10 Years in Prison for Promoting Bilingualism: What Is Said in the Language Law Adopted by the Verkhovna Rada

On April 25th the Verkhovna Rada voted at the second reading the language law in its entirety- “On ensuring the functioning of Ukrainian as the state language”. It was supported by 278 deputies.

The draft law revised at the second reading stipulates the Ukrainisation of all public spheres. The implementation of the law will be monitored by the Representative for the Protection of the State Language.

And administrative and criminal liability is stipulated for violations. The Ukrainian “Strana” news agency offered a reminder of how Ukraine in half a year adopted the law on language and what is said in it.

How draft law No. 5670-d was adopted

At the first reading on October 4th 2018 it was adopted. In the first reading the draft law collected 261 votes in support. Back then only deputies from the Opposition Bloc and the “Vidrodzhennya” group did not vote for it.

After this preparation for the second reading took about four months. During this time the parliamentary Committee for Culture and Spirituality processed about 2,500 amendments that arrived from deputies.

At the second reading the draft law started to be considered in the evening on February 28th. The chairman of the parliament Andriy Parubiy reported that the Rada started consideration of the language draft law 5 minutes prior to the session ending at 18:00. During this time the head of the main committee of the draft law – for Culture and Spirituality – spoke. People’s deputies then did not start consideration of the amendments.

From March 1st people’s deputies continued to consider the law, but the process took place slowly because of a huge number of amendments. After new consideration (a month before the election) the chairman of the special-purpose committee Nikolay Knyazhitsky (People’s Front) said that the new language law “will change the situation in Ukraine and will become revolutionary”. But there was also the opinion that consideration of this draft law in March can be an attempt to divert public attention away from the embezzlement scandal in Ukroboronprom, which the environment of the president Petro Poroshenko is accused of being involved in.

“The language question is traditionally a ‘universal pill’ for all problems. This topic causes grandiose quarrels throughout the whole country. In general the shouting concerning the topic of theft in the army has to be drowned out and Poroshenko presented as the main patriot of Ukraine,” said the people’s deputy Sergey Leshchenko at the time.

It was not succeeded to consider the draft law before the election. On April 12th the Rada considered 88% of the language amendments and stopped for the weekend before the election. At the same time, the speaker Parubiy said that he would not grant holiday leave to People’s Deputies after the week that consideration of the amendments will be completed and during voting on the “language” law. And later he also reported the date of consideration of the law – April 25th.

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“In the next plenary week the first decision that we will make will be the law on the Ukrainian language as the state one … I expect full mobilisation on Maundy Thursday at 11:00. On Maundy Thursday we adopted decommunisation – on Maundy Thursday we will adopt the law on the Ukrainian language,” said Andriy Parubiy to journalists. He added that he has no doubts that the law will be supported by the parliament.

On April 21st, on the day of the second round of the presidential election, at a press conference on the preliminary results, Petro Poroshenko, who recognised his defeat, said that he is going to sign the language law before he leaves office.

“Our team will defend the Ukrainian language. And this concerns not only what we’ve already done: quotas, songs, movies, radio, books. And if the Verkhovna Rada next week approves the law on language, I will be happy and proud that as the president I will have an opportunity to sign it. And I will sign it,” said the guarantor.

I.e., it became a kind of “gift” of the leaving president for the new one, who is guided by the Southeast electorate, and also PR for Poroshenko, who will document also Ukrainisation as his asset.

On the next day, on April 22nd, during a coordination board meeting, Parubiy again offered a reminder about the maximum mobilisation of deputies on Maundy Thursday. He also said that the “Bloc of Petro Poroshenko”, “People’s Front”, “Batkivshchyna”, “Samopomoch”, “Radical Party” and the group “Volya Naroda” would support the language law.

“I can say now publicly. The ‘Bloc of Petro Poroshenko’ supports the law on language, ‘People’s Front’ supports the law on language, ‘Samopomoch’ supports the law on language, ‘Batkivshchyna’ supports the law on language, the ‘Radical Party’ supports the law on language, the ‘Volya Naroda’ group supports the law on language. And at least 25 majoritarians support the law on language. We need to be in the hall at 11:00 on Thursday, every people’s deputy. I will ring around everyone – including non-factional deputies. Heads of factions and groups will ensure that every people’s deputy will be in the hall on Maundy Thursday and vote. It is not necessary to frighten people, it is necessary to be mobilised so that our agenda for identity assertion is not changed,” said Andriy Parubiy.

According to the speaker, the task of the parliament is the maximum mobilisation and a positive vote.

