Language law a ploy to distract voters

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July 10, 2012, 5:58 p.m. | Op-ed — by David Marples

Opposition protesters rally in front of the parliament in Kyiv on July 6 during a demonstration against a controversial bill elevating the status of Russian. The parliament adjourned on July 6 for a summer recess despite failing to resolve a crisis over its rushed passing of the bill. In its final session, the Verkhovna Rada voted not to even consider whether to accept the resignation of speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, who announced he would quit after not being warned the chamber was preparing to pass the bill. The Rada is not due to convene again until Sept. 4 and the recess essentially leaves Ukrainian politics in limbo as the speaker's signature is required for the bill -- adopted on July 4 -- to be considered approved. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY

David Marples

Special to Kyiv Post

On July 3, the Ukrainian parliament passed the second draft of a language law that would grant official status to minority languages in areas in which they are spoken by at least 10 percent of the population. Its acceptance sparked furious protests outside parliament, with riot police using batons and teargas against demonstrators.

Some analysts maintain that the law would undermine the status of Ukrainian, which has been the only official state language since the country gained independence in 1991. Others anticipate a deepening of a regional divide between the Ukrainian-speaking western regions, and the mainly Russophone areas of the south and east.

Yet as usual with events involving the ruling Regions Party and its president Viktor Yanukovych, there is more to this move than is at first evident.

The circumstances of the bill’s passing were calculated to inflame. It was introduced without forewarning, when many deputies and Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn were absent. It received votes from 248 deputies, well over the required minimum of 226. The Regions deputies were supported by the Communist Party and People’s Party. Lytvyn subsequently offered his resignation, but it was rejected by the assembly the following day. Seven deputies announced they were starting a hunger strike in protest. There were angry demonstrations in Kyiv and in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, the heartland of Ukrainian speakers. Protests are also planned by the Ukrainian community abroad in centers like Toronto.

In theory, the bill—it still requires the signatures of the president and speaker before it becomes law—would mean that Russian would take on official status in 13 of Ukraine’s 27 designated regions, i.e. 11 “oblasts” (provinces) and the cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol. In the far western area of Transcarpathia, Hungarian would gain official status. In Chernivtsi and southwestern Odesa, the same would apply to Romanian and Bulgarian. On the Crimean peninsula, the Tatar language would also gain such status. Altogether, Ukraine would have 18 “official languages”!

There is little logic to its sudden passing other than perhaps to enhance the electoral standing of the Regions Party in Russian-speaking regions prior to the parliamentary elections, anticipated on Oct. 28. Language issues are hardly a priority in a state riddled with corruption and human rights issues, and suffering a sharp economic downturn. And although tempers are frayed, the number of protesters is small. A mere 1,000 turned out in central Kyiv on July 4, for example, barely enough to cause a flutter on the bustling Khreschatyk.

Also, should the law attain official status its implementation would be a bureaucratic and financial nightmare. Indeed, a representative of the Finance Ministry, Valentyna Brusylo, commented, perhaps indiscreetly, that it would likely cost some $1.5-$2 billion to introduce. Such expenses in an election year would be an issue of much greater contention than the language law itself. The Ukrainian government is in financial trouble: it recently agreed terms for a $3 billion loan from China’s Eximbank, payment for which will be partly in exports of grain up to 2.5 million tons per year.

Third, why do Regions deputies need to introduce a law formalizing the status of Russian, which already enjoys a privileged position? No doubt it will impress Russian President Vladimir Putin, who visits Ukraine on July 12. But the question has been dragged up, by Yanukovych and earlier presidents, at every election and then ignored once a new president entered office.

The answer to all these questions appears to be that it is a calculated ploy to inflame and divide residents of Ukraine, a diversion from other issues that should be considered more urgent. The electorate has been sidetracked for the past month by Euro 2012, a successful but costly soccer competition that was well organized and won convincingly by the Spanish. The language law is the new diversion.

After its passing, as opposition deputies gathered in the streets to protest, the remaining 73 deputies passed a total of 20 new laws in a single day. These included new subsidies for the Donbas coal mines, which are at the center of Regions’ power base, a new rail connection to Kyiv international airport, and more funding for the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the State Prosecutor. The costs of the new laws amount to billions.

Because so few deputies were present, others simply voted in their place, pressing the “yes” button in the absentees’ seats in order to secure a majority for each new law. The strategy could be seen as cynical. But Regions deputies habitually pay lip service to the democratic process while finding ways to circumvent it.

The uproar over the language bill may be justified. But it is also a diversion, carefully calculated so that deputies are preoccupied and the rules of parliament can be circumvented. In the meantime the ruling elite of Ukraine fritter away state funds without a care for the long-term consequences.

The language law is simply impractical, but it is not the main issue. Language does not divide the residents of Ukraine. The real problem is the ruling Regions Party, which treats the country as a personal fiefdom to be robbed at will and finds ingenious ways to ensure that it can continue to do so.

