Hungary, Ukraine still at odds over Ukraine education law

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto, right, and Ukranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin hold a joint press conference following their meeting in Szijjarto's office in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. (Zsolt Szigetvary/MTI via AP)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary will continue to withhold its support for Ukraine's further integration with the European Union as long as a new Ukrainian education law remains unchanged, Hungary's foreign minister said Thursday.

The education law passed last month specifies that Ukrainian will be the main language used in schools, rolling back the option for lessons to be taught in other languages. Ukraine has some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians, mostly in the country's west.

"We consider the new Ukrainian education law a stab in the back of our country," Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said, speaking after a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin.

Ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia, as Hungary calls western Ukraine, fear that the 71 Hungarian schools there could be at risk of having to close, Szijjarto said.

He said relations between neighbors Hungary and Ukraine are "at their most difficult period" since Ukraine declared independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991.

Russia, Romania and Moldova have also expressed concerns about the new language law.

Klimkin said not knowing the native language made it hard for minorities to be successful in Ukraine. He said 75 percent of students in an area with a large Hungarian minority failed their high school exit exams.

"Everyone needs the opportunity to fulfill themselves in their country of citizenship," Klimkin said. "But this is not possible without knowing the language."

However, he said "not a single school" would be closed or "a single teacher" dismissed because of the new language requirement.

Klimkin said Hungary's move to grant Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine would not benefit those people.

He also alleged that Russia was using the language issue to "manipulate" and "provoke" in Ukraine, including "directly and indirectly" in the Transcarpathia region.

In reply, Szijjarto said ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine "don't need any incitement from anyone to stand up for their own rights."

"As long as the Hungarians of Transcarpathia ask us to fight on this issue and not back down, we will fight and not back down," Szijjarto said.

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