We go along that Ukrainian way that the parliament went for four years, accepting both decommunisation and quotas for radio and television, adopting church laws, adopting the education act, and the Ukrainian Parliament will continue to go along this way

On April 25th, at the second reading the whole law was supported by 278 people’s deputies, 38 were against, 7 abstained, and 25 did not vote.

The factions voted as follows:

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“Bloc of Petro Poroshenko”: 106 voted yes, 0 votes no, 2 abstained, 5 did not vote, 22 were absent.

“People’s Front”: 66 votes yes, 0 voted no, 0 abstained, 2 did not vote, 12 were absent.

Non-factional: 37 voted yes, 5 voted no, 3 abstained, 3 did not vote, 13 were absent.

“Opposition Bloc”: 0 votes yes, 31 voted no, 0 abstained, 3 did not vote, 4 were absent.

“Samopomich”: 21 votes yes, 0 voted no, 0 abstained, 0 did not vote, 4 were absent.

“Vidrozhdennya”: 4 votes yes, 2 voted no, 2 abstained, 8 did not vote, 8 were absent.

“Radical Party” of Oleg Lyashko: 21 voted yes, 0 voted no, 0 abstained, 0 did not vote, 0 were absent.

“Batkivshchyna”: 16 voted yes, 0 voted no, 0 abstained, 0 did not vote, 4 were absent.

“Volya Naroda”: 7 votes yes, 0 voted no, 0 abstained, 4 did not vote, 8 were absent.

And here is the roll-call vote for factions:

“Bloc of Petro Poroshenko”

“People’s Front”

“Opposition Bloc”


“Radical Party” of Oleg Lyashko

“Volya Naroda”




What is said in the draft law on the state language

The final version of the draft law was distributed to deputies 15 minutes prior to the vote. There were many changes that will be mentioned later. For now here is a reminder of what was written in the basic version of the draft law.

It is suggested to carry out higher and lower school education in the Ukrainian language only. An exception will be made for kindergartens and elementary grades. They allowed the creation of separate groups with the languages of national minorities. At the same time, indigenous peoples are guaranteed the right to study in their native language. There is no list of such people in the draft law, but the Crimean Tatars are mentioned.

It is suggested to postpone the full translation of External Independent Evaluation into Ukrainian until 2030.

All cultural events, including songs, will take place in the Ukrainian language. At the same time state theatres will be allowed to show a presentation in Ukrainian with subtitles or with audio translation. How this can be carried out technically, the legislators did not explain. This also concerns domestic movies. All of them must be in Ukrainian. Separate remarks in other languages in the presence of subtitles are allowed.

The media is subjected to significant changes. At the very last moment the block on television was completely removed from the law. Earlier it was proposed to increase the quota of Ukrainian-language content from 75% to 90% on national TV channels and radio stations. Thus, for TV it will be necessary to work to a 75% quota.

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For internet media outlets, deputies suggested to create a page in Ukrainian that will automatically load, and to make the function of reading materials in Russian additional, if desired. They want to give 18 months from the moment the law enters into force for the translation of websites. For printed material the transition time will be 2-2.5 years. Social media pages will also be translated into Ukrainian, but within 36 months from the moment the law enters into force.

The services sector will also be translated into the state language. In restaurants, beauty salons, shops, car washes, etc. employees will have to communicate in Ukrainian. Websites that sell goods will also be translated into Ukrainian.

Officials will be obliged to undergo certification on their knowledge of the language. This will concern also lawyers, notaries, judges, teachers, and doctors.

The Commissioner for the protection of the state language will monitor and prevent the use of Russian and other languages of national minorities where it is prescribed to use Ukrainian. Under this cover it was decided to revive the controversial Institute of Language Inspectors.

Failure to comply with the law will result in a fine. For example, for officials who do not use Ukrainian the fine may be from 200 to 400 tax-free minima (3400-6800 hryvnia). In education, science, culture, and sport a violation of the language policy can result in a fine of 200 to 300 tax-free minima (3400-5100 hryvnia).

At the same time, in the final version of the law there is no norm on the mandatory use of the Ukrainian language by parliamentary deputies. The documents that are at the disposal of the “Strana” news agency testify to this. The law contained such norm at the first reading, but after the adoption of amendment No. 203 the words “people’s deputies of Ukraine” were excluded from the wording of article 9 of the draft law.

Issuing a newspaper without there being a version in the state language can result in a fine of 6800-8500 hryvnia. In the service sector, a warning is issued for violation of the language legislation and 30 days are given to eliminate the violation. If the violations do not cease within a year there can be a fine of 5100-6800 hrynia. A administrational violation repeated during the year will cost 8500-11,900 hryvnia.

And the Rada wants to equate attempts to introduce bilingualism or multilingualism in Ukraine with overthrowing the constitutional system and to impose punishment in the form of imprisonment for up to 10 years.

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