KyivPost

Language law will split Ukraine, opposition warns

Print version
July 30, 2012, 3:34 p.m. | Ukraine — by Reuters

Opposition politicians warn that a law making Russian the official language will set citizens at each other's throats.
© AFP

Reuters

SEE ALSO

Opposition politicians walked out of Ukraine's parliament in protest on Monday after warning that a law making Russian the official language in parts of the former Soviet republic would set citizens at each other's throats.

President Viktor Yanukovich's Party of the Regions rushed the bill through parliament earlier this month in what opponents saw as an attempt to rally public support in Russian-speaking regions ahead of an October parliamentary election.

The move led to street protests in the capital Kiev and brawls in parliament. The chamber went into recess until September, leaving the bill in limbo, but last week parliament said it would reconvene for an extra session on Monday.

Arseny Yatseniuk, leader of the opposition Front of Change party, described the bill as a "crime against Ukraine and the Ukrainian state" during the special session on Monday.

"We regard this as an anti-constitutional manoeuvre - it does not exist for us as a law," he said.

Ivan Zayats, a deputy of Our Ukraine, another opposition party, said: "This law will set Ukrainians of the left bank against the right, north against south."

Opposition lawmakers then left the special sitting in protest, before parliament - dominated by the Party of the Regions - voted against any changes to the bill, which has passed its second and final reading.

POWER BASE

The way is now clear for parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn to send the bill to Yanukovich for his final signature. Lytvyn won a vote of confidence from parliament on Monday despite having formally resigned over the language row.

Yanukovich has not yet expressed his view on the bill, but his popularity would take a hard knock in his eastern Ukraine power base if he failed to sign it into law.

About 1,000 opposition protesters attempted to rally near parliament on Monday but were barred from getting close to the main building.

While Ukrainian is the only state language, the bill would make Russian an official regional language in predominantly Russian-speaking areas in the industrialised east and southern regions such as Crimea where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.

Opponents of the bill, who regard the Ukrainian language as a touchstone of sovereignty and independence from Russia, say it will mean that knowledge and usage of Ukrainian will die out in those areas.

Passions remain high, however, and the law is likely to be a high-profile issue in the Oct. 28 election when Yanukovich's Party of the Regions will have to work hard to maintain its majority after unpopular government policies on pensions, taxation and the cost of home utilities.

With former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko still in jail on a charge of abuse of office, Yatseniuk, whose party has united with her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, has effectively become head of the opposition.

The Kyiv Post is hosting comments to foster lively public debate through the Disqus system. Criticism is fine, but stick to the issues. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks will be removed from the site. The Kyiv Post will ban flagrant violators. If you think that a comment or commentator should be banned, please flag the offending material.
comments powered by Disqus

KyivPost

© 1995–2014 Public Media

Web links to Kyiv Post material are allowed provided that they contain a URL hyperlink to the www.kyivpost.com material and a maximum 500-character extract of the story. Otherwise, all materials contained on this site are protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced without the prior written permission of Public Media at news@kyivpost.com
All information of the Interfax-Ukraine news agency placed on this web site is designed for internal use only. Its reproduction or distribution in any form is prohibited without a written permission of Interfax-Ukraine.