Ukrainian Regions Move To Officially Recognize Russian

ODESSA, Ukraine -- Odessa became the first Ukrainian region to officially recognize the Russian language, leading a host of other regions with a substantial Russian-speaking population in a move to capitalize on the country’s new language law, which allows local administrations to decide whether to make Russian official in their regions.

Odessa, Ukraine

The Odessa Regional Council decided on Wednesday to grant Russian official status in an overwhelmingly favorable vote, the Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform reported.

“Considering that, according to the latest census, 41.9 percent of residents consider Russian as their native language, the regional council decided to establish Russian as a regional language alongside Ukrainian as the state language,” the decision read.

On Thursday, the Donetsk Regional Council is expected to convene in an extraordinary session to discuss the same proposal in the eastern industrial region of about 4.6 million.

Crimea Prime Minister Anatoly Mogilev also said recently that Crimea, an autonomous republic where about two-thirds of the population consider Russian their native language, would recognize Russian by November.

The law, which grants regional governments permission to officially recognize languages spoken by more than ten percent of the population there, will allow for official documents, street signs and a slew of other information to be written in those languages.

Experts have said, however, that the primary focus of the law is on Russian.

According to the law's stipulation, 13 out of Ukraine’s 27 regions will be eligible to officially recognize the Russian language.

Critics in Ukraine and elsewhere have spoken out against the new law, claiming it was rushed through Parliament by President Viktor Yanukovych’s ruling Party of Regions to curry favor with its Russian-speaking support base ahead of the October parliamentary elections.

They also say the law will further fuel the sensitive cultural and linguistic divide between Ukrainian and Russian-speakers in the country.

Proponents of the legislation, meanwhile, say the move is aimed at protecting what they perceive to be a minority language that is underrepresented in the government.

About 29 percent of Ukrainians claim Russian as their native tongue, according to a July 2012 poll by the Kiev-based Sociological Group Rating, but nearly 40 percent say they use it regularly at home.

The same poll found that about 50 percent claim Ukrainian as their native language.

Source: RIA Novosti