[lg policy] In Ukraine, Official Quits to Protest Bill on Russian

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jul 5 14:29:51 UTC 2012

In Ukraine, Official Quits to Protest Bill on Russian
Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

Protestors and riot police clashed on Wednesday in Kiev, where controversy
has erupted over a bill allowing Russian to become an official language.

Published: July 4, 2012

MOSCOW — The chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament resigned Wednesday after
refusing to sign a contentious bill that would allow local and regional
governments to grant official status to Russian and other languages, while
hundreds of opponents of the measure clashed violently with riot police
officers in Kiev, the capital.

The chairman, Volodymyr M. Lytvyn, said Parliament acted illegitimately in
adopting the bill, and tendering his resignation temporarily blocks it from
reaching President Viktor F. Yanukovich, who could sign it into law.

Lawmakers from Mr. Yanukovich’s Party of Regions, which holds the majority,
pushed the bill through in such a surprise maneuver that Mr. Lytvyn was not
even present for the vote.

“I have been fooled, Ukraine has been fooled, the people have been fooled,”
Mr. Lytvyn told fellow lawmakers.

Opponents of the bill say that it violates the Constitution, which
designates Ukrainian as the only state language, and that elevating the
status of Russian would push Ukraine further from the European Union. In
Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, many people view speaking Ukrainian as
an important affirmation of nationalist self-identity and as a way of
securing the country’s post-Communist turn toward independence, capitalism
and the West.

Millions of Ukrainians speak Russian as their first language, especially in
the east and south of the country, Mr. Yanukovich’s base of political
support. The president himself is a native Russian speaker.

The dispute is so emotionally charged that it set off an all-out brawl in
Parliament in May, and on Wednesday it threatened to push the country
toward political instability. Mr. Yanukovich canceled a long-planned news
conference to recap Ukraine’s role as co-host of the Euro 2012 soccer
championships, which ended with Spain’s victory over Italy on Sunday night,
and instead held an emergency meeting with leaders of Parliament, though
Mr. Lytvyn did not attend.

Opposition lawmakers walked out of Tuesday’s parliamentary debate in
protest and have threatened not to return for the remainder of the current
session, which ends next week. Mr. Yanukovich raised the possibility at the
meeting of dissolving Parliament and speeding up elections that are
scheduled for October.

Mr. Yanukovich said he had not yet decided whether to sign the law. “I am
interested in stability in the country,” he said. “For that reason, I do
not want to make any prior conclusions.”

Mr. Yanukovich’s opponents say he hopes to use the language legislation to
increase support among his base.

The bill adopted Tuesday reaffirms Ukrainian as the sole national language,
but would allow local and regional governments to grant official status to
Russian and other languages spoken by at least 10 percent of their

Outraged opponents of the bill gathered Tuesday night outside Ukraine
House, a public building in central Kiev where Mr. Yanukovich was scheduled
to hold his news conference on Wednesday. Some demonstrators remained
overnight, and by morning the crowd had grown to more than 1,000 people.

Efforts by riot police officers to disperse the group led to violent
clashes, with demonstrators throwing bottles and sticks, the police beating
protesters with nightsticks, and both sides using pepper spray. The police
said at least 10 officers were injured.

Vitali Klitschko, the reigning World Boxing Council world heavyweight
champion and leader of a political party that is running in the October
elections, was among the protesters; he was hurt in the melee, apparently
by a bottle that cut his hand.

Critics of the bill have said it would diminish the stature of Ukrainian,
especially because in many parts of Ukraine, Russian was already the
predominant language.

“Why is the main language in Germany German?” Mr. Klitschko asked
sarcastically. “Why is the main language in France French?”

>>From the NYTimes, 7/5/12

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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