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Vote On Russian Language Bill Sparks Ukraine Crisis

Ukraine Police Scuffle With Lawmakers, Protestersi
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July 04, 2012
Ukrainian riot police on July 4 scuffled with lawmakers and protesters who opposed the Russian language bill outside a building in Kyiv where President Viktor Yanukovych planned a press conference. The press conference was canceled.

Police scuffled with angry lawmakers and protesters who oppose the Russian language bill outside the Kyiv building where President Viktor Yanukovych planned to discuss the recent Euro 2012 football championships.

A political crisis has erupted in Ukraine after ruling party deputies pushed a bill that dramatically increases the official status of the Russian language through the parliament.

The speaker of Ukraine's parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, tendered his resignation one day after the vote, which took place late on July 3.

Police used tear gas, batons, and other forceful methods to disperse protesters in downtown Kyiv the day after the vote.

Opposition politicians are calling it a full-blown crisis and vowing to continue to battle the ruling party of President Viktor Yanukovych over the bill's fate and the way they believe it was bulldozed through parliament.

In a bid to defuse tensions, Yanukovych postponed a planned briefing on Ukraine's co-hosting of the recently completed Euro 2012 soccer tournament on July 4 to meet with Lytvyn and leaders of major factions.

"A full-fledged political crisis has started in Ukraine," opposition leader and former parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a press conference after that meeting. "The so-called stability of Yanukovych has definitively collapsed. There is no more a myth about stability. There is a weak president, a deficient parliament, absent state institutions, a destroyed constitution, and a complete collapse of honesty, morality, and political responsibility of a so-called political elite of Ukraine."

Lightning-Quick Vote

The bill was rushed through a second and final reading by deputies of the majority Party of Regions, which is led by Yanukovich.

Opposition lawmakers tried and failed to physically stop the speaker from calling the vote, provoking scuffles with members of the ruling party. When that failed, they walked out of the intensely divided chamber in protest.

"I ask you to consider my resignation and take a decision on it," Lytvyn told his fellow lawmakers.

Mykola Tomenko, a deputy parliament speaker, reportedly offered to step down along with Lytvyn.

The parliament's speaker and the president must each sign off on legislation before it becomes law.

Yatsenyuk insists the vote is inadmissible.

"Yesterday, the parliament approved a decision to vote on a bill to ban the Ukrainian language in an unconstitutional, unlawful, and inhumane way," he said, adding, "There was no law adopted yesterday. There is no new law on the state language policy."

Public Anger

Two hundred and forty-eight legislators out of 364 present approved the bill in the lightning-quick vote on July 3.

Opposition activists the next day clashed with police outside parliament as they protested the bill's adoption and the ruling party's methods.

Some of the roughly 2,000 protesters hurled bottles of water and sticks at the police, and both sides used pepper-spray against each other.

Riot police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse the demonstrators.

"The people of Ukraine protest against the dictatorship of President Yanukovych," Ukrainian opposition leader and former parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk said of the protesters' demands. "He created a handmade Ukrainian parliament, which is not actually a parliament, it resembles a joint-stock company, and the key shareholder of this company is actually President Yanukovych. And he believes that the country is his personal property and we believe that the country is the property of the people of Ukraine. So we defend our country, we defend our constitution, and we defend our language."

Many protesters had stayed out on the streets overnight to express anger at the legislative maneuver.

PHOTO GALLERY: Tension was evident in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on July 4 as protesters opposed to the Russian language bill gathered outside the site of President Yanukovych's abortive press conference on the recent Euro 2012 soccer championships. (Photos by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)

Whose Crisis?

Yanukovich described the situation as a crisis in the legislature following the speaker's resignation.

National elections for a new parliament are scheduled for October 28.

Language policy is an emotive subject in the former Soviet republic of 45 million people whose state language is Ukrainian but where a significant number of people speak Russian as their mother tongue.

The leader of the opposition Udar party, heavyweight world champion boxer Vitali Klitschko, told Reuters at the scene of the protests in Kyiv on July 4 that "politicians are dividing our society."

