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News 22 Sep 17

Romania President Scraps Ukraine Visit in Education Row

Romania's President Klaus Iohannis has called off plans to visit to Ukraine after Kiev adopted changes limiting education in minority languages. 

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko. Photo: presidency.ro.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Thursday in New York said that he was scrapping his planned visit to Ukraine in October after Ukraine's parliament passed a law curbing the right to education in minority languages, including Romanian.

On September 5, Ukraine amended its the education law mainly in order to restrict the use of Russian in Ukrainian schools. According to the new law, after the fifth grade, all classes in Ukrainian schools will be taught in Ukrainian alone.

However, the bill, which is still to be approved by the president, affects all minorities as well as Russians – by far the most numerous – and has caused concern in several countries in the region, including Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Greece.

The foreign ministers of the four countries sent a joint letter to their Ukrainian counterpart last week expressing "concern" and "deep regret" about the changes. 

Ukraine is home to some 400,000 Romanians, 180,000 Bulgarians, 160,000 Hungarians and approximately 90.000 Greeks.  

Cancelling a presidential visit sends a tough diplomatic message, Iohannis told reporters on the side of the UN General Assembly.

The Romanian President – who himself comes from Romania's small ethnic German minority – said he already told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko about his decision.

He said also that he will not receive the head of the Ukrainian parliament who will be in Bucharest next week. Iohannis said that he had planned to visit the Ukrainian Romanian-speaking Bucovina region together with Poroshenko.

“I happened to meet President Poroshenko in the UN hallway and of course we greeted each other and I told him all this," he explained.

He said he wanted to see "some progress on this education law" and viewed it as "a very unpleasant surprise ...especially since he has been extremely open to me and to the Romanian minority in Ukraine”.

Poroshenko speaks Romanian and has even delivered speeches in Romanian at different events. The Ukrainian President spent his childhood in Tighina/Bender, a town located in neighbouring Moldova. 

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