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New MEPs are quick to press minority issues
by James Fife In the first few days of the new European Parliament, a number of MEPs from new member states have already stepped forward to place minorities and minoritised languages at the forefront of the European agenda. Livia Jaroka, MEP from Hungary and the only Roma member of the
Jacques-Yves Le Touze pour Eurolang le 22/07/04 17:22

by James Fife

In the first few days of the new European Parliament, a number of MEPs from new member states have already stepped forward to place minorities and minoritised languages at the forefront of the European agenda.

Livia Jaroka, MEP from Hungary and the only Roma member of the body, stated that the EP is a forum where “real progress” can be made toward protecting minorities in the EU. In particular Jaroka called for improvements in rights to education, housing, and public health for the Roma.

Fellow Fidesz party member, Jozsef Szajer, along with Edit Bauer, a Hungarian-speaking MEP from Slovakia, called for more attention to minority issues and announced the creation of a working group to promote minority rights in the EU. The group will consist of MEPs from all over Europe who are working for minority rights.

In reference to this need for an international perspective on minority issues, Hungarian MEP Kinga Gol stated, “Minorities do not cross borders, borders cross them.”

Also in this first session of the EP, Russian-speaking MEP Tatjana Zdanoka from Latvia protested against legislation in her country requiring schools there to teach a minimum of 60% of their curriculum in Latvian starting September 1.

“What is at stake today are minority rights in Latvia,” Zdanoka is quoted in a report from Europolitix.com.

“We support the Latvian language as the language of our country,” Zdanoka said; nonetheless the Russian-speaking community is only asking for the same rights the Latvian people had under Soviet rule.

The Latvian language requirement has sparked a number of protests in Riga and other places in the country, as reported on Eurolang. Zdanoka’s remarks follow a statement earlier this month by Alvaro Gil-Robles, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, that Latvia must do more to integrate the Russian community into Latvian political life, such as ending the refusal to grant citizenship to children whose parents were not born in Latvia.

This initial focus on minority rights comes at the same time that the EU’s attention is being directed toward the legal role of some marginalized language communities. This is the result of the recent Spanish government call for treaty status in the draft Constitution for Basque, Catalan, and Galician, and the Irish about-face in calling for Gaelic to be given official status in the EU.

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