25 Years of the Declaration on Minority Rights
On the 30th of January as a part of the weekly seminar in the Institute of Education Fernand de Varennes, UN’s special Rapporteur on minority issues, gave a lecture “25 Years of the Declaration on Minority Rights: National Minorities’ Problems in Education”.
The seminar was opened by Jan de Groof, Academic Adviser of the Center for educational law and Szymon Jankewicz, Director of the Center for Education Law, who noted the critical importance of solving the problem of inequality in education as well as problems of preserving minority rights, especially language rights, in such a multinational country as Russia.
Professor de Varennes began his report with a historical perspective of the question. Protection of minorities started being discussed after the First World War. At that time the first attempts were made to ensure protection of minorities on the territories of new countries. There were special pacts known as minority treaties. They were concluded between allied countries and established the rights for people living on the territory: for example, the right to citizenship regardless of nation.
The problem of minorities was raised again after the World War II. One of the first international legal instruments on human rights was the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But only in 1992 United Nations Convention on the Rights of minorities was adopted. It was associated with an unbelievable rise of number of ethnic conflicts: the peak of conflicts came at the beginning of the 1990s.
Due to education matters Professor de Varennes pointed out that part 3, article 4 of the Convention secure that countries must take measures to ensure that minorities can freely study their native language and in their native language. Language rights’ issues are the key issues for national minorities and, moreover, they determine the existence or absence of any discrimination. For example, government systems with lack of discrimination contribute to the greater integration of minorities. Also it leads to the absence of marginalization. Minorities should be able to have a possibility to study in their native language, especially during elementary school, because it helps children to learn better.
Professor de Varennes drew the listeners’ attention to the report on linguistic rights and linguistic minorities, which contains the best practices of ensuring the linguistic rights of minorities in many spheres, including education.
Fernand de Varennes also talked about his activities as UN special Rapporteur on minority issues. He briefly presented main priorities of his three-year mandate in office: among them were the issues of stateless persons – about 75% of them are representatives of minorities; ensuring minorities' right to education, primarily concerning language rights (studying native language and learning in their native language). Also he raised the topic of hate speeches and intolerance towards minorities. He discussed ways of preventing conflicts by ensuring the protection of minority rights, because most of the conflicts are somehow connected with this problem. Professor de Varennes paid special attention to defining the term “minority”, because lack of term brings certain difficulties to the international law.
Natalia Novikova, leading researcher of the North and Siberia Departments of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, spoke at the seminar. She devoted her speech to the brief excursion into the Russian realities of the people living far North: for example, among the people living there only dozen of them can say that they know their native language One of the reasons for the language “death” is the fact that such people live in traditional families, where the legacy goes to the eldest son. Other children are pushed to get an education, because it is necessary for survival: in such conditions the issues of learning the mother tongue often takes a back bench.
Moreover, Natalia noted that there is a tendency to the voluntary character of studying native languages because young people want to be closer to their culture. For example, “bear holiday” (“медвежий праздник”), for active participation in which one should know the native language. Natalia pointed out that in recent years the number of young people studying their native language for the reason of participation in national holidays and preservation of their culture, has strongly increased.
At the end of her speech, Natalia noted that the problems of education among national minorities and their rights to decent education are the most important and often forgotten issues of national policy. Attention to these issues, in her opinion, shows the effectiveness of state policy in the multi-ethnic State.
The second reporter was a researcher from the University of Glasgow – Federica Prina. She spoke about the results of her research related to the protection of language rights in education in Russian national republics. National republics, according to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, have the right to study in their own language. Federica focused on the results of her interviews with national republics’ representatives, especially from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.
All respondents talked about a strong link between national identity and national language. At the same time, they pointed out that current Russian policy in the field of education is set to unify education and reduce the impact of regions on education’s state. As an example, they talked about the reforms that took place in 2007. They forbade the use of national languages while taking Unified State Examination. One of the biggest problems is that now the approval of textbooks comes from the Federal level, not regional one, and only a small number of textbooks written in national languages are undergoing this procedure.
Federica concluded her speech with a brief retelling of the recent events related to the control of republics’ schools. It turned out that students study national languages at the expense of the Russian language. Therefore, creating a unified educational space can lead to serious problems.
The following discussion, which was attended by the seminar’s guests and staff of the Institute of Education, raised such important issues as native languages’ protection, learning native language and studying in native language. They also discussed the relationships between the main language and native languages as well as the issues of conscious choice of language as a factor of access to the next stage of education.
At the end of the seminar, Professor Jan de Groof and Szymon Jankewicz once again pointed out the importance and diversity of minority issues in general and minority issues in education in particular. They also announced that the conference “Federalism in Education”, during which the discussion of minority rights in education will be continued, will be held in autumn.