Editor’s Note:The following is an open letter sent by Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, Chairman of the Political Council the Our Ukraine Political Party, to H.E. Ambassador Knut Vollebaek, the High Commissioner On National Minorities at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Your Excellency, on behalf of the Our Ukraine Party, I write this letter of grave concern and ask for your immediate attention to systematic violations of national minority rights in Russia.
We highly respect your authority on these issues and would like to address them with you. These are matters of utmost importance for my country and all Ukrainian communities around the world.
We have witnessed a series of resonant events with the Ukrainian community in Russia. These events are clearly aimed at the Ukrainian minority and in our opinion are deliberate actions of the Russian government in systematic violations of the Ukrainian national minority rights in that country.
The Russian Federation is the largest neighboring country of Ukraine. According to the national population census in Russia of 2002, more than 3 million ethnic Ukrainians live within the country. Ukrainians in Russia are one of 90 officially registered communities in 16 regions of the country.
Our party and our civic partner-organizations vigorously advocate for the free exertion of national minority development principles. We believe this to be an inalienable part of an interstate good neighboring policy between Russia and Ukraine.
Respect to cultural and civic rights of national minorities is an obligation of Russia envisaged in many international and Ukrainian-Russian bilateral agreements.
Regrettably, we have to admit that on practice the Russian authorities do not respect their obligations to guarantee the free development of the Ukrainian national minority on its territory.
Protection of Ukrainian cultural rights in Russia is of outmost importance.
Opportunities for educating children in Ukrainian language are very limited. There are approximately ten Ukrainian Sunday schools and a dozen of schools with Ukrainian as an optional study language in all regions of Russia. All petitions to the official authorities for establishing Ukrainian-language schools in the regions of compact residence of the Ukrainian community remain unsatisfied.
Ukrainian communities do not receive state support for their functioning – there are no Ukrainian-language newspapers and radio or TV broadcasting in the Russian Federation.
The following and most recent actions of the Russian official authorities to drastically limit cultural and civic freedoms of the Ukrainian community must be addressed:
• In November 2010, the High Court of Russia cancelled registration of one of the biggest civic communities of the Ukrainian minority, the “Federal nation-cultural autonomy of the Ukrainians in Russia” (FNCAUR). The reason for such court ruling was the conclusion of the Justice of Ministry of Russia to the effect: “…the activity of the FNCAUR is aimed at discrediting the political course of the Russian government on interracial unity, and such activity threatens the constitutional regime…”.
• On January 3, 2011, Russian Foreign Minister Segey Lavrov officially stated that “FNCAUR’s activity was targeted at damaging bilateral Russian-Ukrainian relations”.
• In December 2010, we witnessed a new round of repressions against the Ukrainian library in Moscow (the only official Ukrainian literature library in Russia). The Russian Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation based on charges of distribution of the printed materials with xenophobia content at the library. During the past three months, the Extremism Department of the Interior Ministry of Russia conducted three searches at the library, seized books and computer hardware, as well as inflicted wounds to the Director of the library Nataliya Shariniy. At present the library is closed for the undetermined time-frame.
• Russian media continues to report that the Russian Ministry of Justice petitioned the High Court of Russia for liquidating the other Russian-wide civic Ukrainian community organization: “Unity of the Ukrainians in Russia”, which comprised 41 regional associations such as “Batkivshina”, “Blakytna Desna”, “Prolisok”, “Mriya”, Ukrainian regional center “Dnipro”, “Yasen – Ural Ukrainian national culture center”, “Ukraina-Seim” partnership, Association of Ukrainians from Povolzhie, “Kyiv Rus”, Ukrainian culture centers “Promin”, “Svitanok”, and “Krynytsia”.
The abovementioned cases followed the previous year’s actions by the Russian authorities, such as:
• In April 2008, the Moscow city authorities shut down the Ukrainian educational center that allegedly did not have the necessary licensing documentation. The Ukrainian educational center in Moscow had worked for more than 10 years under School #124 license, and its members were employed in accordance to the law of the Russian Federation. After the shut-down of the center its employees were questioned by the Federal Security Service (FSB).
• On May 10, 2009, Russian authorities Yuriy Kononenko persona non grata, who was the first deputy director of the Unity of the Ukrainians in Russia, an activist of the Ukrainian cultural-educational movement in Russia, founder of the Ukrainian literature library in Moscow.
• In 2008-2010, a series of administrative measures were imposed on the Ukrainian cultural movements in Saint-Petersburg, Surgut, Voronezh, and Ufa.
Such situations inflict uneasiness of the Ukrainian community representatives in Russia. The Unity of Ukrainians in Russia and Federal nation-cultural autonomy of the Ukrainians in Russia urged Russian authorities to stop the harassment of the Ukrainian organizations. They claim that state authorities of Russia are set to eradicate the well-organized Ukrainian community in Russia and replace it with new pseudo-Ukrainian ones.
Harassment of the Ukrainian community in Russia is accompanied with the decrease of civic rights and democratic freedoms in the country, and aggravation of xenophobia in the Russian society.
These adverse circumstances pose a grave threat to preserving the Ukrainian national identity and protection of the Ukrainian minority rights in the Russian Federation.
People’s attempts to directly address the Governments of Russia and Ukraine on the issue of protecting their national rights have been unsuccessful.
Taking into account the abovementioned issues, we kindly ask you to consider the situation and assist in protecting the rights of the Ukrainian community in the Russian Federation.
Copies of this letter shall also be forwarded to our partners from the European Union and Council of Europe.
Together, with your assistance, we can speak up for the people who have no voice and whose civil liberties and minority rights have been taken away.
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