Commissioner’s statement on language policies (excerpts), 2019

Promoting social cohesion through balanced policies on languages

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The Advisory Committee on the FCNM has consistently emphasised, in respect of a range of countries, including Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and the Russian Federation, that policies on the use of languages should aim to reconcile the needs of different groups of speakers, those of the state and those of society as a whole, rather than deepening gaps between different groups based on linguistic differences [..]

Tackling discrimination based on language

Laws and policies that promote the use of a specific language should not result in discriminatory treatment of some groups of the population. Therefore, before introducing new measures regulating the use of languages, the authorities should carefully assess the possible disproportionate impact of such measures, especially on persons belonging to national minorities. The Advisory Committee on the FCNM has indeed highlighted that strict language requirements can constitute a disproportionate obstacle for persons belonging to national minorities in a range of areas, such as access to employment, participation in political life, and access to health care and education. In the case of Latvia and Estonia for instance, it deplored insufficient access for persons belonging to minorities to public positions due to overly strict language requirements.

It is therefore crucial for countries to ensure that they have an effective anti-discrimination legal framework in place, which explicitly prohibits discrimination based on ethnic or national origin as well as on language, and, importantly, which foresees effective remedies for persons alleging such discrimination.  [..]

Promoting plurilingual education

When teaching of or in minority languages is provided, it is equally important to uphold the quality of teaching, but also to ensure continuity throughout the education system. For example, limiting the teaching in minority languages only up to a certain grade can act as a clear disincentive for minority language education. In this regard, I am worried, for instance, that the 2018 education reform in Latvia which gradually reduces the share of teaching in Russian (to a ratio of 80% Latvian and 20% Russian) in secondary schools, runs the risk of transforming the existing bilingual education system in place since 2004 into a system which offers only some language and culture classes in the minority language. I am also concerned at media reports indicating that the Latvian government is considering making Latvian the only teaching language in public schools.

Moreover, I find it disturbing that some countries (such as Latvia and Ukraine) have taken steps to establish rules for the teaching in languages of the European Union which are different from those applying to other languages, thereby establishing unjustified differences of treatment between speakers of different national minority languages.

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Document data: 29.10.2019. Link: https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/language-policies-should-accomodate-diversity-protect-minority-rights-and-defuse-tensions Also available in French and Russian

Publisher’s notes: in fact, the “ratio of 80% Latvian and 20% Russian” is now being applied to grades 7 to 9 (late basic school), and, to be more precise, the ratio is “at least 80 % Latvian”. To the secondary schools (grades 10-12), a different system is being applied by the same 2018 amendments to the Education Law. It can be summarised as “only some language and culture classes in the minority language”.

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