"They themselves do their best, all they can, to divide the people," Klitschko said. "There is no such issue as a language issue today, and we all know very well the names of the politicians responsible for this."

Supporters of the bill argue it will make life easier for the country's Russian-speakers by allowing their children to receive schooling in their mother tongue.

The bill would give Russian language equal status with Ukrainian across much of the country for use in legal discourse, business, and education.

It would recognize Russian as a "regional" language in predominantly Russian-speaking areas and enable its use in the public service.

Threat To Sovereignty?

Critics say this would undermine the Ukrainian language and threaten Ukrainian sovereignty.

Opposition parties have condemned the proposal as an attempt by the Party of the Regions to woo disillusioned Russian-speaking voters ahead of the parliamentary voting.

Russian speakers are more common in Ukraine's south and east, and in large cities. Ukrainian speakers are more common in Ukraine's west and north, and in rural regions.

* CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated the date of the vote as July 4. It was July 3.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Ukraine Service, Reuters, AFP, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS
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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Igor from: Moscow
July 05, 2012 04:50
The bill does not only regulate the use of the Russian language in Ukraine, it regulates all the languages that are spoken by more than 10% of the local population. For instance, it grants the regional status to the Hungarian and Romanian languages in some western parts of the country.

by: Simone from: Bologna, Italy
July 05, 2012 06:15
It's incredible how the media are distorting the truth. This law says that the municipal council, in municipalities where minorities are more than 10% of the population, MAY (not MUST) give Russian an official status along with Ukranian (I suppose that in municipalities with just 10-20% of Russian speakers the council will not agree on that, because it would be made by councilors elected mostly by Ukrainian speakers). There is NO attempt to the Ukranian language!

There is NO attempt to the Constitution either, but rather, finally, the full application of it and the respect of the right of minorities to use their language when addressing the insitutions in areas where they are a big community. Article 10 says: "The state language of Ukraine is the Ukrainian language. The State ensures the comprehensive development and functioning of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of social life throughout the entire territory of Ukraine. In Ukraine, the free development, USE and PROTECTION of RUSSIAN, and other languages of national minorities of Ukraine, is GUARANTEED". Article 24 says: "CITIZENS have EQUAL constitutional rights and freedoms and are equal before the law. There shall be no privileges or restrictions based on race, color of skin, political, religious, and other beliefs, sex, ethnic and social origin, property status, place of residence, LINGUISTIC, or other characteristics".

In a modern State the institutions belong to all citizens, not only to one ethnic group. This law is not forbidding Ukrainian: people who have Ukrainian as mother language can still speak it and the State institutions will still have it as their working language.

The bill was passed with a clear majority, therefore it is not illegitimate. These nationalist protesters call themselves pro-EU: someone should explain them that protection of minorities is one of the main principles of the EU, I would call them rather opportunists and prepotent ("Opposition lawmakers tried and failed to PHYSICALLY (!) stop the speaker from calling the vote").
In Response

by: Frank
July 06, 2012 00:45
As is to be expected, the coverage on this matter is inaccurately biased in a way that leans towards the svidomoite (Ukrainian nationalist and anti-Russian) view - which happens to be the minority in Ukraine.
In Response

by: Ben
July 07, 2012 15:44
Russian empire`s support in Europe and elsewhere is great and is comparable with the same support of Germany after the ww1.Remember that pro-Germany C. Lndberg was the US ` president candidate.

