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Minority Rights Are Human Rights

On January 29, 2018, the Centre for Education Law at HSE’s Institute of Education hosted an expert seminar on ‘Minority and Linguistic Rights in Education’. The seminar focused on key issues around linguistic rights of minorities, in particular with regard to education as a basic human right.

The seminar was attended by Jan de Groof, Academic Supervisor of HSE’s Centre for Education Law, Professor at Tilburg University and the College of Europe in Belgium and President of the European Association for Education Law and Policy; Dr Fernand de Varennes, UN special rapporteur on minority issues and Professor at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria in South Africa; Federica Prina, Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow; Szymon Jankiewicz,Director of the Centre for Education Law at HSE and Candidate of Sciences, and Nadezhda Knyaginina, Junior Research Fellow at HSE’s Centre for Education Law.

Professor de Groof outlined the fundamental aspects of educational rights of minorities, including issues around equality, non-discrimination, freedom, and the opportunity to live in a free society.

Professor Fernand de Varennes presented his vision of the historical context of the development of linguistic and educational rights of minorities. He considers that these rights should be considered basic human rights.

Participants of the seminar discussed such questions as ‘Why are minority languages ​​necessary?’ and ‘Will it be considered discrimination if there is only one language in the country and everyone has to study in this language?’ Dr Varennes stated unequivocally that, ‘the absence of a concept of minority language rights has a negative impact on children, as they grow up not knowing their native language and they do not learn as well. Consequently, this affects their opportunities to get a university education later in life’.

The seminar participants discussed the issues around regional languages ​​in the republics of Mordovia, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Dagestan. Nadezhda Knyaginina drew attention to the fact that Russia often combines the concepts of multinationality and cultural diversity with the concept of minorities, whereas this does not occur in international documentation.

Federica Prina has been actively researching minority language issues in Russia since 2010 and has carried out two projects. The first (2010-2014) focused on cultural and linguistic rights, and the second (2014-2017) focused on the integration of international laws into national legislation. Dr Prina has worked in Bashkortostan, Dagestan, Mordovia, Karelia, Moscow and St. Petersburg. She came to the following important conclusions:

Firstly, it is difficult to bring together linguistic diversity and the study of the Russian language, which is considered to be a uniting factor. This is due to a tradition of multilingualism and local traditions in education in schools across the country. Secondly, history shows that decentralization is the key to the successful development of minority rights.

Federica Prina and Nadezhda Knyaginina focus on what is called ‘standardization of education’.

It was agreed that neglecting the linguistic rights of minorities leads to loss of cultural heritage, national pride and historical memory. Respect for differences from one's own heritage is a positive sign, as it indicates state and societal development.

Written by Maria Murashko

Photo: Violetta Balzhinimaeva