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Minorities claim new law is oppressive

Romania's new education law, according to the country's Hungarian and German ethnic minorities, is more repressive than anything from the Communist era.

Entrance examinations to vocational colleges and universities will now be in Romanian only. And the new law, they say, will marginalise teaching in the mother tongue and make it less of a priority in schools.

Ethnic Hungarian members of the Romanian parliament, who walked out of the chamber before the vote on the Bill was taken, are now trying to challenge the law as unconstitutional.

The Hungarian and Romanian communities of Romania qualify, according to the strictest international definitions, as national minorities -self-identifying communities bound together by shared culture and language and, most important, indigenous to the area where they now reside.

Indigenous, in this definition, is taken to mean 100 years of residence; the Germans of Transylvania have been there for several hundred years; the Hungarians for more than a thousand. Moreover, their presence in today's Romania is not of their choosing: their families were left on the wrong side, when the frontiers were redrawn after the First World War.

As national minorities, these communities can claim under current international law significant cultural rights, including the right to mother-tongue education. The new Romanian education law, the Hungarian and German minorities say, considerably restricts this right at all levels.

To the Romanian establishment, mother-tongue education for the minorities is seen as a barrier to the building of a united Romanian state.

One extreme right-winger, Mayor Gheorge Funar of Cluj-Napora, has condemned the new law for allowing any minority-language education at all. More moderate Romanians state their case by claiming that the law conforms with all recognised international requirements.

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