Regions Party Pushes Russian Status Amendments

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yanukovych’s Regions Party will seek to amend the constitution to officially make Russian the second state language in Ukraine, a senior pro-government lawmaker said Thursday.

Viktor Yanukovych

The amendments will aim to make Ukraine officially a bilingual country, but this would most likely lead to a wave of clashes and standoffs, de-facto splitting the country along geographical and cultural lines.

At least 9,000 protesters turned out in front of Parliament on June 5 when Parliament, led by the Regions Party, voted to approve in the first reading a bill that effectively makes Russian the second state language in the country’s many regions.

The second, and the final, reading is expected either July 4 or July 5, pro-government lawmakers said, but opposition groups have been preparing to disrupt the sessions to make sure the bill fails.

Vadym Kolesnichenko, who drafted the controversial bill, said the amendments, which are yet to be disclosed, will seek to officially make Ukraine a bilingual country.

“The Regions Party is convinced and insists that we must take into account the existing bilingualism in Ukraine,” Kolesnichenko said.

“We will try to make sure the new constitution has the amendment stating there are two state languages in Ukraine: the Russian and the Ukrainian.”

The Regions Party, which is battling declining popular support, has been seeking ways of energizing its voters ahead of October general elections.

The language legislation is seen by many as a tool to spark a new wave of support for the party in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, where many people use Russian language for everyday communication.

The Constitutional Council, a panel of politicians mostly representing pro-government groups, is currently working on amendments to the constitution that Yanukovych wanted to be approved within the next few years.

Leonid Kravchuk, a former president who was appointed by Yanukovych to lead the council, on Thursday said the Regions Party’s proposal to make the Russian the second state language in Ukraine will probably fail.

“They can try whatever they want. It’s their right,” Kravchuk said.

“But to make amendments to the constitution they need to have at least 300 votes. They don’t have 300 votes.”

The pro-government majority in Parliament has about 250 lawmakers in the 450-seat body, while any changes to the constitution must be approved by a two-thirds majority, or 300 votes.

Kravchuk said that the support for the Regions Party will not improve after the elections, taking into account Ukraine’s complicated political, economic and social situation.

“It’s premature to expect that any party would get 300 or more votes in support,” Kravchuk said.

Opposition groups see the language bill as extremely controversial and a provocative.

It allows introducing a second state language on a given territory if at least 10% of the people living in the area speak that language.

The bill would almost automatically make Russian language the second state language in Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Odessa, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Chernihiv and some other Ukrainian regions.

The opposition groups said the legislation would most certainly discourage people from using the Ukrainian language in those regions, and that may have devastating consequences for the national identity, opposition lawmakers have said.

Source: Ukrainian Journal