The Prague Post: Ukraine's language law raises identity concerns

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Aug. 23, 2012, 7:18 p.m. | Ukraine | Politics — by The Prague Post

Ukrainian opposition activists clash with riot police on July 4, 2012 during a protest in Kyiv against a new language law as President Viktor Yanukovych summoned the leaders of parliament to limit a growing crisis. Several people were left covered in blood and broken glass littered the street. The police used tear gas in an apparent bid to bring the situation under control. The opposition reacted furiously to the Verkhovna Rada's rushed passing late on July 3 of the law elevating the status of Russian, which was not on the parliament's agenda for the day.

Despite public opposition and political wrangling, President Viktor Yanukovych signed Ukraine's controversial language bill into law earlier this month. The bill passed through the Ukrainian Parliament - the Verkhovna Rada - in early July, gaining the support of 248 deputies, thus easily clearing the required minimum of 226, albeit under controversial circumstances.

Dismissing superficial government measures to quell popular discontent, hundreds of Ukrainians took to the streets after the bill passed, in some of the biggest demonstrations since the so-called Orange Revolution. The protesters dressed in traditional clothes, waved national flags and brandished portraits of the country's poets such as Taras Shevchenko and Volodymyr Sosyura, who are lauded for their works in Ukrainian. Among those fighting back the tears caused by police pepper spray was heavyweight boxing champ and leader of the UDAR opposition party, Vitaliy Klytschko. People blocked the capital's streets, picketed the Ukrainian House political and cultural center in Kyiv and some even declared themselves on hunger strike.

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