Hungarian language education in peril in Ukraine — And echoes in Québec

Ukraine’s parliament accepted a law this week, which has been widely condemned by political parties of all stripes in Hungary and by ethnic Hungarian community leaders in Ukraine. If Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signs into law the bill accepted by legislators, Hungarian children in western Ukraine will no longer be able to study in Hungarian beyond Grade 4. Ukraine’s Minister of Education, Liliya Hrynevych, attempted to justify the law by asserting that striping minorities of their right to study in their mother tongue starting in the fifth grade was necessary to ensure that children from minority communities are not disadvantaged when completing their high school exit exams or when applying to university. Mr. Poroshenko is almost certain to sign off on the law, considering that his party voted for it all but unanimously, the one exception being a lone Hungarian legislator called László Brenzovics.

László Brenzovics

The Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Sub-Carpathia, the Hungarian Democratic Alliance in Ukraine and the Hungarian Educators’ Alliance of Sub-Carpathia issued a joint statement this week, calling on Mr. Poroshenko not to sign off on the law. “The law ignores the country’s constitution and Ukraine’s international obligations, stripping minorities of the opportunity to study in their mother tongue. This eliminates the foundations of their very existence,” reads the statement issued by the three organisations.

Ethnic Romanian and Bulgarian community leaders have joined Mr. Brenzovics in demanding that the Ukrainian president veto the law. The law threatens the existence of some 100 Hungarian language schools in the western regions of the country, as well as 120 Romanian and five Polish schools. The most significant threat, however, is to the much larger Russian minority. Approximately 10% of students in Ukraine study in a minority language, with Russian being by far the most prominent of these.

Ukraine’s Hungarian population is estimated at 152,000 and Hungarians comprise 12% of the region of western Ukraine known in Hungarian as Kárpátalja. Hungarians are dominant in towns such as Beregszász (Berehove) and Nagyszőlős (Vinohradiv), where the community no longer forms the majority, but is still strong enough to elect Hungarian mayors. This can no longer be said for the larger regional towns of Munkács (Mukachevo) and Ungvár (Uzhhorod), where in both places Hungarians now form less than 10% of the local population.

The discriminatory Ukrainian law struck a raw nerve in Hungary; so much so, that all liberal and left-centre opposition parties have united on the issue and will be protesting together near the Hungarian parliament on Sunday, September 10th. The protest, entitled “Solidarity demonstration for Hungarian language education in Sub-Carpathia,” is being organized by activist Márton Gulyás’ association, the Country For All Movement (Közös Ország Mozgalom). The otherwise badly divided Hungarian opposition has decided to unanimously join the protest, including the Democatic Coalition, the Hungarian Socialist Party, Együtt, Párbeszéd, Politics Can Be Different (LMP), Momentum and the Modern Hungary Movement. Mr. Márton’s group has also extended an invitation to Jobbik, Fidesz and the Hungarian Two Tailed Dog Party to join the Sunday rally.


The issue of schooling is also presently being debated in Canada’s Québec province, by members of the Parti Québécois. As some of our readers will know, English-language primary and secondary education in Québec is available only to those children whose parents or whose sibling studied in English in either Québec or elsewhere in Canada. This blocks children of immigrants and also the Francophone majority from studying in English. Nationalists in the Parti Québécois now want to dramatically cut funding to English-language colleges (Cégeps) in Québec, since at the college level, these restrictions are not in place and both immigrants and Francophones can enjoy English-language higher education in the province. The issue is being debated this weekend at the PQ convention.

“Anglophone colleges shouldn’t be an open bar,” PQ leader Jean-François Lisée recently told reporters, in reference to concerns that too many Francophones and immigrants decide to study in English at the college level. Should the PQ win the 2018 elections, the question of English language education rights in the French-majority province, and imposing further limits on these rights, will be on the table. It should be noted that in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, no such restrictions on education rights exist. Children from English and immigrant families are welcome to study in the province’s minority French Catholic or French secular schools–and many do.

The critical difference between what is being planned in Ukraine and what we are seeing in Québec is that no political party in the province, including the PQ, questions the right of the English minority to study in English at all levels of schooling. Endangering this would contravene Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *