Language law vs. Ukraine’s Constitution

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Aug. 3, 2012, 4:57 p.m. | Op-ed — by Halya Coynash

Before adjourning for summer, Ukraine's parliament passed a controversial language law that elevates the status of Russian in regions where it is spoken by more than 10 percent of people. The bill now awaits President Viktor Yanukovych's signature or veto.

Halya Coynash

Halya Coynash is a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

On July 31, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn changed his stand and signed the highly contentious Kivalov-Kolesnichenko language bill. It now awaits President ViktorYanukovych’s decision whether to sign or veto the measure.

Under the guise of protecting “regional languages,” the legislation significantly increases the role of the Russian language. 

The concerns from civic and religious organizations about this law are well-summarized in a statement from the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine: “The draft law poses a threat to Ukrainian society since it disregards the state status of the Ukrainian language, does not protect minority languages at risk and arouses dissent and tension in Ukrainian society”.

What Lytvyn’s motives can only be guessed since on July 4, following a blitzkrieg and highly irregular “vote” in parliament during his absence, he resigned. But parliament refused to accept his resignation.

The civic partnership New Citizen has received a categorical response from Marina Stavniychuk, a presidential adviser, says the draft law broke several regulations, is unconstitutional and is at odds with the European Charter of Regional and Minority Language.

The stakes are high both because of the divisive nature of the law and the flagrant violations of legislative procedure..

            The bill’s authors - Party of the Regions MPs Vadim Kolesnichenko and Serhiy Kivalov -- continue to assert that the law is in keeping with the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages and has received a favourable Council of Europe’s Venice Commission assessment. 

Recently, Knut Vollebaek, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities followed up a visit to Ukraine with a public statement calling the situation around the new language law “deeply divisive” and urging the authorities to engage in dialogue.

The aim of the legislation is not to protect genuinely under-supported regional languages in Ukraine, but to allow Ukrainian to be effectively ignored in most parts of the country. Such cynical realism means that the financial consequences could either be crippling or lead to the courts being inundated with civil lawsuits by members of minorities whose rights, now supposedly enshrined in law, continued to be flouted.

Moreover, a number of infringements to procedure occurred. The first reading took place on June 5, a vote without discussion and with a large number of parliamentarians absent. 

The requisite month had not passed for the second reading, nor had many amendments been discussed and added when, in the absence of Lytvyn and the deputy speaker, the ruling Party of Regions bulldozed a “vote” through in record time. 

            The very many warnings about the deeply divisive nature of this law deserve the president’s attention, as do the shocking irregularities in the way the draft bill has been pushed through. 

In the face of clear public concern and infringements of the Constitution, Yanukovych’s signature would deliver a grave blow to Ukraine’s already beleaguered democracy.  

Halya Coynash is a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group.


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.
carl Aug. 3, 2012, 7:29 p.m.    

Good op-ed, will be interesting to see what the President does.

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AL BALA Aug. 7, 2012, 3:20 a.m.    

March 9, 2010, 2:26 p.m. | Ukraine — by Interfax-Ukraine

The Ukrainian language will be the only state language in Ukraine, President Victor Yanukovych said. "Ukraine will continue to promote the Ukrainian language as its only state language," Yanukovych said at a meeting with Taras Shevchenko National Prize winners in Kyiv on Mar. 9.

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Roman Dawydiak Aug. 4, 2012, 4:38 a.m.    

Yanukovych is not beholden to Kolesnichenko or Kivalov. The same does not hold true in regards to the oligarchs on whom the regionnaires depend for financial support. Their views will be a major factor in any final decision.

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carl Aug. 4, 2012, 7:22 p.m.    

I agree,furthermore it will be interesting to see what level of support remains after completion of state property sales sometime next year.

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blueriver Aug. 4, 2012, 11:06 p.m.    

Party of Regions Election Promise = We will give Crimea to Russia.
We promise to give & allow Russia to control our Gas.
We promise to allow Russian Language to dominate Ukraine.
We promise to support Belerus and Russian anti demoracy ways.
We promise never to say 1935 Holdomor Famine was genocide.
We promise never to blame Russia for the Failures in Chernobyl.
We promise to support Russia 100%
We promise to follow Russia and take advise in all matters.

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AL BALA Aug. 5, 2012, 3:33 p.m.    

“The world is a dangerous place; not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing…” – Albert Einstein.

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AL BALA Aug. 7, 2012, 1:30 a.m.    

Russian-speaking Ukraine

Vadim Kolesnichenkov, The Chairman of Council [1]

Major activities

Ensuring the continued domination of the Russian language and culture in Ukraine on the grounds that this must remain inviolable and inalienable;

Securing Russian language to receive status of the state language

Promoting the concept of shared imperial Russian history as the ideological basis of continued domination of Russians in Ukraine;

Working for a division of Ukraine into linguistically defined regions under the guise of federalism and alleging Russian speakers, a census category, is a social group;

Providing support to local self-governance structure development that renders favorable conditions for local Russian and Russian-speaking groups;

Monitoring the continued domination of Russian in the public communications sphere and all media; Fighting against attempts to reduce this influence in any manner or form;

Countering propaganda and promotion of Ukrainian fascism and Nazism in Ukraine, as well as actions aimed at the rehabilitation, the exaltation, the social legitimization of individuals and organizations that participated in World War II on the side of Germany and its allies; excluding the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal resolutions to be revised or/and discredited;

Ensuring the crimes of Stalinism and the Communist regime remain as little researched and discussed as possible and ignoring neo-imperialist Russian fascism in Ukraine;

Providing necessary support for pro-Russian education, involving citizen in publishing and distributing materials, documents, leaflets, posters, newsletters, organizing conferences, making TV/radio programs promulgating pro-Russian opinions and views.

Strengthening the representation of Russian /pro-Russian groups in government.

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Ukrtoday Ukraine Aug. 25, 2012, 8:50 p.m.    

he Consitutioan of Ukraine protects Ukrainian as the State language. It does not prohibited the recognition or use of secondary languages. there are multiple languages in use in Ukraine, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Hutzal, Hungarian, Romainian, and Crimea Tatar just to name a few. all should be encouraged and allowed. he consitution does or prevent their use. They can not replace Ukrainian but they can and should be allowed.

eNgand, Scotland,, France and most of Europe have regional languages.

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AL BALA Sept. 7, 2012, 5:51 p.m.    

Despite general instructions, mass operations in the Ukrainian SSR were special in that they were ethnically oriented. Charges of “Ukrainian chauvinism”, “nationalistic deviations”, sympathy for the “national counterrevolution” became the universal labels Cheka officers attached to innocent people as they invented criminal cases.

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