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How Russian language in Ukraine was curtailed
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On April 25, 2019, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine passed the Bill No. 5670-d “On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian as the state language” in its second reading. The document introduces mandatory teaching in Ukrainian in kindergartens, schools and universities; it also requires governmental officials, health care and education professionals, as well as service workers to speak the state language only. According to the document, the share of Ukrainian language on national channels should be at least 90%.
Below you can find our report on sequential abridging of Russian language within cultural and linguistic realm after the power shift in February 2014.
THE LANGUAGE LAW
On February 23, 2014, immediately after the coup d'état in the country, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine voted to repeal the law “On the basics of state language policy”, which had been in effect since August 10, 2012. The document had provided Russian and national minority languages the status of regional ones in areas where they were native to at least 10% of the population.
The repeal of the law caused protests in the east of Ukraine where Russian-speaking population prevails. As a result, the acting President Alexander Turchinov refused to endorse the Rada’s resolution. Since 2016, the law “On the basis of the state language policy” was under review by the Constitutional Court (the CC) of Ukraine. On February 28, 2018, the Constitutional Court declared it to be inconsistent with the constitution. After the court’s verdict, the language issue in Ukraine has actually been regulated only by article 10 of the Constitution, according to which the state language is Ukrainian; Russian and other national minority languages are guaranteed free development, use and protection.
Since 2016, several bills on language have been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada, but none of them received the necessary support of the MPs. In January 2017, the bill ¹5670 “On the state language” was registered in the parliament. It proposed to repeal the current law on language policy, to introduce exclusive use of the state language in education, state institutions and courts, in cinemas, advertising and on television, and also to compel all media to introduce a version in Ukrainian. It was suggested to punish the violators with fines. The service of language inspectors was supposed to supervise implementation of provisions of the law (this clause of the bill drew the fire of the public).
Upon the document finalization, on June 9, 2017, the draft law No. 5670-d “On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian as the state language” was registered in the Verkhovna Rada. The document declares that the only official state language in the country is Ukrainian. Any attempts to introduce multilingualism in Ukraine are considered to be an attempt of dismantlement of the Ukrainian statehood.
According to the bill, all representatives of government bodies, deputies, judges, doctors, and teachers should speak Ukrainian. Persons wishing to obtain Ukrainian citizenship are required to pass the state language exam. All cultural events should be conducted in Ukrainian; and in the case of using a foreign language, they should be accompanied by subtitles. Print media that are published in Russian and other languages will be required to print additional issues in Ukrainian.
The official authorized to protect the state language (appointed by the government) and his/her representatives shall exercise control over execution of the law and write out fines. The law shall not be applicable to religious ceremonies and private communication.
PROHIBITION ON RUSSIAN LANGUAGE IN EDUCATION
On September 5, 2017, the Parliament of Ukraine adopted a new version of the Law on Education (the document was signed by President Petro Poroshenko on September 25, 2017; it came into force on September 28, 2017). The document stipulates sequential prohibition to use Russian language and languages of other ethnic groups of Ukraine in the educational system. Teaching in schools and in higher education institutions should be conducted in Ukrainian only. In the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 academic years, classes where subjects may be taught in Russian and other languages will be maintained only in elementary school. From September 2020, there will be absolutely no schools that teach in any language except Ukrainian.
The Law on Education sparked a backlash in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries, whose representatives belong to numerous diasporas in Ukraine. Budapest stated that Hungary would block all Kiev’s international initiatives until an agreement on language issues was reached between the Ukrainian authorities and the Hungarians of Transcarpathia.
On September 27, 2017, the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted the Statement against violation of the fundamental right of indigenous peoples and national minorities of Ukraine to study in their native languages. Russian MPs pointed out that the new document did not comply with principles and norms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as other international treaties, and that it was an “ethnocide act" of the Russian people in Ukraine.
LANGUAGE QUOTAS FOR RADIO AND TELEVISION
On June 16, 2016, the Ukrainian parliament adopted amendments to the law “On television and radio broadcasting” (the law “On amendments to some Laws of Ukraine (as to share of Ukrainian music broadcast by TV and radio broadcasting organizations”; it came into force on November 8, 2016). In compliance with the law, TV and radio broadcasting companies have to broadcast at least 35% of songs in Ukrainian within 24 hours, as well as at least 35% of the total number of songs broadcasted between 7:00 and 14:00, and between 15:00 and 22:00. If a radio station broadcasts at least 60% of songs in EU languages, the quota for Ukrainian songs shall be at least 25%. Television and radio companies shall also provide that at least 60% of analytical and entertainment programs are daily broadcasted in the state language.
On March 9, 2017, while awarding the Taras Shevchenko National Prize at the ceremony, the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko proposed to increase the state language quota for programs on television. He claimed that the share of Ukrainian language in the national television was unacceptably low. Poroshenko noted that he had previously “appealed to the television industry to self-organize itself in this issue,” however, “he had not been heard.” On May 23 of the same year, the bill “On amendments to some laws of Ukraine regarding the language of audiovisual (electronic) media” was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada (it came into force on October 13, 2017).
The document, in particular, amended the Law “On television and radio broadcasting”, according to which the share of Ukrainian broadcasting on national and regional television and radio shall be at least 75% per week, and the same share on local television and radio shall be at least 60% (from 7:00 to 18:00, and from 18:00 to 22:00). The share of news programs in Ukrainian language has been increased to 75%. If the a/m quotas are not complied with, the law stipulates a penalty in the amount of 5% of the total license fee of the respective television and radio company. All TV and radio companies that broadcast in national minority languages shall ensure that at least 30% of their broadcasting is in Ukrainian. National TV channels have to broadcast films and programs produced abroad only in the state language. The exception can be made for programs and films produced before August 1, 1991, which have to be provided with Ukrainian subtitles.