The Ukrainian language is gaining ground, official says

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Analysis & Opinion, Featured

Article by: Taras Marusyk

When it comes to increasing the use of the Ukrainian language in society, there were a few more reasons for a positive than a negative review in 2017. Progress is taking place, but at a glacial  pace — the full implementation of the constitutional provision that the “State ensures the comprehensive development and functioning of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of social life throughout Ukraine” is still very far away.

Throughout the whole year there has been something of a swing between the “pluses” and the “minuses,” and this year the “minuses” could be found both inside and outside the country. The main force for change for the better came from the active public rather than the state, and this happened most often during the confrontation between the two approaches, resulting in individual achievements. I will try to outline the most important developments in this area.

Language legislation

On January 19 , bill No. 5670, “On the state language,” was posted on the website of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine. If the parliamentary majority had succeeded in passing it, it would have been the major event of the year. After all, no language law so far has been worked out in such detail, encompassing practically all spheres of public life and containing scrupulously described control mechanisms for its implementation.

However, chances for the swift adoption of what has been the best bill so far disappeared practically the same day, when a group of people’s deputies registered a similar bill, which had the same authors as the original version of the bill labeled “On the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the state language and the order of use of other languages in Ukraine.” If the bill “On languages in Ukraine” as well as the bill “On state support for the development, promotion and protection of the Russian language and the languages of other national minorities in Ukraine” are added, it becomes clear that there is in fact no coalition in the government, but that group interests and political expedience dominate.

The January PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) Resolution No. 2145, “On the functioning of democratic institutions in Ukraine,” was disappointing. It refers in paragraph 13 to the consideration by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court of the law titled “On the principles of state language policy” and expresses PACE’s concern about the possible restriction of the rights of national minorities.

It is possible to consider the registration of a slightly revised version of bill No. 5670 titled “On protecting the functioning of Ukrainian as the state language” (No 5670, dated 06.09.2017) as positive. Now hopes for its adoption have been moved to 2018.

The most significant achievement so far is the new law “On education” and its article 7 on language. Thanks to the joint efforts of deputies, experts and civic activists, the best version of the law was passed. But no language law has suffered such unprecedented assault and blackmail from neighboring EU countries. This situation is far from over. Following the decision by the Venice Commission (The European Commission for Democracy through Law), which served primarily in an advisory capacity while also exhibiting unprecedented interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine, the Ministry of Education will try to implement the conclusions(of the Commission) in the body of  the “On general secondary education” bill, as promised by the President of Ukraine and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

This will be a very complicated process, given the inflexible position of the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban regarding this law and three additional laws, including bill No. 5670, “On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the state language,” and his dismissive attitude to the conclusions of the Venice Commission. Earlier, the Hungarian ambassador to Ukraine stated that the so-called “Kivalov-Kolesnichenko” law cannot be touched. (Controversial law that grants Russian and other minority languages in Ukraine the status of “regional languages” and thereby extensive rights to usage in government, education, judiciary and media that match the functions of the state language –Ed.)

The Constitutional Court of Ukraine

The consideration of the petition submitted by 57 deputies of Ukraine on the constitutionality of the law “On the principles of state language policy (the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law) lasted a whole year from January 13 to December 19, 2017 in closed sessions.  In total 17 meetings were held, 5 were announced but not held, including the meeting scheduled for December 28.

Since October 6, yet another petition is being considered by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine regarding the constitutionality of law No. 2145-VIIIm, “On Education,” of September 5, 2017. The petition list includes well-known members of the Opposition Bloc, the former members of the Regional Party, starting with Yury Boiko and deputies from the circle of Viktor Medvedchuk.

Today there are reasons to believe that the Constitutional Court of Ukraine in 2018 may be able to do the job that has not been within the capacity either of the parliament or the president and repeal the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law.

Local councils

Decisions by the Kyiv City Council of October 5, 2017 — No. 166/3173, “On measures to ensure the regional language policy in Kyiv “– and an almost identical decision by the Cherkasy City Council of December 12, 201 — No.2-2812 ,”On measures to ensure the regional language policy in Cherkasy,” will facilitate the spread of the Ukrainian language.

