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Parliament In Kyiv OKs Bill To 'Secure' Ukrainian As Official State Language


Activists rally outside parliament in Kyiv in support of the language law on April 25.
Activists rally outside parliament in Kyiv in support of the language law on April 25.

KYIV -- Ukraine's parliament has approved legislation that its authors say will "secure" the use of Ukrainian as the official "state language."

Ukraine's outgoing President Petro Poroshenko has said that he will sign the bill into law before he leaves office in early June.

But Ukraine's president-elect, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has criticized the bill as a set of "prohibitions and punishments" that will complicate bureaucratic procedures and "increase the number of officials instead of reducing them."

In an April 25 statement on his Facebook page, Zelenskiy said his view "is that the state should promote the development of the Ukrainian language by creating incentives and positive examples."

"After my appointment to the post of president, a thorough analysis of this law will be made to ensure that it meets all the constitutional rights and interests of all Ukrainian citizens," Zelenskiy said, adding that he will respond "in accordance with the constitutional powers of the president of Ukraine and in the interest of citizens."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow that the bill contradicts the Ukrainian Constitution and promotes the "Ukrainization" of the country.

"It is actually a law on forced Ukrainization, basically a total one. Its texts envision significant restrictions, and in some case directly ban the use of Russian and the languages of ethnic minorities in different spheres of social life," Zakharova said.

The bill says "the only official state language in Ukraine is the Ukrainian language."

It says "attempts" to introduce other languages as the state language would be considered as "activities with the goal to forcibly change the constitutional order."

The bill also introduces a legal concept known as the "public humiliation of the Ukrainian language," which it defines as "illegal activity equated to desecration of Ukraine's state symbols" under the country's criminal code.

It allows language quotas for state and private television broadcasts and says at least half of the text in printed media must be in Ukrainian.

The legislation also calls for the introduction of "language inspectors who will be present at all gatherings and sessions of any state bodies."

They would be empowered to demand documents from political parties and public organizations and to impose punitive fines of up to $450 if they determine the documents are "not in Ukrainian."

The bill also calls for the establishment of a state-run "center for the Ukrainian language" to issue certificates that confirm the language fluency of Ukrainian citizens.

Public posts that require Ukrainian fluency under the bill include the presidency, the speaker of parliament and all parliamentary deputies, government ministers, the head of the state security service, the prosecutor-general, the chief of the Ukrainian National Bank, and local council members.

The Ukrainian language also would be mandatory in all official documents, court records, elections and referendums, international treaties, and labor agreements,.

The bill says the language rules would not apply to private conversations or religious rituals.

The language issue is controversial among Russian speakers in Ukraine.

Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine claim Kyiv is deliberately curtailing the use of the Russian language.

With additional reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Christopher Miller in Kyiv
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