Parliament was briefly suspended in Ukraine on Tuesday, March 19 after fists flew in a row over Russian between the president's party and a far-right opposition faction, threatening to extend a legislative stalemate.
Opposition parties Svoboda, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and UDAR (Punch) have blocked proceedings in the 450-member chamber since parliament reopened after a winter break in early February, allowing only one brief session to take place.
In the first session since Feb. 22 Olexander Yefremov, the parliamentary leader of President Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions, labelled deputies from Svoboda as “neo-fascists” after they booed a speech he made in Russian.
The speaker’s rostrum was then besieged by lawmakers from both Svoboda and the Regions, sparking a brief fistfight that prompted Speaker Volodymyr Rybak to suspend the session.
The chamber reopened a few hours later after the opposing factions agreed to stop blocking the rostrum.
The use of the Russian language is a contentious issue in Ukraine, where millions consider it their mother tongue while many others see its use as an insult to national pride.
Fistfights have become relatively common occurrence in parliament since the October 2012 election, which gave Svoboda representation and weakened the Regions, though they still command a majority together with traditional communist allies.
Ukraine has been in legislative limbo since early February due the blockade by the opposition, which protested first against what it called proxy voting by the Regions – MPs voting with cards belonging to absent colleagues – and then against a move to strip an opposition deputy of his mandate.
The blockade was lifted on Tuesday to discuss the resolution of the second issue and, possibly, call a mayoral election in the capital Kiev.
Parliament’s closure has not affected the government’s day-to-day activities, but the cabinet has said the absence of a legislature is hindering the closure of landmark deals on free trade and political association with the European Union.
The Party of the Regions is favoured by Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east and south of the country while Svoboda has its power base in western Ukraine, where Ukrainian dominates.