[lg policy] Ukraine: Venice Commission lambastes “language bill”

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 22 20:16:00 UTC 2011

Venice Commission lambastes “language bill”

Maryna STAVNIICHUK: We must ensure that Ukrainian plays the
integrative role of a single official language

By Ihor SAMOKYSH, The Day

The Ukrainian parliament re­gis­tered the bill “On Principles of the
State Language Policy” at the end of last August. The law was drawn up
by the Party of Regions MPs Serhii Kivalov and Vadym Kolesnichenko. It
will be recalled that, under the draft law, Russian would be a
regional language in 13 out of Ukraine’s 27 oblasts.

The European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission)
has announced after examining the bill that it does not have enough
guarantees for the usage and protection of the Ukrainian language.
Although the draft law no longer focuses on the Russian language, it
ensures that the latter has the same status as does Ukrainian.

Meanwhile, Serhii Kivalov’s press service has already announced that
this bill was approved by the Venice Commission. The Day requested
Maryna STAVNIICHUK, member of the European Commission for Democracy
through Law, to comment on the commission’s conclusions about the
draft law and on the Ukraine-EU summit.

“The conclusions and recommendations of the Venice Commission (VC)
about the draft law on principles of the state language policy,
prepared by Kivalov and Kolesnichenko, are not unequivocal indeed.
Naturally, the VC marked certain progress in comparison with the draft
law it had examined and reported on in March. At the same time, the
commission said clearly that the foundations of the state language
policy should recognize an unconditional priority of the integrative
role of Ukrainian as a single official language in compliance with the
current Constitution of Ukraine. The Venice Commission says the
languages of ethnic minorities must receive certain guarantees for
being used in all the spheres of society. On the other hand, it notes
that there should be not only mechanisms for putting this into
practice but also guarantees for bringing into play legal mechanisms
for these languages. In my opinion, the Venice Commission arrived at a
well-ba­lanced conclusion because it notes progress and development in
Ukraine’s language policy. But, on the other hand, the VC clearly
outlined some warnings about the language question, an extremely
delicate issue for any state. Moreover, the VC always reiterates the
general principle used by all countries without an exception: granting
the right to use regional and minority languages should not hinder the
official language.

“It is quite a serious problem for Ukraine because the VC touched upon
this in its previous conclusion. This item was on the commission’s
agenda. In particular, Sergio Bartole, permanent expert on Ukraine’s
language problems, said that using the native language at the
legislative level is a sensitive issue. For the Soviet-era history of
Ukraine provides ample grounds to say that the Ukrainians have not
always been aware of what the native language is. As for the Kivalov
and Ko­les­ni­chenko draft law, the commission warns Ukraine that this
requires enormous financial and budgetary expenses.”

And what recommendations did the Venice Commission give about this draft law?

“The Venice Commission re­com­mends the authors to take a more
expert-like and balanced approach to pursuing the language policy.
Speaking at the commission session, President of the Venice
Commission, Gianni Buquicchio, defined the language question as ‘a
very delicate matter of state building’ which requires a special
approach. I would personally remind the authors that the language
question requires not only expertness but also impartiality. One
should not try to find fault in it all the time and divide experts
into ‘ours’ and ‘aliens.’ As an independent state that has the right
to exists and have a serious future, Ukraine should take a ba­lan­ced
approach to this matter. Under the Constitution, we must preserve the
integrative role of Ukrainian as a single official language. On the
other hand, I would like to note that the current constitutional
regulation of language issues is quite good. Article 10 identifies
Ukrainian as a single state language that will be used in both the
governmental and the public spheres. On the other hand, under our
Constitution, the Rus­sian language enjoys special status in
comparison to other national minority languages. If you analyze Part
3, Article 10, of the Constitution, you will see that the state
guarantees a comprehensive development of ‘the Russian and other
national minority languages.’ No other constitution in the post-Soviet
space has a similar provision that shows, in legal terms, respect for
a non-official language. In reality, there is no language conflict in
Ukraine. I had to emphasize this at the Venice Commission session
after Mr. Kivalov, who was presenting the draft law, said there was an
acute language conflict in Ukraine. I also pointed out that language
problems had not been duly settled. But the task for both the
Ukrainian lawmaker and the European Commission for Democracy through
Law (Venice Commission), which gives Ukraine its opinions and
recommendation in the language sphere, is to improve, not worsen, the
legal settlement of language problems and enable the Ukrainian
language to play a unifying role in society and the state, positively
motivating the Ukrainians and other people who reside on the territory
of Ukraine to learn Ukrainian. At the same time, everybody should be
free to use the language which they consider native and which is the
language of one minority or another.”

And what do you think of the recent Ukraine-EU summit?

“I think it is a serious step that brings Ukraine closer to and
promoted integration with the European community. It is also a serious
step in terms of juridical forma­lization of Ukraine’s association
with the European Union. It is also an important step in the political
dialogue between Ukraine and Europe. It seems to me there is every
reason to expect the Ukrai­ne-EU agreement to be initialed shortly –
at least, all experts, both Ukrainian and foreign, are pointing this
out. Anyway, this summit should be regarded as a serious leap forward
in the Ukrainian-Euro­­pean dialogue.”


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