David Marples is a distinguished university professor in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta in Canada. This article first appeared in the Edmonton Journal, July 7, 2012. []

The Kyiv Post is hosting comments to foster lively debate. Criticism is fine, but stick to the issues. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks will be removed from the site. If you think that a posted comment violates these standards, please flag it and alert us. We will take steps to block violators.
kpxoxol July 10, 2012, 6:16 p.m.    

The so called "language law" definitely show the Ukraine people that the opposition are bunch of brainless orange morons :D

The opposition shot themselves in the foot and the convicted criminal thief Tymoshenko (Tymoshenko on language law: Yanukovych declared war on whole nation) again proved that she is full of crap. LOL :D

The orange losers who make funny noises on the streets are PITIFUL AND INSIGNIFICANT MINORITY, heh, heh, heh :D

"Director of the Kyiv-based Center for Political and Conflict Studies Mykhailo Pohrebynsky said at a press conference on Friday that about 20% of Ukrainians support the position of "ousting the Russian language from official use" in Ukraine.

"All that the opposition is currently doing is defending the position of a minority of Ukrainian citizens, while a majority calls for raising the status of the Russian language. All this hysteria, hunger strikes and so forth are the result of this, and I think this is an example of totalitarian thinking," the analyst said."

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Lari July 10, 2012, 6:25 p.m.    

Yeah, cause you're arguments are truly based on intellect and understanding of the issues...especially when you copy and paste the same dribble on almost every article.

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kpxoxol July 11, 2012, 8:08 a.m.    

Sore orange loser wish the facts about the orange impotence and retardness to go away, but they wont.

I will post the embarrassing facts about the oranges crapping their soiled underpants every time it is appropriate :D

Cry my a river, orange loser, heh, heh, heh :D

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elmer-елмер July 12, 2012, 1:49 a.m.    

kpxoxol yet again bravely proclaims what he wishes were true.

kpxoxol - always wrong, never in doubt.

все помиляється ніколи не сумнівається

seig heil

дер фюрер фашист янусволоч

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kpxoxol July 13, 2012, 6:34 a.m.    

Obviously I struck a raw nerve by exposing the fact that the orange losers crapped their pants with their attempt to deny the Russian language its natural official status in Ukraine - measly 20% of the Ukraine population, what a pitiful number of orange morons, heh, heh, heh :D

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elmer-елмер July 10, 2012, 11:40 p.m.    

Zookraine does not have a government.

It is, pure and simple, a sovok mafia state - the observation that it is a personal fiefdom to be robbed at will is absolutely correct.

The Party of Regions decided, according to Chechetov's comments, that since it is the "winner," the "winner gets to implement all of its programs."

The incident with the language bill, and the other spending bills that were enacted with a mere 73 members of "parliament" present through "piano voting" resoundingly demontrates that the Party of Regions have absolutely no respect whatsoever for the people of Ukraine, nor for the governmental institutions which they infest.

Thus the hideously callous disregard for Parliamentary procedures.

And, as usual, the sovok mafiosi are full of excuses and rationalizations for their brutal trampling on parliamentary procedures and norms:

- according to Chechetov, "we fooled them and scattered them like kittens" - apparently, Parliament is a a game, and crooked tricks and deception are to be employed for the enjoyment of Chechetov and his fellow sovok mafiosi

- the language bill had 2,000 amendments proposed, so the Party of Regions "had to disregard the proposed amendments" and "had to vote on the bill"

- the bill "is in line with European standards for the protection of languages"

This one is a hoot - corruption is worse than ever - firms closely tied to Kolesnikov got the lion's share of Euro 2012 road-building and other contracts without any public competitive bidding process.

The economy is a shambles. The gas system is hugely inefficient.

So they just "had to vote" on a language bill.

This and more was discussed on assorted political TV talk shows, and here is one good example:

"The Republic" program, hosted by Anna Bezulik.

The PoR sovok mafiosi are psychotic.

Every time they open their mouth, you know they are lying - and they do it with a straight face.

It is unbelievable.

Worse yet, the people of Ukraine tolerate it.

seig heil
дер фюрер фашисти янусволоч-чечетов-заразов-лавринович-єфремов etc

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paul nicholson July 11, 2012, 5:26 p.m.    

How does a Ukrainian citizen know when Yanukovych is lying to them?????

His lips are moving.

Ukrainians are prepared to tolerate their politicians. So they get what they deserve.

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Mykhayl July 13, 2012, 4:23 p.m.    

Слава Ісу~

Simplify life.
Make Ukraine's
second language English.

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Mykhayl July 13, 2012, 4:40 p.m.    


I'm sorry,
did the kasap want Sluzshit?

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AL BALA July 17, 2012, 5:26 p.m.    

Closing Ukrainian language radio.

In radio broadcasting company of the State "Crimea" removed a Ukrainian program "Two Colors", which had come out at night on July 13 and which told about the prohibited action Crimean society to protect the Ukrainian language . Reported by the author, journalist Alla Petrova. She said that in protest he wrote an application for exemption. Alla Petrova said that she put forward formal complaints: first, that there is no approved script program, and the poor quality audio from speeches at the rally and political bias and "aggressiveness."

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