Ukraine Moves Divisive Russian Language Bill To Next Stage

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian lawmakers have backed a controversial draft law granting the Russian the status of a regional language.

Deputies of the Ukrainian opposition fight with deputies of the pro-presidential majority during a session of parliament in Kiev, as opposition parties protest a bill proposed by the ruling party which would make Russian an official state language along with Ukrainian.

According to the Associated Press, the use of Russian in Ukraine — where Ukrainian just over half the population use Ukrainian, also the official language — is one of the country's most divisive topics.

A debate on the law in parliament last month ended in a fight that left one lawmaker hospitalized, while riot police were called in to quell a crowd of protesters in Kiev during the vote yesterday.

According to the Ukrainian Journal, as many as 9,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the parliament building and pelted police with eggs and bottles when news of the vote in favor of moving the legislation onto a second reading emerged.

According to the Journal, the bill would allow a given territory to declare a second official language if at least 10 percent of the people living in the area speak that language.

Based on that condition, Russian would become the an official language in 13 out of Ukraine’s 27 administrative-territorial entities, including the cities of Kiev and Sevastopol, RIA Novosti reported.

The bill, passed by 234 votes with a required minimum of 226, has been criticized as an attempt by President Viktor Yanukovych to mobilize voters in Russian-speaking areas.

Yanukovych promised to make Russian a second language during his presidential campaign last year.

Russia's parliament welcomed the vote, with the Voice of Russia citing State Duma spokesman Leonid Slutsky as noting that Moscow "is interested in the highest possible status of the language in which millions of people in Ukraine think and speak.”

He also said it would help in the "development" of relations between the two countries.

Ukraine is preparing to host the 2012 UEFA European soccer championships beginning Friday.

Source: Global Post