A similar decision — “On overcoming the consequence of the Soviet occupation in the Zhytomyr Oblast on the language environment ” ( No 861, dated November 2, 2017) — was also adopted by the Zhytomyr Oblast Council.

Military-civilian administration

The head of the Donetsk Oblast military-civil administration Pavlo Zhebrivsky is making significant efforts to Ukrainianize the unoccupied part of the Donetsk Oblast. However, according to administrators at the Ministry of Education, the head of the Luhansk Oblast military-civilian administration, Yuriy Harbuz, holds meetings and communicates with his subordinates in Russian, even in the presence of high-ranking officials from Kyiv.

The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine

The government decree No 301, “On the certification of persons applying for admission to the civil service regarding fluency in the state language,” dated April 26, 2017, could have been one of the achievements of 2017, but turned out to be a perversion of this wonderful idea (due to confusing certification requirements). Nonetheless, it is operating and it is impossible to obtain a post in the civil service without a certificate of fluency in the state language.

Ministry of Culture of Ukraine

The highest executive  body that has responsibility for the functions of state language policy is currently a weak link for enacting this very policy. The minister of culture avoids these questions as much as possible and the responsible deputies act as either hindrances or as impartial observers. A good example was the lack of support for bill No.5670, which was developed by a language working group at the Ministry of Culture. Deputy Minister Svitlana Fomenko, the former head of the Coordinating Council at the Ministry, did not want to hold the meeting of the Coordinating Council in  support of this bill. After almost a two-week delay, it fell to me to hold such a meeting. But the Ministry of Culture has still not  given me the meeting minutes to sign (since February 17, 2017!)

The President of Ukraine

The position of President Poroshenko can be described in two words: delay and then rhetoric after the laws are passed, as was the case with the educational or quota laws. Recently, he announced a bill on the mandatory use of Ukrainian in services, but so far these are only words. In addition, such a sectoral approach to regulating language use is deceptive and mercenary. This way it is difficult or even impossible to ensure that the Ukrainian language achieves its constitutional status as the state language.

The president has not even issued the decree “On announcing 2018 as the year of the Ukrainian language,” which was officially requested by scholars and civic leaders. Poroshenko announced 2018 the year of the English language, which turned out to be more important. Naturally, a decree is no panacea but it would provide a strong psychological support to those who want to rectify a distorted language situation and who put forth great efforts to do so.

Instead of conclusions

In many respects, Ukrainian society is several steps ahead of the Ukrainian government and is not going to slow down. Examples include the success of language quota laws, especially in radio broadcasts, the Ukrainization of shop windows in different cities, the growing use of Ukrainian in business and other website sites, as well as such extraordinary cases as the Ukrainization of 8 taxi dispatch services in Vinnitsia. Furthermore, more Ukrainian could be heard in the streets of the capital and in large shopping malls before the holidays. So there is every reason to hope the processes of restoring justice in the language sphere will continue and possibly accelerate in 2018. At least this is what I would like to believe at this holiday time.

Taras Marusyk, Deputy Chairman of the Coordination Council on the Use of the Ukrainian Language in all Spheres of Public Life, The Ministry of Culture of Ukraine 

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
Source: Radio Svoboda

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  • Albion

    As long as the Russian language prevails in many aspects of public life in Ukraine, Putin continues to have an excuse in “protecting the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine”. The best defense against Russian occupation is the use of the Ukrainian language – it’s like a silver cross against the Russian vampire.
    Remember that the Russian language was introduced into Ukraine on the tip of a bayonet.

    • Ihor Dawydiak

      The same could be said for the numerous occupying powers that at one time or another prevailed in Ukraine’s long history. However, historical disputes have not ended with political zealots such as the current Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban serving as a prime example. In this case, Orban, similar to the same strategies used by Vladimir Putin, has used unjustifiable nationalist populism fused with an undeniable fascist rhetoric in order to attack linguistic policies in Ukraine while at the same time trying to distract Hungarians from his own socio-economic failings in Hungary. In short, this should only be described as total hypocrisy.

      • Albion

        And I’m sure that Victor Orban would not allow a language other than Hungarian to exist as a second state language in his own country. He picks on Ukraine because, with a larger enemy along its eastern border, he feels he’s got back-up. I wounder whether he is brave enough to spoil for a fight with Romania and Slovakia on behalf of their larger Hungarian minorities.