New lan­guage bills and public opin­ion on the is­sue

Leg­is­la­tion and bills on the state lan­guage: cur­rent sta­tus and ex­pec­ta­tions

The Ukrainian Week - - FRONT PAGE - Ro­man Malko

The at­tempt to abol­ish the no­to­ri­ous Ki val­ovKo les nichenko lan­guage law from 2012( read more about it in Ac­tions Speak Louder Then Words at ukraini­an­week.com) was blocked right af­ter the Maidan. The then VR Speaker Olek­sandr Turchynov, as well as his suc­ces­sors, Volodymyr Gro­is­man and cur­rent Speaker An­driy Paru­biy did not risk to sign the bill to abol­ish the KaKa law af­ter it passed the vote in Par­lia­ment. The Con­sti­tu­tional Court was sup­posed to con­sider the law­ful­ness of this law but it is de­lay­ing the process. Ac­cord­ing to The Ukrainian Week’s sources, the judge-rap­por­teur was pre­pared to re­port on the case two years ago and sig­naled this readi­ness with reg­u­lar of­fi­cial let­ters to the CC Pres­i­dent. The lat­ter, how­ever, ig­nored the let­ters as he was wait­ing for green light from the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion. This course of ac­tion is busi­ness as usual for the Con­sti­tu­tional Court in Ukraine.

Ac­cord­ing to sources at the CC, the verdict it will make on the Ka-Ka law will most likely come from the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion, not the court. In terms of the time­frame, this will not hap­pen be­fore it is clear how the Par­lia­ment could vote on the newly-spon­sored lan­guage bills. Un­til then, no­body wants to cre­ate a vac­uum in the lan­guage leg­is­la­tion as it will in­evitably cre­ate space for po­lit­i­cal spec­u­la­tions.

Cur­rently, four new lan­guage bills have been sub­mit­ted to the VR. Three sup­port the Ukrainian lan­guage and one sup­ports the Rus­sian lan­guage. The lat­ter is pre­sented as the law to en­sure state sup­port to the de­vel­op­ment, pro­mo­tion and pro­tec­tion of the Rus­sian lan­guage and other lan­guages of na­tional mi­nori­ties in Ukraine. Spon­sored by an ex-Party of Re­gions mem­ber and cur­rently Op­po­si­tion Bloc MP Yevhen Ba­lyt­skyi, the bill re­in­forces the po­si­tion of the Rus­sian lan­guage along the lines of the Ka-Ka law. It has barely any chance of pass­ing the leg­is­la­ture – both the spon­sor, and those be­hind him re­al­ize this. Its pur­pose was to pro­voke yet an­other in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of ten­sions around the lan­guage is­sue.

In De­cem­ber 2016, bill No 5556 was reg­is­tered in Par­lia­ment, spon­sored by Yaroslav Le­siuk, cur­rently MP with the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and pre­vi­ously an ide­ol­o­gist of the Peo­ple’s Move­ment of Ukraine par­lia­men­tary cam­paign. This bill was sup­ported by thirty MPs from dif­fer­ent fac­tions. It de­fines the Ukrainian lan­guage as the only state lan­guage in Ukraine and del­e­gates the of­fi­cial sta­tus to the Crimean Tatar lan­guage as the lan­guage of one of Ukraine’s indige­nous peo­ples within the ter­ri­tory of the Au­ton­o­mous Repub­lic of Crimea (in Art. 4.3, The lan­guages of indige­nous peo­ples and na­tional mi­nori­ties of Ukraine). Also, it en­tails both ad­min­is­tra­tive and crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity for the vi­o­la­tions of its norms, if passed into law. The bill was sub­mit­ted in a some­what provoca­tive man­ner, when the public work­ing group at the Min­istry of Cul­ture led by Pro­fes­sor Volodymyr Va­sylenko was work­ing on a new lan­guage bill. Le­siuk was in­cluded in the group but at­tended just once. Shortly af­ter, he pre­pared and filed his own bill un­ex­pect­edly. That forced the work­ing group to ur­gently fi­nal­ize their bill: it wouldn’t be right to leave just that one bill spon­sored by Le­siuk in Par­lia­ment. More­over, the bill that the public work­ing group was pre­par­ing was what its mem­bers saw as a novel and log­i­cal ap­proach to the lan­guage leg­is­la­tion.

