October 10, 2017 / 10:44 AM / 9 months ago

Hungary asks EU to review Ukraine ties over language row

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary said on Tuesday it would ask the European Union to review its ties with Ukraine over Kiev’s decision to stop secondary schools teaching in ethnic minority languages, including Hungarian.

The flags of the European Union (EU) and Ukraine are seen on the city's regional state administration headquarters in central Kiev, Ukraine, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Ukraine’s foreign minister said he was surprised by the threat to its growing relationship with the European Union - its main trading partner and biggest political ally - and offered talks to end the standoff.

Ukraine passed a law on Sept. 5 obliging teachers to use only Ukrainian in secondary schools, saying it wanted to help minorities integrate and get public sector jobs.

But the move triggered protests from neighbouring Russia and Hungary in a region where language and ethnic identity are particularly highly sensitive subjects after decades of political turmoil.

Hungary, Russia and Romania have all said the law discriminates against the large minorities in Ukraine speaking their languages.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said he would raise the issue at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg next week.

“The education law violates the association agreement sealed between the EU and Ukraine, therefore ... I will propose that the association agreement be reviewed,” Szijjarto said late on Monday.

In response, Szijjarto’s Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin tweeted: “For us, a review of the association agreement is possible only in the context of guaranteeing clear European prospects for Ukraine. I confirm my readiness for dialogue with Hungary on all levels.”

He said he would bring the matter up in a visit to Hungary on Thursday.

Ukraine, a former Soviet state, has sought greater integration with Europe since the ouster of a Moscow-backed president by mass protests in 2014 and the subsequent outbreak of a pro-Russian separatist insurgency in eastern regions.

In July, the European Union confirmed an association agreement for closer political and trade ties with Ukraine - a move heralded by the authorities in Kiev as a landmark moment in the country’s bid to move out of Russia’s orbit.

Ukraine’s ambassador in Budapest, Ljubov Nepop, told website hvg.hu that the new law did not fully scrap teaching in Hungarian, only increased the number of subjects taught in Ukrainian. She said the law would not target minorities.

Reporting by Krisztina Than, Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice in Kiev; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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