[lg policy] Ukraine: Yanukovich and the mines of the language issue

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 22 13:22:32 UTC 2010

  Yanukovich and the mines of the language

During 5 years of Yushchenko being president sociologists used to inform the
language issue wasn’t the priority for Ukrainian citizens. But the first
week of Viktor Yanukovich in office has proved it wrong – the language issue
stays as one of the most painful problems of the country’s social being. On
5th of March, during his first visit to Moscow, Viktor Yanukovich promised
he wouldn’t postpone the adoption of statutes aimed to protect the rights of
Russian-speaking population of the Ukraine. “We’ll adopt all the necessary
laws. I promise to the Ukrainian people to implement this program decision.
The issue will be settled in the nearest future”, Yanukovich stated at the
press-conference in Kremlin on Friday answering the question about solving
the problem of protection of Russian language in the Ukraine.
Disequilibrium in language policy

[image: 950023]<http://eastwest-review.com/sites/default/files/950023_1.jpg>A
few days later, during the ceremony of awarding Shevchenko national
in Kaniv at Chernecha Hora, on 169th anniversary of birth of Ukrainian poet
Taras Shevchenko, Viktor Yanukovich said that “the Ukrainian language as the
only official language will be developed in the Ukraine”. This statement
caused immediately the surge of accusations against Yanukovich of deceit of
his voters, and what is symptomatic, from the pro-Timoshenko and
pro-Yushchenko biased mass media. Moreover, they omitted Yanukovich’s
mentioning that the disequilibrium in language policy created by the
previous government has resulted in humiliation and infringement of rights
of Russian-speaking citizen and representatives of other nationalities in
the Ukraine, as well as and the statement that “all these facts are to be
mended and considered in the language policy and in the process of
implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages as

But to imagine the problems of language issue one should look into the
history of the matter. The law “On Languages in the Ukrainian Soviet
Socialist Republic” that regulates at the present day the language
functioning in the Ukraine was adopted as early as 1989 at 10th session of
Verkhovna Rada of the second convocation. It was presented by a leader of
Ukrainian Communistic party, a poet Boris Oleynik; the suggestion of
promoting the Ukrainian language as the state language was made by Dmytro
Pavlychko, who said: “We must save the Ukrainian language along with the
idea of socialism, because where the nation is perishing, the socialism is
perishing all together. We must remember that bilingual society isn’t common
in the world practice”.

Moreover, according to Article 10 of the Ukrainian Constitution, the
Ukrainian language is the state language of the Ukraine. It’s not a secret
today, that it was Bohdan Futei, a judge of Federal Court for Washington,
D.C., as well as Katerina Chumachenko’s associate at Ukrainian Congress
Committee of America, Anti-Bolshevic Bloc of Nations, and World
Anti-Communist League, who, as one of the authors of Consitution of Ukraine
of 1996, proposed that norm. Though, it’s hardly remembered today that the
next paragraph in the same article guarantees the free development, use and
protection of Russian language and Article 24 prohibits restrictions based
on linguistic characteristics.

The point is that at that time neither communists, nor national-patriots
held constitutional majority to adopt their draft for Constitution; the
present variant became a compromise between them at the time when Leonid
Kuchma threatened to dismiss the Parliament. In 1991-1996 the Ukraine tried
to change the Constitution of Ukrainian SSR by adjusting it to a new
economical and political reality and implementing numerous amendments. The
Ukraine was the last of 15 former Soviet republics that presented its new
constitution in June 1996. The new constitution was adopted during one
night, when the parliament faced the threat of constitutional referendum
aimed at parliament’s submission to president Leonid Kuchma. President
Kuchma had planned to submit the proposal of presidential government to the
popular discussion. The hottest discussion was caused on the issues of
language, state symbols, state structure (the issue of Crimea’s status),
division of powers between president and parliament.

In order to get constitutional majority, the delegates adopted the most
controversial issues – of Ukrainian state symbols, the Ukrainian language as
the state language (along with protection of Russian language) and of
Crimea’s status – as a package. The serious protection for the first chapter
of constitution which contains the article about language was also provided,
with impossibility of changing it by mere two-thirds of votes. A complicated
procedure is needed to the extent of submitting the changes to all-Ukrainian

That’s why a political power, which doesn’t hold the constitutional
majority, isn’t able to change constitutional norm about common state
language. During his election campaign Yanukovich promised to implement
European Charter for regional languages. On February 15th at his interview
to 1st Channel he stated that “on the territory of the Ukraine there will be
implemented European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Russian
language will be used at the territories populated by Russian-speaking
citizens without limitations”.
Charter for Regional languages and the protection of Russian language

However, the hidden reefs wait for the president here as well. The point is
that the Charter was ratified but very selectively: only 35 articles and
paragraphs, and only those norms were selected, which guarantee the language
rights of Russian-speaking population to the minimal extent, even “in the
areas of compact settlement of language speakers”. If to study thoroughly
the ratification of the charter by the Ukraine and to compare it with the
Charter itself, one can notice that the Ukraine had cut out almost all the
paragraphs from Article 8, which obliges the government to provide the
education in regional languages from preschool to college level. Instead,
there are only those paragraphs left, according to which the families are to
ask permission to create a single class (or a group) with teaching in the
respective regional language, with the condition that the number of such
children should be enough for that. Ergo, the parents, if they are not
supported by government, have to create some formal or informal organization
at first, which is to prove that the number of their children is enough to
create, say, a class with teaching in Russian language.

