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The “Russian World” and the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko language law in Ukraine

"Destruction of language is destruction of country" Ukrainian deputies oppose the controversial language law.
“Destruction of language is destruction of country” Ukrainian deputies oppose the controversial language law.
The “Russian World” and the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko language law in Ukraine
Article by: Larysa Masenko
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Pending the decision of Ukraine’s Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the law “On the principles of state language policy” of Serhiy Kivalov and Vadym Kolesnichenko, it is worth reviewing the prehistory and history of this law which began long before July 2012.

The history of its preparation and passage has demonstrated once again the ability of Russian imperialists to resort to cheating when they cannot defeat opponents in an open confrontation.

After the failure of persistent attempts to introduce Russian as the second state language of Ukraine, Russian political strategists began an intensive search for another legislative basis for the continued Russification and denationalization of Ukrainians in a formally independent state.

They succeeded in finding this basis in the “European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages” that was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1992.

Valdimir Putin with Serhiy Kivalov, Moscow, February, 22, 2013
Valdimir Putin with Serhiy Kivalov, Moscow, February, 22, 2013

Of course, it took a fair amount of fraudulent agility and a complete lack of moral principles to take advantage of the European document, which was designed to protect languages on the edge of extinction and spoken by a small number. This was done to maintain and strengthen the position of the Russian language in Ukraine, where for several centuries the Russian Empire has tried to marginalize the Ukrainian language in order to reduce the number of speakers to a critical level.

The process of ratifying the Charter in the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) was accompanied by a struggle between the national-democratic and the pro-Russian groups of deputies. After the first attempt to ratify it in December 1999, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine determined that the adopted commitments were unconstitutional and rejected the corresponding bill. However, after repeated attempts, the “fifth column” was able to win. The Verkhovna Rada adopted on May 15, 2003, the law on the ratification of the Charter in the version that had been prepared by Russian political strategists.

The languages of 13 national minorities, including Russian, were added to the list of languages covered by the provisions of the Charter. Already this list, which is much longer than found in the ratification documents of other countries, was contrary to the purpose of the Charter since only the Crimean Tatar and the Gagauz languages qualified for protection.

The manipulative use in Ukraine of the “European Charter for regional or minority languages”

The manipulative use of the Charter was based on introducing the concept of “regional language” into the language legislation, granting it a status which, under the terms of the approved document, provided for the language’s extensive rights to usage in official documents, in education, judiciary, mass media, in fact matching the functions of the state language.

 Deputies Vadym Kolesnichenko (l) and Serhiy Kivalov (r), July 30, 2012

Deputies Vadym Kolesnichenko (l) and Serhiy Kivalov (r), July 30, 2012

The purpose for which the Charter was ratified in Ukraine became obvious in 2006, when Viktor Yanukovych was prime minister and head of the Party of Regions. Then a number of oblast (regional) and municipal councils, dominated by the Party of Regions, referred to the Charter when adopting decisions to grant the Russian language the status of a regional language in their territories. These decisions were adopted by the oblast councils of Donetsk,  Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, as well as the city councils of Kharkiv, Sevastopol, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, and Luhansk.

Based on the language used in these decisions, it was obvious that in this fashion the functions of the state language in these territories were being transferred to the Russian language. Additionally, these documents contained wording that indicated that the deputies — Communists and Regionals (members of the pro-Russian Party of Regions –Ed.) — did not leave any room for the Ukrainian language and thus for Ukrainians in their own land. As proof it is enough to cite the first paragraph of the decision of the fifth convocation of the Luhask Oblast Council on April 25, 2006:

“According to the information of the Department of Statistics of the Luhansk Oblast (based on the Census of 2001), 91% of the residents of the Luhansk Oblast consider Russian their native language and speak it fluently. Of them 38% are of Russian nationality and consider Russian their native language, 31% represent other nationalities but listed Russian as their native language, 22% are fluent in Russian in addition to their mother tongue. “

Petro Symonenko (l) and Oleksandr Yefremov (r)
Petro Symonenko (l) and Oleksandr Yefremov (r)

As we can see, Ukrainians, who are the most numerous ethnic group in Luhansk, are not even mentioned in this document but are counted among the 31% of other nationalities even though the Luhansk Oblast can hardly be considered multi-ethnic. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the presence of a large group of Russians.

