungarians living in Central and Eastern Europe.

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