Although the Republic of Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe, it is however party to several multilateral treaties related to the protection of national minorities within the frameworks of the UN (ICCPR, ICESCR, ICERD) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). It has also signed bilateral agreements with its neighbors which deal with minority protection issues. In addition, UN and OSCE minority-related ‘soft law’ (recommendations and guidelines) is also important for the protection of minority rights in Belarus.
According to the official data, Belarusians constitute the majority by 83.7% (of 9,504,000 inhabitants). The largest minorities are Russians (785,100), Poles (294,500), Ukrainians (158,700), Jews (12,900), Armenians (8,500), Tatars (7,300), Roma (7,100), Azerbaijani (5,600), Lithuanians (5,100), Moldovans (3,500) followed by smaller ethnic groups. All minorities are generally dispersed throughout the country. However, while Jews, Russians and Ukrainians are predominantly urban residents, Poles, the least urbanized minority, are concentrated in the Hrodna region where they constitute 21.5% of the population. Poles form an absolute majority in the district of Voranava (80%) and a relative majority in the district of Ščučyn. In most of other districts in the western part of the Hrodna region, the number of Poles ranges between one fifth and one third of the population.
The available research data shows that there are no fundamental differences between ethnic Belarusians and minorities in social, economic, political or cultural areas. Consequently, the current minority situation in Belarus is being described as conflict-free and stable, without any sharp contradictions on the grounds of ethnicity, language, race or religion. This is considered an outcome of long lasting peaceful interethnic and interfaith interactions, cultural similarities, and long-term and stable ties between the main national communities within the country. Minorities’ representation in the public sector, and the civil service in particular, is difficult to estimate due to lack of information. The available figures date back to 2007 and pertain to the regions of Hrodna and Viciebsk. They indicate participation of minorities at the local level, roughly comparable with their share in the population. However, starting from 2007 it became very difficult to get any official information concerning ethnic representation or social disparities.
The Equal Rights Trust report on equality and discrimination in Belarus issued in 2013, lists certain problems of inequality and discrimination in Belarus, but admits that they are difficult to analyze since they are covert phenomena and not explicit acts of exclusion on the grounds of ethnicity. Most studies acknowledge that hate-crimes and acts of hate-speech are rare cases.
According to the last Moldovan census of 2004, 75.81% of the population declared Moldovan ethnicity, followed by Ukrainians (8.35%), Russians (5.95%), Gagauzians (4.36%), Romanians (2.17%), Bulgarians (1.94%), and other ethnic groups (1.32%). Moldova includes two autonomous regions – Transnistria (legally a territory with special status, in fact a breakaway region in the state of frozen conflict) and Gagauzia. For two decades the Transnistrian conflict has affected both the domestic and foreign policies of Moldova. The Roma minority, notwithstanding its significant numbers, is not subject to any positive measures in Moldova proper (and even figures among ‘other ethnic groups’ in official lists of ethnicities), and is neglected in the breakaway region of Transnistria. In addition, there is still no unified approach at the state level with regard to the name of the official language (‘Moldovan’ or ‘Romanian’). For instance, during the 2004 census 78.4% of Moldavans claimed their native language was ‘Moldovan’ and 18.8% claimed Romanian. Moreover, there are estimates that the number of people who identify themselves as Romanians must be much higher that the official statistics show.
Moldova is party to several multilateral agreements related to the protection of national minorities within the frameworks of the UN (ICCPR, ICESCR, ICERD), CIS and CoE (FCNM). In addition, the UN and OSCE minority-related ‘soft law’ (recommendations and guidelines) is also important for the protection of minority rights in Moldova. However, the provisions of the FCNM cannot be in practice applicable in Transnistria until the resolution of the frozen conflict.
The constitution proclaims the national unity of Moldova and of its nation regardless of ethnic origin. The legislation on minorities formally meets the main international standards. However, its implementation lags behind and is often subject to criticism. Constitutional norms and laws are declarative, and terminologies applied lack clarity. In 2012, an anti-discrimination law was adopted, but its practical outcomes are difficult to access so far. However, as of 2009 the ACFC identified insufficient spread of information and awareness about discrimination, its forms and legal consequences. Furthermore, in 2011 the CERD pointed out the absence of systematic collection of information on social integration and discrimination.
According to the last Ukrainian population census in 2001, 77.8% of the population declared Ukrainian ethnicity, followed by Russians (17.3%), Belarusians (0.6%), Moldovans (0.5%), Crimean Tatars (0.5%), Bulgarians (0.4%), Romanians (0.4%), Hungarians (0.3%), Poles (0.3%), Jews (0.2%), Greeks (0.2%), Tatars (0.2%) and other ethnic groups. Ukrainians constitute the ethnic majority in every region of Ukraine, and until March 2014 with the exception of Crimea and Sevastopol. Another peculiarity of Ukraine is the significant use of Russian language as the main language of communication, in particular in the east and south of the country, where Ukrainians nevertheless remain a numerical majority.
Ukraine is party to several multilateral agreements related to the protection of national minorities within the frameworks of the UN (ICCPR, ICESCR, ICERD) and the CoE (FCNM, EChRML). In addition the UN and OSCE minority-related ‘soft law’ (recommendations and guidelines) is also important for the protection of minority rights in Ukraine. However, since March 2014 provisions of Ukrainian minority-related legislation cannot in practice be applicable in the Crimean peninsula.
The legislation on minorities formally meets the major international standards. However, its implementation demonstrates significant flaws. Minority-related norms and laws are often declarative. In 2012 the anti-discrimination law and the law on the principles of the state language policy were introduced. The former became a subject of vehement criticism, but it would be premature to access the implementation outcomes at the moment. The law was rescinded by the Ukrainian parliament in February 2014, but the interim acting President vetoed the decision and initiated preparation of a new law aimed at accommodating “the interests of both Eastern and Western Ukraine and of all ethnic groups and minorities.”