Violence over a new language law in the Ukraine spread from Parliament to the streets last week, as rioters led by opposition leaders clashed with Kiev police over passage of a bill that would make Russian official in Eastern Ukraine. The bill would allow the use of Russian in courts, schools and other government institutions in the Russian-speaking regions. The languages are generally mutually intelligible and often mixed in conversation.
The bill was passed minutes after a surprise proposal by the ruling party, the “Party of Regions,” allowing opponents little time for debate. Opponents of the bill call it an election ploy, pushed through the legislature in order to win back Russia-speaking voters ahead of parliamentary elections in October.
“Members of Ukraine’s pro-Western opposition say that such a law would effectively smother the Ukrainian language by removing any incentive for millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians to learn it. They also say it would bring Ukraine back into the Russian orbit and torpedo its efforts to forge closer ties with the European Union, reports the AP.
“This bill would push the Ukrainian language out of use,” said one of the protestors, Yuri Chernyak to Pavel Polityuk of Reuters. “It might be too late but we must do something and not stay indifferent.”
“There are millions of us and they cannot pretend that nothing has happened,” said Vitali Klitschko, the world heavyweight boxing champion who has founded his own opposition party – Udar (Strike). Klitscheko injured his hand in the protest.
Many Ukrainians see regional status for Russian as a threat to Ukrainian sovereignty and its 20 years of independence since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, who had asked for amendments to the bill, has offered his resignation over the way the bill was forced through the legislature. Yolodymyr’s signature is required for passage of the law.
This is a follow-up on my earlier post about parliamentary fighting words. Sad to see that legislative fisticuffs have now spread to the streets.