A Language Bill on Radical Ukrainization Was Introduced in the Rada

Translated by Ollie Richardson



In the Rada a new language draft bill was registered, which provides the domination of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of public life — government, court, criminal proceedings, shops, schools, hospitals. It is desired to translate at least a half of the books published into the Ukraine language, the vast majority of newspapers, magazines, Internet websites and even social networks. Moreover, it is also desired to impose a fine for the use of the Russian language. Experts are convinced: if the law is adopted (and the chances of this are very great), it is a new milestone for the division of the country.

Fines for language use

One of the main innovations of the draft bill is the formation of a new body (in fact, the language commission) that will follow the adoption of the Ukrainian language. Officials will acquire the right to measure the level of language proficiency among civil servants,  those who plan to obtain Ukrainian citizenship. For example, the candidate for President and notaries will need to receive a certificate on decent knowledge of Ukrainian. And here if members of the commission see signs of a “violation” of language, for example, in a shop or a drugstore (and we can talk about grammatical errors in the name of products — after all, they violate the “standards language”), they will be able to produce a fine for entrepreneurs. Thus, public humiliation or contempt for the Ukrainian language is equated to an illegal action, equivalent to a violation of the State symbols of Ukraine. I.e. liability will come for the deliberate distortion of language in documents or texts or for violating language standards.

According to the draft, language will become more and more stronger not only in State agencies, but also in the services sector, hospitals, schools. And for violation — a fine of 3400–6800 UAH. According to the authors, one of the draft bill’s tasks is to “develop a distinctive language of the titular nation”.

The current draft “language” bill is already the fourth one since 2014. And the chances of it being accepted at present are very high: the authors are nearly 80 Deputies from various factions of the Rada, among which are the heads of factions and committees. There is support not only in “People’s Front”, but also in the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko, the Radical Party, and “Self Help”. The impressive group of authors means that the draft will be forced and they will try to adopt it already during the current session (until July 14).

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“It will help to realize that in Ukraine there is a uniform State language, as it was already done in Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia,” said the radical People’s Deputy Igor Mosiychuk. “Voting at the first reading will take place until the end of session. And the final second reading is planned until the end of the year,” said one of coauthors Andrey Teteruk to “Vesti”. Judging by the transitional provisions of the draft, in the event of its final acceptance, its different rules will come into force in a period of several months to a year.

And here the current law in the language sphere “On the fundamentals of the state language policy”, according to the bill, is cancelled — it provides regional status to languages of national minorities (i.e. equates to State) in the event that more than 10% of its carriers live in the region or district.

“But the Carpathian villages both spoke Hungarian at the time of the Austrian empire, and will continue to do so — it is unlikely that teachers will be able to force people to speak Ukrainian,” said the Carpathian sociologist Viktor Pashchenko to “Vesti”. “On the contrary, the law will cause discontent even in the loyal part of the Hungarian community — and it isn’t about legal complexities, for them the status of regional language warms the soul”.

“Police state”

“The bill obviously has a discriminatory character for those who doesn’t agree with its rules,” stated the political scientist Andrey Zolotarev. “But for those who came to power, the existing rules are too liberal. But hiding behind words about the protection of language and the rights of the ‘titular nation’, they continue down the course on dividing the country. The logic is to divide the people and to quietly control separate parts. Those people who spoke about united Ukraine a lot started dividing Ukrainians into grades”. Political scientists warn about the dangers of this draft bill.

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“If it is accepted, it will make the return of Crimea and Donbass to Ukraine impossible, there people won’t perceive these rules,” said the expert and coauthor of the existing language law Ruslan Bortnik. “In addition, it will contradict the Constitution and the conclusions of international experts. The position of western partners in the OSCE and PACE prevents the cancellation of the law ‘On the Fundamentals of the Language Policy’, the governments of Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania — all of them stated the inadmissibility of narrowing the language rights of national minorities (there was an attempt to cancel it in 2014, but the head of the Rada Aleksandr Turchynov didn’t sign the decision of parliament). The Ukrainian authorities, in turn, accuse any defenders of existing rules of separatism: just for the past month there were five such cases”.

According to the expert, the main goal of the “language” drafts is to attack Russian positions for the purpose of mobilizing the “right” of the electorate. The question is – how will ordinary Ukrainians perceive such a decision?

“Questions of language and religion — are thin, and in an unstable and warring society they are capable of causing unnecessary waves. Ukraine is multinational, it demands weighed decisions — and the authorities should adopt uniting, and not separating initiatives,” considers the Ukrainian actor and the TV host Vladimir Goriansky.

A separate subject is how can it be implemented in practice. “You think that someone will want to work, for example, in State hospitals for pennies and under the threat of a fine should a client say ‘Dobry den/Добрий день’ [“Good day” in Ukrainian – ed], and not ‘Dobry den/Добрый день’ [“Good day” in Russian – ed, differs from Ukrainian by one letter]?” said the indignant doctor in one of the regional hospitals of Kiev. “There are no teachers in schools, there is nobody to work there — just some pensioners. And moreover, if parents start snitching because we among ourselves speak Russian, or the teachers, imagine what will happen. It seems that the authorities does everything to turn our country into a police state, which one will only want to flee from,” stated the mathematics teacher from a school in Dnepropetrovsk.

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