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6 July, 2012  ▪  The Ukrainian Week

Parliament Gone Wild. Again

The passing of the language law has triggered a parliamentary crisis that could explode into a political one.

On 3 July, the majority of MPs ignored more than 2,000 recommendations for amendments to the draft language law and bypassed parliamentary procedures when passing the law, which significantly limits the spheres where the Ukrainian language is used as an official state language. 248 votes in its support came from all but one MP from Volodymyr Lytvyn’s People’s Party and the Party of Regions’ (PR) MPs from Western Ukraine, who had refused to support it in the first reading. On the following day, Speaker Lytvyn who had previously insisted that parliament would only consider the draft law in autumn due to the huge amount of amendments to it, said that he had been betrayed by his coalition allies and filed a letter of resignation. Within 24 hours of the passing of the law, a slew of MPs whose cards were used to vote in support of the law, announced that the result was falsified, since most of them were not even present for the voting. Speaker Lytvyn might refuse to sign the bill as a result of the violations that occurred during the voting. To make this easier for him, the opposition has already drafted a resolution that can serve as a basis for conducting a second ballot on the language law. However, it appears that the government has some compromising information concerning his involvement in the murder of reporter Georgiy Gongadze, therefore it remains to be seen whether he will dare to make this bold move.

The passing of the law has triggered a parliamentary crisis that could explode into a political one. Ukraine has already seen a wave of protests and clashes between protesters and police using chemical weapons. More and more local authorities strongly condemn the move. Even Viktor Yanukovych mentioned the possibility of early parliamentary elections, while the opposition insists on a complete reboot of the government, proposing a combined parliamentary and presidential election. Moreover, the effect of the passing of such an extreme law on the electorate is questionable, as it pushed the voters who view it, as a threat to Ukraine’s statehood and identity to rise in protest; the PR electorate includes quite a few opponents of any special status for the Russian language, and the share of the Russian-speaking electorate that is skeptical about the law is becoming more irritated as they have absolutely no problem speaking Russian in everyday life, yet foresee more difficulties as a result of the government’s policy. A survey held by the Razumkov Center in the second half of June shows that 65.1% of voters view the passing of the law as the PR’s pre-election move, while only 25% support the idea of making Russian the second official state language in some regions.

There are several scenarios to explain why parliament took this bold move, blatantly bypassing the voting procedure. Mr. Yanukovych could be interested in a short campaign period. This will give the candidates in first-past-the-post constituencies “processed” by the party in power a competitive advantage, unlike candidates from the united opposition who are not even determined yet. Using the language bill as a cover, the party in power is pushing through other initiatives, which would otherwise be met with resistance by society. It passed the law that limits privileges for people in the first reading and the law that removes tenders by state-owned enterprises from the jurisdiction of the Law “On State Procurement” thus opening new ways to grab taxpayers’ money through uncompetitive tenders with just one participant for those linked to the government.

There is another possible reason behind this hasty scenario. Sergei Ivanov, the Head of Mr. Putin’s Presidential Administration, visited Ukraine before the vote. On 12 July, Vladimir Putin himself is coming to Yalta to revise gas deals, as has already been announced by the Ukrainian government. Last time Russia took pseudo-concessions, it was in exchange for part of Ukraine’s territory: the location of the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea was extended until 2042. This time, the Russification law may be viewed as the price for a gas discount, since it is an important factor in Mr. Putin’s priority to build the Russian World and reintegrate post-soviet territory.

INFO

Some countries have an official native language and English as a temporary official language. Hindi, for instance, has been India’s official language for over 60 years now but English that was temporarily made official as the language of international communication in the multi-ethnic post-colony is now essentially used as the single official state language. Unlike English, the main international language that has had a positive effect on a country, the domination of Russian has preserved soviet heritage in Ukraine, causing it to lag behind developed countries and guarantees that it will never be integrated in Europe.


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