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The new Ukraine’s first law revokes Russian language rights

The critical question about Ukraine is the character of its new government. Well, its first act in power was an ‘ethnic nationalist’ act one: revocation of the very tolerant and multicultural language law. Even worse if passed, there is also a bill before parliament to ban Russian media in Ukraine.

Youth in Euromaidan stand with a Ukrainian banner

The new government of Ukraine seems intent on stamping out the country’s multilingual heritage.

But back to the language bill: why was that good law revoked? It kept Ukrainian as the national language but made other languages — usually Russian but also Hungarian, Moldovan and Romanian — regional languages anywhere 10% of more were non-Ukrainian native speakers. The law was mostly, I think, about assuring parents that their kids could go to public schools where their mother tongue was the language of instruction, but also about assuring that courts and other governmental institutions are bilingual Ukrainian/other language in bilingual regions.

Revoking the law displays nothing much more than malevolence toward Russian and other minority language speakers, and I understand why they would be very uncomfortable about their future, and their children’s future, in Ukraine, especially considering the post-Soviet story in other Eastern European states with Russian-speaking minorities.

Looking forward NOT to any coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, or the Guardian of Ukraine’s new and intimidating language policy. Or of the bill

currently floating in the Ukrainian parliament, which would effectively ban all Russian media in the country. Authors of the bill, who are members of Svoboda, justified the move by what they called biased and untruthful coverage of the Ukrainian protest.

The bill would ban all media from countries which have not ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, from broadcasting in Ukraine. Russia signed the convention, but has not ratified it so far.

Learn more about Svoboda here. Here’s some stuff you probably already know about the party’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok:

In 2004, Tyahnybok was kicked out of former President Viktor Yushchenko’s parliamentary faction for a speech calling for Ukrainians to fight against a ‘Muscovite-Jewish mafia’ — using two highly insulting words to describe Russians and Jews — and emphasising that Ukrainians had in the past fought this threat with arms.

In 2005, he signed an open letter to Ukrainian leaders, including President Yushchenko, calling for the government to halt the ‘criminal activities’ of ‘organised Jewry,’ which, the letter said, was spreading its influence in the country through conspiratorial organisations as the Anti-Defamation League – and which ultimately wanted to commit ‘genocide’ against the Ukrainian people.

But hey, he says he’s not a stupid but charismatic racist anti-Semite anymore. I don’t trust him, based on the bills his party is pushing and passing in Ukraine’s parliament.

Learn more about Ukraine’s languages here. It’s quite a bilingual/multilingual country, something it should be proud of rather than be trying to change.

Photo by Ivan Bandura released under a Creative Commons license.

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