All meaningful paragraphs in the other articles of Section 3 of the Charter
are omitted the same way; these are the paragraphs concerning the use of
regional languages in court procedures, administrative authorities, radio
and television broadcasting, economical and social life. These articles in
Ukrainian version contain only insignificant paragraphs and subparagraphs
that doesn’t correspond to real language situation in the country and give
rather limited possibility comparing with those, which could be provided to
citizen, if the Charter was ratified to a fuller extent. Moreover, the
paragraphs of the Section 3 selected for the Ukrainian ratification can’t be
implemented automatically without sufficient effort and persistence from the
citizen. Thus, the ratification of the Charter doesn’t work by itself.

According to the Charter, the guarantees for protection of the language
spoken by a few score of people and the language spoken by millions of
people can’t be equal, they differ. The law on ratification of the Charter
should provide the maximum protection for Russian language as the language
used everywhere by millions of Ukrainian citizen (at least 30% of population
regard Russian as their native language). That means there should be no
cancellation of Russian-teaching schools, colleges and day care centres.
That also means Russian language should be used freely in economical life
and be spoken by all government officers and at legal proceedings alongside
with Ukrainian language, because Russian is not a regional language in the
Ukraine, but the language spoken by the second – after the Ukrainian –
largest language community, with not only ethnic Russians using it.

Unfortunately, in the Ukraine there’s still an opinion left, which is
archaic from the point of view of modern attitude to human rights, that
languages are spoken only by the respective ethnic groups. The installation
of the Ukrainian language into the education system began with the
subsequent objective of leveling the number of schools according to ethnic
composition, and not according to the world-acknowledged principle of
satisfying the needs of students and parents in the teaching language. And
after having reached their objective, the Ukrainian do-gooders went further
toward the total replacement of Russian and other minority languages for

In September 2008 Yushchenko presented to Verkhovna Rada a draft on changes
into the law on ratification of European Charter for regional and minority
languages. By using given by the Charter means of support of minority
languages, Yushchenko tried to present the Ukrainians of South-East as a
language minority and set the conditions for utmost favour of Ukrainian as
the state language in the traditionally Russian-speaking communities of
South-East region of the country, including the Crimea. Thus, by introducing
these amendments he tried to make the Charter, which is aimed to protect the
language needs of the citizen, into the tool of realization of his obsession
of making the country monolingual and to support the process of
ukrainization of the country by the legal base of the Charter.

The experts form PACE didn’t agree to this; they explained to the reformers
that they can’t restrict the rights and freedoms, which were established in
the Charter ratified in 2003. But taking into consideration, that the
present Law on ratification has its drawbacks and doesn’t protect the rights
of millions of citizen, it’s high time to raise a question of revision of
the existent Law on ratification the Charter and to seek the Charter’s
implementation in full force and effect, or at least as it was proposed by
president Kuchma in 1999, as well as to seek the abolition of the law that
contravene the Charter. First of all, the discrimination bylaws of Ukrainian
Department of Education that violate the constitutional rights to education
in national language and to usage of Russian language in court,
advertisements etc should be abolished.
“Language zealots are the greatest danger for the independent Ukraine.”

Besides, recent years revealed one more problem. Neither Crimea, nor other
south and south-east regions of the Ukraine actually delegate the
representatives of their scientific or cultural elite to Verkhovna Rada. The
absolute majority of humane studies specialists in Verkhovnyi Sovet
represents West Ukraine or Kiev and belongs to nationalistic or
national-democratic parties. After the victory of Orange revolution regional
politicians use the expectations of their voters and run elections with
ideological slogans, but there are few historians, philologists and
representatives of other humanities professions among them. For example, of
32 doctors of history in sessions of Verkhovna Rada fifteen are the members
of Bloc Yulia Timoshenko, six belong to Our Ukraine–People's Self-Defense
Bloc, and only five represent the Party of Regions. Four more doctors of
history belong to Lytvyn Bloc and two – to Communist Party of Ukraine. The
same picture is with journalists, writers, other humane studies specialists.
And without representatives of their cultural elite they loose the battles
concerning arts issues. In spite of the importance of economical,
agricultural, industrial sectors, it’s vital for regional politicians to
understand that without historical and political scientists, without
philosophers, philologists and geographers they won’t be able to stand up
for the humanitarian rights of their voters. The present and future
development of the Ukraine depends on this. This is a question of mentality,
of ideology, of culture and politics, of the safeguarding of the Ukraine, at

A prominent American expert on Ukrainian issues, a professor of Harvard
University, an ethnical Ukrainian Roman Shporluk wrote to Moscow News (No.
32 of August 1993): “Millions of people who consider Russian as their native
language voted on 1st of December of 1991 for the independence. Hence the
citizen whose mother tongue is Ukrainian owe them certain political and
moral obligations. If we don’t consider this, if we start dividing the
population into “main nation” and “national minorities”, we’ll face very
soon the prospect of territorial and ethnic breakup of the Ukraine. Thus,
when building a nation, one should take in consideration that Ukrainian
people are inherently bilingual. The easiest way to destroy the Ukraine is
to start ukrainize non-Ukrainians. Language zealots are the greatest danger
for the independent Ukraine.”

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