by: Bohdan from: Kyiv
July 10, 2012 13:56
Here are some reasonable facts for all of you (including the authors of this article).The language issue is sensitive in this country BECAUSE the Ukrainian language survived 300 years of russification by the Russian Empire and then Soviet Union, including bans on Ukrainian books, education in Ukrainian, and denial of the very existence of the language.
The bill on the principles of the language policy is anti-constitutional, and the voting procedure was illegitimate: as it was said in the article, the parliament adopted the decision to hear the draft law, but it didn't pass the bill itself; secondly, 248 votes were reported for it, while less than a hundred MPs were present in the session hall during the voting.
And a little bit more on this issue. Russian was never suppressed in Ukraine, nobody bans it, and people were always free to choose the language of communication (and it would be wrong otherwise). But due to the Russia-ruled past, Russian dominates ALL of the media (TV, radio, printed media, internet), book publishing, film industry, etc.
Education language was also free of choice - 82% of schools are Ukrainian, the rest being, obviously, Russian, Polish, Hungarian and so on. But predominantly Russian.
So the language that really needs protection in Ukraine is Ukrainian, because the government doesn't support the national culture (music, film, etc), education, media at all. it doesn't promote the use of the national language. Do you think it's normal? Can you imagine such situation in France, Germany, Italy? or Russia?? Russia's language regulations are superstrict, and they don't ensure the use of, for instance, Ukrainian language, by millions of Ukrainians living there.
So the first thing this controversial bill allows is to not know the state language in Ukraine at all. Again, imagine this in France, UK, whatever. Or Russia. And guess if this is not ridiculous.
In Response

by: rick from: milan
July 10, 2012 14:22
Your problem isn't language !

your real problem is "where is the real Ukraina " !

"which are it's real border" !

I'm just sure of one thing

only one

with certainty aren't the present boundaries
In Response

by: Frank
July 10, 2012 14:37

Here're some reasonable points in answer to what you said:

Ireland has two official languages. Ukrainian is far more popular in Ukraine than the native Gaelic language is in Ireland. "Russification" is a hypocritically inaccurate term.

There're a number of international precedents showing countries with more than one official language. These instances coincide with the reasoned view that Russian should be an official language in Ukraine.

The nationalist anti-Russian leaning view among Ukrainians is in the minority. Yet, it gets way too much attention from their actual numbers.
In Response

by: Bohdan from: Kyiv
July 11, 2012 08:19

do you live in Ukraine? because I do, and I think I know what I'm talking about. probably unlike you and all the other Russian chauvinists. nationalism in Ukraine doesn't necessarily mean anti-Russian, it just is pro-Ukrainian (as any nationalism - and I'm surprised I have to explain that). still, as Russian poses a threat to Ukrainian culture, Ukrainians get to be anti-Russian. they would also be anti-Polish or anti-English or whatever, if those countries had the same post-colonial policy towards this country.
and Ireland?? what the hell are you talking about? English dominates there, as does Russian in Belarus, another officially bilingual state. and theirs is the best experience that can be compared to Ukraine's situation. it would be almost the same here if we accepted Russian as the second official language. hey, why don't you find out for yourself how many Irish are speaking Gaelic, or Belorussians speaking their mother tongue? The fact here is that those international precedents either were not in favour of the titular nation's language (like Ireland), or do not apply to Ukrainian reality (for instance, due to multinational community, like those in Belgium, Switzerland, etc).
and my God please learn some history of Ukraine before talking about hypocrisy, because I was referring not to the current situation but to the historical fact of russification since Peter I, and three centuries on - that is, purposeful rooting out of the Ukrainian language in the life of Ukrainians. and preferably learn not from the Russian authors or wikipedia. yet you certainly won't, so just shut up and mind your own business
In Response

by: Frank
July 11, 2012 10:24

You're the one who more befits a "chauvinist" label. In your instance, an anti-Russian one. In point of fact, there're others who express views like yourself. Fortunately, your kind appear to be in the minority in Ukraine.

You seem to have missed my point about Ireland. Once again, Ukrainian in Ukraine is far more popular than the native Gaelic tongue is in Ireland. Yet, we don't see such an uproar about that. Your kind are a loud mouthed minority.

Your historically warped knowledge seems to support people like Vyhovski, Mazepa, Bandera and Petliura, who in their respective time periods greatly lacked overall popularity in most of the land comprising modern day Ukraine.

by: rick
July 10, 2012 15:49
nobody want to write the truth?
Ukrainian nationalists are actually Polish nationalists

and Poland
as EU /NATO member
is doing lobbying work against russians .

this is the simply truth ....
Comments page of 2

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