Although the prosecutor’s office canceled most of these decisions the same year, the struggle of the “Russian World” for the legislative strengthening of Russian in state functions with the purpose of displacing the Ukrainian language in most of Ukrainian territory was reactivated in 2010 when Viktor Yanukovych became president.

Soon after Yanukovych’s inauguration, during the meeting with a delegation of the “International Council of Russian Compatriots” on May 27, 2010, he promised his “compatriots” that the Russian language “will occupy its rightful place in the life of our society.”

“We will consistently implement European values on human rights in Ukraine, including in language policy,” Yanukovych announced. “As a basis we will take the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages… We have already prepared a number of bills that will be submitted to the Verkhovna Rada. After their adoption, the Russian language, which is native for many citizens of Ukraine, will take its rightful place in our society,” he said.

Already on September 7 of that year Yanukovych’s promise was carried out. The head of the Party of Regions faction, Oleksandr Yefremov, the head of the Communist Party faction, Petro Symonenko, and a member of the Lytvyn Bloc, Serhiy Hrynevetskyi, registed Bill No. 101503 “About languages in Ukraine” in the Verkhovna Rada.

The general terms of the bill contained definitions borrowed from Soviet rhetoric about the “harmonious Russian-Ukrainian bilingualism” and the like, but the real threat of the powerful new Russification of the country was the introduction of the rule according to which a language would be given the status of a regional language if 10% of the population of a given oblast, city, or district spoke it. This meant that the Russian language would be considered regional throughout the entire territory of the country and thereby would gain the same status as the Ukrainian state language. It should be noted that no European document regulating the use of languages in a particular territory, including the “European Charter for regional and minority languages,” includes such rules.

At the initiative of Volodymyr Lytvyn, speaker of the Verkhovna Rada at the time, the bill on the “Languages in Ukraine” was submitted for examination to academic institutions. All institutions that examined it, namely the Institute of Ukrainian Language at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the Institute of Political and Ethnonational Research of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the Scientific Council of the National University of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, determined that the draft law was not in compliance with the Constitution of Ukraine. As a result, it was rejected by the Supreme Court of Ukraine and withdrawn from consideration by the Verkhovna Rada.

The Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law as an instrument of the Russian attack on the Ukrainian language

However, this defeat did not stop the Russian offensive against the Ukrainian language. After waiting for a while, this same bill, now renamed “On principles of state language policy,” was presented for review by the Verkhovna Rada by Serhiy Kivalov and Vadym Kolesnichenko on February 7, 2012.

In fact, it was the same document as the draft law “On Languages in Ukraine.” Minor changes had not affected the content of its main provisions, namely the proposal to use 10% of speakers to determine if a language was regional.

Despite the objections of the Committee on Culture and Religion and numerous country-wide protests, the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law was hastily passed in the Verkhovna Rada on July 3, 2012, with numerous violations of procedure.

On February 2014, the Verkhovna Rada abolished the law on “Principles of state language policy” but the decision was not signed by the then acting president of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov.

The fact that in Ukraine a language law still remains in force that Yanukovych’s minions had introduced with his help — the chief communist of the time, two separatists, one of whom has now accepted Russian citizenship (Kolesnichenko — Ed.) and another one who is under investigation (Yefremov — Ed.), as well as an odious Odesa judge (Kivalov — Ed.) — confirms only one thing: Yanukovych has fled but his cause remains. And for how long will be decided by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. (On November 17, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine began to examine the constitutionality of the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko language at the request of 57 deputies. — Ed.).

Larysa Masenko, Doctor of Philology, Professor at the National University of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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