President Gives Kharkiv Speech In Russian

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yanukovych used the Russian language on Wednesday to address the people in Kharkiv while opening a monument dedicated to Ukraine’s independence at the city’s downtown square.

Viktor Yanukovych

Yanukovych, who ended his two-month vacation in Crimea, made the official speech in Russian for the first time since signing controversial language legislation earlier this month.

The legislation allows wide official use of the Russian language throughout many Ukrainian regions that have at least 10% Russian-speaking population.

The legislation led to weeks of protests and was denounced by opposition groups as discouraging the use of Ukrainian and splitting the country by languages spoken.

Asked by reporters why he used the Russian language to address the people in Kharkiv, Yanukovych had replied: “I always speak the language of the people that live there.”

“Ukraine is being split by the people who ask the questions like that without taking into account opinions of the people that live on that land,” Yanukovych said.

The legislation, dubbed by some opposition figures “a death sentence to the Ukrainian language,” was signed into law on Aug. 8.

The legislation is widely seen as an attempt by the Regions Party, which battles declining popular support, to energize their supporters ahead of the October 28 parliamentary elections.

At least six regions have moved over the past two weeks to approve the Russian language as their “official regional” language, a status that allows its use by local governments, schools and legal system.

Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Odessa, Luhansk and Kherson regions, as well as cities of Odessa, Sevastopol, Kharkiv, Mykolayiv and Izmail, have voted to approve the use of the Russian language.

The legislation, drafted by the Regions Party, has been suggested as supporting ethnic groups and languages in line with the European charter.

But when Bulgarian ethnic group, which exceeds 10% of the population of Izmail in the Odessa region, suggested approving the Bulgarian as a regional language in the city, local lawmakers had declined.

The Bulgarian community threatened to appeal to Yanukovych and to courts to “defend their right” to use their language in the city.

The legislation was criticized by many prominent Ukrainians, and most recently by former President Leonid Kuchma.

“This law is not promoting the national idea and the independence of the state,” Kuchma said in a recent interview with Ukrinform, the state-owned news agency.

“I was always the supporter of the idea that there is one state language in the country.”

Kuchma said the law has been hurting Yanukovych politically because it was splitting the country.

“This is a headache for politicians, and especially for the president, because he bears responsibility,” Kuchma said.

“We have to start looking for a civilized exit out of this. They have to sit down at the table and to find something constructive.”

Yanukovych agreed that the legislation requires some changes, but disagreed that it was hurting the Ukrainian language.

“I disagree that the law weakens the Ukrainian language,” Yanukovych said, adding that he had ordered the government to come up with a state program that would support the Ukrainian language.

“It will be drafted by the Cabinet,” Yanukovych said. “It will not be temporary, it will be permanent.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal