Yushchenko Leaves Russian In Draft Constitution Out Of Respect For Russians

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said he has decided to leave a mention of the Russian language in his draft new constitution out of respect for the Russian community in the country.

Viktor Yushchenko

“I would like to make myself clear as president that the current version of the language policy in Ukraine is correct” the Ukrainian language is an official language, a maternal language that is protected and developed by a special law,” Yushchenko said during a teleconference with law students on Friday.

“As for the Russian language and other ethnic minority languages, we fully comply with the requirements of the European convention on languages [European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages],” he said.

According to the president, the Russian language is mentioned in the draft constitution “solely out of tactfulness and respect for the minority that is the biggest among ethnic minorities” in Ukraine.

He noted that the principles proclaimed in the current constitution would be continued.

“This is an ethical compromise and respect for the people who know this language,” he added.

Yushchenko believes that it won’t be possible to change the constitution before the upcoming presidential election to be held on January 17, 2010.

Earlier, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasily Kirilich said the problem of the Russian language in the country was far-fetched.

"I do not see any problems with the Russian language in Ukraine," he said after a visit to the country by OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek.

In Ukraine "every citizen speaks the language which he considers native or which he more comfortable for communication", Kirilich said.

"Where else in the world is there a parliament where deputies speak a foreign [Russian] language, except for the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada?" he said.

He stressed the need "to speak about what Ukraine and Russia have in common rather then focus on what they have in difference".

"Our countries have very many common and generally positive things," Kirilich said.

Vollebaek studied the educational rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. During his trips to Kiev, the Crimea, the Donetsk and Lvov regions, Vollebaek visited educational institutions where teaching is conducted in Russian and meet with members of the Russian community, central and regional authorities.

Vollebaek is now expected to prepare a report with recommendations on how to ensure the educational rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. The document will be handed over to the Russian government.

Kirilich said the reports should be expected by autumn.

Ukraine does not have to account to anyone for its language policy, Culture and Tourism Minister Vasily Vovkun said.

"Our actions should be principled, consistent and offensive because they are based on the Constitution of Ukraine and national interests," Vovkun said.

The minister made it clear that "the development of an integral national language and cultural space based on the promotion of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of public life, on the presence of the national cultural product in proper volumes on the domestic market has been determined by the government as an important strategic objective. But the implementation of this strategic task envisages, among other things, the adoption and practical realisation of Ukraine's Language Policy Concept, the new Ukrainian law 'On the Official Language', and amendments to the Law on the Ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages."

Having emphasised the need for strict compliance with language legislation in Ukraine, Vovkun expressed his readiness to "allow Russian-speaking residents of cities in the east and south of the country to learn the official language through language courses set up under cultural institutions, such as libraries, higher educational institutions, theatres, research and methodology centres."

However he did not specify whether it would be an operational or obligatory procedure for people living in regions that have been fighting for the quality of the Russian and Ukrainian languages for more than 20 years.

However Verkhovna Rada member Vadim Kolesnichnko said the rights of Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine were systematically violated.

"The Verkhovna Rada has adopted 43 laws that exclude the Russian language from our life," Kolesnichenko said.

"Over 3,000 schools have been destroyed" over the years of independence, he said.

Teaching in universities in 19 Ukrainian regions where half of the population speak Russian is conducted in Ukrainian. There are no Russian-language schools in six regions, and four regions each have only one.

According to the lawmaker, the Russian language has been barred from radio, television, films, and business. "The future of our children is not enviable" in such a situation, he added.