The Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, is supporting legislation that would make Russian the second official language in Ukraine. The proposed law has caused a stir in the media, as jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko accused Yanukovych of using the language law to win votes in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Yanukovych defended his position: “There were periods in our state, when there were language problems,” the President admitted. “Now, I would say, they are absent, and we don’t have such a problem. And today people propose that we do not raise this question again, which arises from election to election, and it has to be adjusted at the legislative level, in view of the current world practices that you mention. All experts believe that the best practices are European, there are two and even three languages in many countries in Europe.”
To respond to his critics, Yanukovych explained, “We have chosen this path, using the practice that exists in Europe, where the European Charter for [Regional or Minority] Languages was adopted. A law was passed according to this charter. Politicians are stirring up passion around this question. This law has been registered, and it will be considered and adopted. Ukraine and its people, who mostly speak two languages, Ukrainian and Russian, are interested in this.”
The President went on to make a case for examining populations by region to cater to languages other than Russian spoken around Ukraine. He noted that there are large Greek-, Bulgarian-, Hungarian-, and Romanian-speaking communities in different areas of Ukraine. “We are doing everything to preserve the cultural heritage of the peoples living in Ukraine, and public policy is aimed at this,” Yanukovych promised.
Tymoshenko, a Russian native speaker who recently admitted that she learned Ukrainian only at age 36, issued a statement proclaiming that the President’s intentions are entirely political and accused him of consistently breaking promises.
“It is clear for me that this [new] promise by Yanukovych indicates only one thing – the parliamentary elections are coming, and the team of ‘professionals’ will have nothing to offer people,” the former Prime Minister wrote from prison. “Therefore, they are using a favorite tactic of political strategists: to embroil the people, divide the people and bump together the right bank and left bank of Ukraine.”