Ini­tially, the work­ing group took as the ba­sis of their bill the Draft Law on the Func­tion­ing of the Ukrainian Lan­guage as the State Lan­guage and the Pro­ce­dure for the Use of Other Lan­guages in Ukraine. It was de­vel­oped by ex-Min­is­ter of Jus­tice Ser­hiy Holo­vatyi and Samopomich’s Vice Speaker of Par­lia­ment Ok­sana Sy­royid in 2013, right af­ter the no­to­ri­ous Ka-Ka law was passed. It’s a rea­son­able bill that takes ac­count of the ex­pe­ri­ence of many coun­tries with good-qual­ity lan­guage leg­is­la­tion, as well as in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

It of­fers the es­tab­lish­ment of new in­sti­tu­tions that would en­sure the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the bill (if passed into law) as a way to boost the de­vel­op­ment of the Ukrainian lan­guage and to pre­vent the oust­ing of it from some seg­ments of public life. Ac­cord­ing to the bill, a com­mis­sion on the state lan­guage would be set up to work on the stan­dards, cen­tral­ized ter­mi­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment and adap­ta­tion of new words. Also, it pro­vides for the launch of a test­ing sys­tem like IELTS or TOEFL that would cer­tify the knowl­edge of the lan­guage. Cur­rently, Ukraine has noth­ing of the sort. The only such doc­u­ment is the school grad­u­a­tion cer­tifi­cate with a grade from the lan­guage exam. So, any­one who stud­ies in a dif­fer­ent lan­guage but has mas­tered Ukrainian has no way of prov­ing his or her level of knowl­edge. At the same time, Ukraine has nearly 20 laws that re­quire civil ser­vants and politi­cians to know the state lan­guage.

The bill also in­tro­duces the state lan­guage om­buds­man. He or she would work with com­plainants re­gard­ing the use of the lan­guage, pro­vide ex­per­tise and rec­om­men­da­tions, or ap­ply cer­tain sanc­tions where public ser­vices are not pro­vided in Ukrainian.

As the work­ing group worked on the doc­u­ment, it re­al­ized that the draft had one sys­temic er­ror: it com­bined two non-com­bin­able di­men­sions. When

the state lan­guage and all other lan­guages in the coun­try are brought to­gether in one doc­u­ment, it re­sults in com­pe­ti­tion. How­ever, the state lan­guage is a sign of sovereignty, just like the state bor­ders, the coat of arms and the an­them. The other lan­guages of peo­ple liv­ing in Ukraine are in the do­main of na­tional mi­nor­ity lan­guages – this is in the hu­man rights do­main, not that of sovereignty. The state must guar­an­tee those rights, but based on a dif­fer­ent logic: the right of the cit­i­zen to pre­serve his or her lan­guage and pass it on to the next gen­er­a­tion. There­fore, these two di­men­sions have to be sep­a­rated into two dif­fer­ent laws, thus re­mov­ing the com­pe­ti­tion. A good-qual­ity bill should be drafted to reg­u­late the lan­guages of na­tional mi­nori­ties and en­sure these rights through state guar­an­tees as the state is obliged to do.

The 2013 bill was mod­i­fied with this ap­proach in mind. In par­al­lel, a bill on na­tional mi­nori­ties was drafted. The work­ing group was plan­ning to hold dis­cus­sions and round­tables and work with public opin­ion through an aware­ness rais­ing cam­paign be­fore sub­mit­ting both bills to Par­lia­ment. How­ever, Ser­hiy Holo­vatyi pre­vented this: quite un­ex­pect­edly, he filed his orig­i­nal bill (some­what mod­i­fied) through MPs Mykhailo Holovko, Maria Ma­tios, Mykola Kni­azhyt­skyi and oth­ers. The work­ing group then had noth­ing else but to reg­is­ter their bill No5670 On the State Lan­guage which they al­most fi­nal­ized but have not pre­sented to the wider au­di­ence.

All this chaos could have been the re­sult of at­tempts to block the up­date of the leg­is­la­tion on the pro­tec­tion of the state lan­guage. It could have been the in­flu­ence of hu­man fac­tors, such as per­sonal grudges or am­bi­tions.

The thoughts on the lan­guage bills vary across the Par­lia­ment to­day. Some MPs believe that noth­ing can be worse than the Ka-Ka law, and so any bill can well be taken as the ba­sic one (ex­cept for the one spon­sored by Ba­lyt­skyi). If any of the three is sup­ported in the first read­ing, it can sub­se­quently be amended. If none gets 226 votes, all will be re­jected and the Par­lia­ment would not be able to re­turn to them dur­ing one year.

It is nec­es­sary to have a dis­cus­sion on what ap­proach would work best. It is nec­es­sary to work on this prag­mat­i­cally and soberly, not through deals and in­trigu­ing. The bills avail­able so far of­fer var­i­ous con­cepts and are at dif­fer­ent stages of fi­nal­iza­tion. How­ever, such laws are passed for a long time. The civil so­ci­ety-sup­ported bill No5670 would be the best op­tion in terms of prac­ti­cal im­ple­men­ta­tion.

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