On Thursday, April 25, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a general law “on ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as a state language”, which prescribes the sole usage of the Ukrainian language in almost all spheres of life.
It will now become mandatory for state and local authorities, all educational institutions, hospitals as well as the service sector to use only Ukrainian. The document also noted the introduction of fines for violating the language law.
This legislative act literally means that the use of Ukrainian will be enforced everywhere in the country, and it was done without ever consulting any speakers of the Ukrainian language. The Russian language and languages of more than 130 nationalities who live on the territory of Ukraine have thus been relegated to the shadows by the Ukrainian authorities.
The reaction of European Union officials faced with this flagrant disregard of language rights, will be most interesting to watch. They are the same ones who, for years now, have been harping on about the promotion of equality, tolerance while claiming to be fighting against discrimination.
Up to now, European authorities have remained noticeably neutral and circumspect in their various responses. A spokesperson for European Foreign Relations, Maya Kosyanchich, cautiously announced that the European Union would “study” the Ukrainian language law before providing an assessment.
This particular assessment will naturally be a matter of huge importance, especially when keeping in mind the existence of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities – a key document prescribing the necessity of rights protection for national minorities.
This protection obviously enshrines the right of mother tongue speakers to uphold their languages without having to face prosecution for doing so.
And while European Union is pondering over the assessment they will have to come up with soon, more than a half of the Ukrainian population who speak Russian, have now been officially prohibited from using their native tongue in the country.
The Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics gave their response to this dilemma five years ago. These two small breakaway entities were formed in 2014 as a result of coup d’etat in Kiev after the so-called Maidan revolution.
At least one reason why people of these two former regions of Ukraine – also known as the Donbass – decided that they no longer wanted to live under the rule of the current Ukrainian state, was precisely because of the language issue. After the “revolution”, the Ukrainian parliament did everything in its power to deprive Russian speakers of their rights to an official language and recognition.
Burdened by the hostile “Ukrainisation” – which was actually started by the former deposed President Viktor Yushchenko (2005-2010) – the inhabitants of the Donbass decided that the constitution of their small republics should include the right to both Russian as well as Ukrainian as official languages.
Even though the majority of the Donbass people are Russian speakers, they quite naturally respected those who consider Ukrainian as a native tongue and wanted to see it used both at official events and in everyday life.
Faced with these issues, the newly elected President of Ukraine, Vladimir Zelensky appeared somewhat clueless. Immediately after the law to enforce the exclusive status of the Ukrainian language was adopted by the Ukrainian parliament, Zelensky announced that after his official inauguration, he would thoroughly examine the text of the bill in order to find out whether it was in line with Ukrainian legislation.
Zelensky was born in a region of Ukraine where mostly Russian speaking people live and he is a Russian speaker himself, so his doubts about the legality of the bill may be understandable. But so far, his lofty pronouncements have not matched any of his actions. Right after the discriminatory language bill was adopted, he changed the spelling of his name on Facebook from Russian to Ukrainian.
Obviously, Ukrainian society has been buzzing with discussions about the possible reasons and consequences of adopting such a questionable law. Most pundits believe that incumbent Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his surrogates are trying to take revenge on Zelensky because Poroshenko had suffered such a shock defeat in the presidential elections.
The possible logic of Poroshenko’s machinations might be the following: By adopting such a law, it would mean increasing tension within the country that could tarnish the image of not only Zelensky but also those candidates supporting the comedian-turned-president for the parliamentary vote.
Or perhaps the explanation for what is going on in Ukraine currently, may be quite simple. The best and most frank explanation could be the sheer stupidity and incompetence of the present Ukrainian leadership who adopted a law without considering the potential of its bombshell effect.
By fixing discrimination at a legislative level against Russian speakers that number at least half of the population, as well as against all other national minorities languages, the Ukrainian leadership – with or without intent – has announced separatism.