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Note of High Commissioner on National Minorities OSCE on the Joint Monitoring Missions in Ukraine and Romania

75758_2The Hague, 16 November 2006


In October and November of the current year two monitoring missions in the framework of the Joint Commission on National Minorities took place in Ukraine and Romania respectively. The following is a preliminary assessment of the two monitoring missions, including comments and suggestions on procedural and substantive matters.

Conducting joint monitoring missions with the participation of international observers has proven to be a timely and constructive initiative which can contribute to the advancement of the minority protection mechanisms in the two countries as well as to the general improvement of bilateral relations at both central and local levels. According to the High Commissioner on National Minorities, the protection of minorities is first and foremost a responsibility of the state where the minorities reside. However, other states may have a legitimate interest in the well-being of their kin minorities abroad as long as this interest is expressed with respect to the principles of sovereignty, good neighbourly relations and non-discrimination. The Romanian-Ukrainian monitoring commission is an example of a constructive, bilateral approach to the sensitive issue of kin-minority support and could set a good precedent for other states.

The first phase of the monitoring mission in Ukraine and Romania was completed successfully. Given that it was the first attempt at such monitoring, it can be assessed as a positive and encouraging start. It brought delegations of the two countries together; it provided a valuable opportunity for exchanging views and gathering first-hand information from the field; it enabled members of local communities to express their concerns openly and for members of the delegations to identify concrete issues to be addressed. The overall success of this joint initiative will depend on the continuation of the monitoring work and on the implementation by both sides of the recommendations and suggestions that they agree upon.

Procedural Issues

Even though the holding of the first monitoring missions was a success in itself, some procedural issues need to be addressed in order to refine and improve the effectiveness of the monitoring process. The first such issue is the composition and consistency of the delegations involved. International observers noted that the composition of delegations changed substantially from one mission to another. A certain degree of consistency in the composition of delegations is advisable. A core group, consisting of three to four persons should preferably be present and take part in all missions both at home and abroad. This will ensure that they have first-hand information from all cases, giving them a better understanding of the overall situation and facilitating the reaching common conclusions. Such consistency will also contribute to the establishment of personal links and connections between core members of the two delegations and could significantly enhance understanding and cooperation between the two parties.

Second, it is recommended to designate one person from each delegation as a contact point for the monitoring initiative. Such a person could, for instance, be a representative of the Foreign Ministry who would have the bilateral monitoring commission added to his or her portfolio. He or she would be responsible for following up on the issues raised during the missions, forming working relationships with counterparts, and serving as a liaison between his/her government and international observers.

Third, a designated contact point could also collect available information on the general situation of minorities in the region and disseminate it prior to the beginning of actual monitoring. This would assist participants to form a general picture of the situation prior to their visit and identify questions/issues that are of particular relevance. This information package could combine statistical and empirical information with some analysis and commentary.

Fourth, the main challenge of such monitoring missions is to provide sufficient information in a limited time. Each day, therefore, needs to be well planned and focused. One week for each mission is a long period of time. The ongoing turnover of members among delegations also point to the fact that most found it too long to stay for the whole period. It might, therefore, be advisable to shorten the missions to three-four days, focusing on fewer villages but including planned meetings with members of the regional administration and civil society. International observers should also be given notice well in advance in order to ensure their participation in the forthcoming missions.

Finally, in order to facilitate the flow of discussions and get a greater insight into the situation of minorities on the ground, delegation members may consider asking questions in addition to the ones listed in the questionnaires. For example, issues such as content and quality of textbooks, especially history textbooks; the nature and content of the media coverage of minority issues both in central and local media; representation of minorities in the police force; treatment of persons belonging to national minorities by the police; access of minority members to public sector employment, etc. could be raised during meetings where relevant.

Observations and Comments

It is encouraging to note that no systemic discrimination of national minorities was observed in either of the two regions. A spirit of tolerance and inter-ethnic dialogue seems to prevail and represents a shared characteristic of the two areas. At the same time, there are substantial differences between the monitored groups of Romanians in Ukraine and Ukrainians in Romania determined by historic circumstances, demographic trends and levels of cultural as well as socio-economic development. These differences make comparison between the two groups as well as the invocation of the so-called principle of reciprocity of a limited value. The sides should be guided not by a comparative approach but by a norms-based one, assessing existing mechanisms of minority rights protection in reference to international norms and standards and evaluating their application in view of each specific minority situation.

The situation of the Ukrainian minority in the Romanian region of Suceava is characterized by strong assimilative tendencies. A considerable number of persons with an ethnic Ukrainian background declared themselves Romanian rather than Ukrainian in the 2002 census, although in private many of them preserve some, albeit weakly developed, Ukrainian cultural identity. The majority of Ukrainians cannot read and write Ukrainian and prefer their children receive an entirely Romanian language education. While voluntary assimilation would be a fair characterization of the situation today, its root causes go back to the repressive policies of the pre-1989 Romanian Communist regime. In this view, the Romanian authorities have a particular responsibility to provide necessary opportunities and encourage those Ukrainians who wish to preserve, develop and strengthen their ethno-cultural identity in parallel to their civic identity of Romanian citizens.

