Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Gulyas: Protection of indigenous minorities key to minority policy

The protection of the rights of indigenous ethnic minorities in Europe is indispensable when it comes to the protection of minorities more generally, the prime minister's chief of staff said on Tuesday in Strasbourg.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a conference on the protection of minority rights held in advance of the Hungarian presidency of the Council of Europe starting on July 1, Gergely Gulyas said many people in Europe belonged to an indigenous minority rather than to mainstream society, so guaranteeing their rights was essential. The Council of Europe, with its 47 member states, has various conventions and documents that give due weight to national minorities and their situation.

“The situation here [in respect of the CoE] is much better than in the European Union, which is insensitive as regards the issue,” he said.

Gulyas welcomed the Hungarian presidency’s decision to make the issue its main focal point.

Besides several “laudable” practices to improve the situation of ethnic minorities, some European countries have introduced measures curbing their rights, Gulyas said.

The minister cited the Ukrainian language law as an example, which he said curbed the rights of Hungarian communities to education in their mother tongue, “which the Ukrainian authorities have failed to change despite the recommendations of the Venice Commission.”

“Indigenous minorities are being discriminated against just because their culture and language are different from that of mainstream society. This should be talked about, and their problems should be known in Europe,” Gulyas said.

Gulyas said he had called on CoE Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric to do everything in her power to push Ukraine to fulfil its duties as enshrined in international laws and treaties. “The more international organisations put pressure on the country, the greater the chance that the Ukrainian leadership will grasp that scrapping discrimination against minorities and restoring the language rights … is also in their interest,” he said.

On another matter, Gulyas said the international press had “engaged in hate speech” in connection with Hungary’s much-discussed child-protection law. Hungary has always been ready to settle legal issues peacefully, in cooperation with European Union institutions, Gulyas said.

“No one has the right to question Hungary’s commitment to the European Union, especially in connection with a law that was not taking aim at anyone but was only designed to protect children,” Gulyas said.

The law in question outlines rules also enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, namely that the education of children is the parents’ prerogative, Gulyas said.

“Hungary is committed to freedom and independence. Among the 47 member states of the CoE, Hungary’s leaders may be the only ones to have fought for a free and democratic country during the times of a dictatorship,” Gulyas said.

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