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.


  1. My question on the KMH site is that are they NOT allowed to teach the Hungarian language in their own local Hungarian community schools, OR that the Ukrainian government is not willing to teach it as a foreign language in all government schools?

    Are their rights denied, OR their demand upon the national government not met ?

    It’s a big difference. Any info on that ?

    • Avatar Michael Brytan says:

      After generations of forced suppression of the Ukrainian language, primarily by Russia but also by other neighboring countries, Ukraine now insisting that all it’s citizens speak the official language of the country which is: Ukrainian.

      In order to fluent in the language, the government is insisting that beyond grade 4 all studies be in the Ukrainian language. The government does not in any way discourage it’s citizens from learning more than one language, including those of neighboring countries. Ukrainian will be the dominant language and the students are welcome to study a second language – on their own time and expense. English will now be the major focus of second language in the public school system.

      Hungarian will continue to be available up to grade 4 as will other languages such as Polish and Russian. Beyond that grade the Hungarian community can follow the example of emigrants in Canada and teach the language on Saturdays OR they can fund their own private Hungarian language schools 5 days a week. If they do this they will still have to ensure that their students are fluent in Ukrainian. In no way would their rights be denied and in no way should they not meet the minimum linguistic standards of Ukraine

  2. Avatar György Lázár says:

    According to the law, the official language of high school and University education will be Ukrainian in the future… in other words elementary school (up to year 14) and Kindergarten will continue to use Hungarian… My issue with this is that very few people can actually speak, read and especially write Hungarian in Zacarphatia… I have a feeling that altogether we are talking about less than 50 thousand people and a couple of hundred students.

  3. Canada’s heritage dating back to the 1867 Act of Confederation (founding of Canada) guarantees that it’s citizens can send their children either Catholic or Protestant schools and these could be either English or French. In reality there are no French Protestant schools, just English Protestant and English and French Catholic. In Quebec, the heart of French Canada, has always struggled to maintain the French language in a ‘sea of English’ within North America. As of the mid 1970, Quebec began a strong campaign of making Quebec more French and has insisted that all immigrants attend French schools instead of English. Further, the remaining English speaking population needs to fluent French as well as English effectively making them perfectly bilingual. In other regions of Canada such as Ontario (the largest province) bilingualism is still optional.

    Ethnic Ukrainian living in both Quebec and Ontario have their own schools, both daily (5 days per week) and Saturday only. They also have their own churches, banks, summer camps, libraries, sports facilities and many other cultural associations that they themselves funded and operate today. The governments provide minimal funding and for the most part all of these entities were built by the Ukrainian immigrants themselves. Their children all speak Ukrainian, and English and French fluently. Ukrainians remain one of the best organized ethnic communities in Canada – a model for others to emulate according to the Federal government

    Ukraine is following Canada’s model of education – including for immigrants. Ukraine wants it’s citizens to speak Ukrainian as a primary language so that they have the best chance for employment. The Canadian model will ensure that occurs.

  4. Thanks Michael, that was informative and sure can say it is as fair as possible for all nationalities who are concerned of losing their former language.
    If that is good in Canada why all the fuss about it in Ukraine?

  5. At least the UKR gov didn’t announce that they are striving for “ethnic homogeneity” with this seriously discriminatory act.

  6. BTW

    The H gov said the are not going to take part of the demos against the discriminatory law, since it was a Soros puppet show ?!?!.

    In response Soros reportedly threatened to organise a strenght 6 earthquake in the Felcsút area.

  7. Thanks Observer, finally start having some humor.
    Sure needed here on HFP !

  8. Munkacs, Beregszasz, all of Carpathia is NOT teaching or will not be speaking Hungarian anymore because of one simple matter mostly: the Hungarian Jews of those regions were murdered in Auschwitz.
    Anyone that came back, and was let out a few years later did just that – run for their lives with 20 lbs each if Lucky!
    Ukraine is the old carpathia – Russian taught and spoken – a world gone and will not return –

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