In contrast, the Romanian minority, living compactly in the south of the Chernivtsi region of Ukraine, has managed to preserve a strong ethno-cultural identity and to maintain Romanian as their mother tongue. They have an opportunity to study in all-Romanian schools and often prefer to do so. They also seem to be able to practice their culture and religion in the mother tongue without hindrance. However, more needs to be done to improve teaching of the state language to members of the Romanian minority in Ukraine. Fluency in the state language is a precondition for the integration of persons belonging to national minorities into the wider national society. Both countries could consider bilingual education as a viable option for, on the one hand, preserving the mother tongue and on the other, acquiring fluency in the state language.

It was noted that sometimes authorities on both sides try to discourage parents from subscribing their children to minority language classes and make controversial statements to this effect. In view of the need to ensure a trustful relationship between the minority community, the majority population and the state, it is recommended that the authorities refrain from such statements. On the contrary, authorities should spare no efforts to provide the conditions necessary to develop minority identities, cultures and languages. It is also recommended that the authorities pay more attention to an active information policy on minority rights and opportunities, in order to enable minorities to make full use of their rights.

In both countries draft laws on national minorities have been under consideration for quite some time. In both cases, the HCNM has analyzed and commented upon the respective drafts. Considering the importance of having a consolidated legal framework dealing specifically with minority issues, the speedy adoption of such laws could significantly benefit the respective minority communities.

The population of both regions is facing considerable socio-economic difficulties as both countries have been undertaking far-reaching economic reforms following the fall of the communist regimes. These difficulties affect members of all communities but minorities sometimes interpret them in terms of discrimination and ill-treatment of their particular community only. This is a sensitive issue and members of both minority communities and local authorities should do their utmost to avoid politicization and ethnicization of mundane socio-economic problems. At the same time, the authorities on both sides should try to accommodate the material and socio-economic needs of national minorities to the fullest extent possible, taking into account the interests of the entire population of the regions concerned.

In Ukraine’s Chernivtsi region, some Romanian speakers have identified themselves as Moldovans. Even though Moldovans and Romanians share the same language and a similar culture, the right of persons to freely determine their identity must be respected. This is a delicate matter because inclusion of Moldovan villages in the monitoring process goes beyond the strictly bilateral format. On the one hand, Ukrainian authorities should apply a maximum level of flexibility in addressing the needs of both Romanian-speaking groups and avoid creating artificial divisions between members of the two communities. On the other hand, there is a need to clarify whether the subjects of the monitoring are all Romanian-speakers (including Moldovans) in Ukraine or strictly members of the Romanian minority (excluding Moldovans).

Specific Issues

During the monitoring, a number of specific issues came up requiring attention. Addressing these issues would contribute to further improving inter-ethnic relations and preventing tensions in the regions concerned.
Providing practical possibilities to study the native language is of crucial importance. The sides should make an effort to remove all remaining shortcomings in this regard. This includes the provision of modern textbooks for all grades and the recruitment of teachers qualified to teach in minority languages. All possibilities of enhanced bilateral co-operation in these areas should be used, both on a central and an inter-regional level.
Bilateral co-operation may also be a key to resolving some of the existing problems regarding the availability of literature in the respective minority languages, particularly in schools and public libraries.
The bilingual signs for place names and public buildings should be used more extensively and consistently.
The use of the respective minority languages in church services is another area where greater possibilities should be offered. This particularly refers to the Romanian side, where services in both languages should be the rule rather than the exception in localities with considerable Ukrainian population.
While in elected bodies no problems with minority representation were reported, effective minority participation in the executive sphere needs to be ensured. This refers particularly to the Romanians compactly living in some districts of the Chernivtsi region. In addition, persons holding a public office in areas where contacts with the minority local population is required should, within reasonable limits, have an adequate knowledge of the Romanian language, in addition to knowing the state language.
Access to media in the minority languages is a matter of concern to minority representatives on both sides. In both cases, minority language media output and broadcast time should be better adapted to the interests and needs of the respective minority communities. The system of distributing print media in minority languages should also improve in both Romania and Ukraine.
Both states provide substantial financial support for the preservation and development of the respective minority culture and language. At the same time, doubts about the effectiveness of the use of funds were voiced, particularly in Romania’s Suceava region. The authorities may consider distributing funds more on a competitive project basis in order to better address the needs of the local minority population.
Finally, in view of the forthcoming accession of Romania to the EU, the sides should make use of all possibilities to facilitate cross-border co-operation. This applies not only to contacts between the minorities and the respective kin-state, but also to other forms of inter-regional co-operation, including twin city agreements, partnership relations between educational institutions, collaboration in areas such as environment, trade, and media.

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