Hungary Engages in Interference Efforts

Gergely Gulyás, the Minister of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Office, has accused Ukrainian authorities of trampling minority rights and adopting a “semi-fascist” law. Responding to a question about elections in Ukraine at a press conference in Budapest, Gulyás said that “Ukraine currently has a government that tramples on minority rights, one that has had ‘a semi-Fascist’ education law adopted.” He referred to the education law and, particularly, to the provision of the education law stipulating that the language of instruction in educational facilities be Ukrainian. The rhetoric employed by Prime Minister Orbán and those who represent him is strongly reminiscent of Kremlin-backed propaganda narratives.

It is important to note the timing of such rhetoric on the part of Hungary. This sort of rhetoric from a representative of the government of an EU member state decrying Ukraine’s “current’ government as a “fascist government,” or at least one that enables and encourages fascist movements in Ukraine, feels all too familiar. It spreads disinformation akin to Kremlin propaganda efforts. Such rhetoric against Ukraine’s law on education by Hungary appears to exert some sort of “informal” pressure to change Ukraine’s government. Given that Ukraine is a little less than two weeks shy of election day, this sort of rhetoric and pressure rivals Kremlin-backed interference efforts.

Ever since it was adopted, this law has raised official concerns of the governments of Russia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. Hungary was even blocked meetings for the Ukraine-NATO Commission, alleging a violation of the rights of Hungarians living in Ukraine. Russian propaganda continues to attack Ukraine because of the law. Russian propaganda outlets claim that this law seeks to ban the use of Russian language in Ukraine; they even accuse Ukrainian authorities of violating the rights of national minorities and discriminating against minority languages.

Both the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have repeatedly explained that the law respects the provisions of the Ukrainian Constitution and European Charter for European and Minority languages. The highly criticized Article 7 of the Law of Ukraine “On Education” serves to strengthen the position of the Ukrainian language as the state language in secondary school education. Private schools, however, are free to teach students in any of the minority languages that are designated as such by EU legislation and conventions. The education law does not aim to discriminate against minority languages nor does it stipulate closing schools that teach in minority languages; it merely introduces a gradual increase of Ukrainian language use.

On December 8, 2017, the Venice Commission (European Commission for Democracy through Law) published its opinion on Ukraine’s Education Law No. 902/2017, recommending that Ukraine’s government make the article concerning language in education more “balanced.” At the same time, the commission noted that since the law on education is a framework law, the future law on secondary education could provide for more detailed and balanced solutions.

Ukraine recently reiterated its willingness to implement the law in accordance with international norms. On December 18, 2018, following the fifth Association Council meeting between the European Union and Ukraine in Brussels, the EU and Ukraine released a joint press statement which states that the parties “agreed on the need to ensure the respect for rights already exercised of persons belonging to national minorities as enshrined in UN and Council of Europe Conventions…”