The law making Russian an official language of law proceedings in Ukraine is not only unconstitutional, it is yet another step in the renewal of the russification of Ukraine that this new government has embarked upon.
The ruling Party of Regions claim they are making Ukraine compliant with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML). That is a most hollow claim.
The ECRML is designed specifically for “the protection of the historical regional or minority languages of Europe, some of which are in danger of eventual extinction”, none of which applies to the Russian language in Ukraine.
According to the 2001 census, 67.5 percent of the population declared Ukrainian as their native language and 29.6 percent declared Russian. That percentage already exceeds the number of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, which is 17.3 %, compared with 77.8 Ukrainians and 4.9 % others.
Ethnic Russians form 56% of the total Russian-speaking population, while the remaining Russophones are people of other ethnic background: 5,545,000 Ukrainians, 172,000 Belarusians, 86,000 Jews, 81,000 Greeks, 62,000 Bulgarians, 46,000 Moldavians, 43,000 Tartars, 43,000 Armenians, 22,000 Poles, 21,000 Germans, and 15,000 Crimean Tartars.
Furthermore, that number does not even reflect the actual usage of Russian in everyday life. According to a 2004 public opinion poll by the Kyiv International Sociology Institute, Russian is used at home by 43–46% of the population of the country (in other words a similar proportion to Ukrainian).
By regions, this accounts for 86.8% of the population in the east, 82.3% in the south and 46.9% in the east-centre. Russian language also dominates in both print and electronic media. The Ukrainian state subsidizes nearly 3,000 Russian schools. That’s discrimination?
Under Russian rule successive governments attempted to eradicate the Ukrainian language. The Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Pyotr Valuev in 1863 issued a secret decree that banned the publication of religious texts and educational texts written in Ukrainian.
This ban was expanded by Tsar Alexander II with the Ems Ukaz of 1876 which prohibited all Ukrainian language books and song lyrics as well as the importation of such works. Under the USSR, the Ukrainian language was not officially banned, but certainly frowned upon, suffered russification, and its usage declined.
If the PRU is so concerned about minority linguistic rights, why don’t they turn to their masters in the Kremlin? While, as noted earlier, Kyiv pays for 3,000 Russian schools in Ukraine, Russia doesn’t even pay for one to serve its 3-5 million strong Ukrainian minority (depending on official or unofficial figures).
Recent articles in Window on Eurasia, by analyst Paul Goble outlined some of the glaring discrepancies between Russian education in Ukraine and Ukrainian education in Russia. In Ukraine, 1.3 million children are studying Russian; but in Russia, only 205 are studying Ukrainian, a number so low that it can only involve students at a school attached to the Ukrainian embassy.
Ukraine currently publishes 1.5 million Russian-language textbooks and 125,000 Russian-Ukrainian dictionaries each year, whereas the Russian Federation government is not paying for the publication of a single copy of a Ukrainian-language book for students in that country. Furthermore, Moscow is seeking to suppress Ukrainian cultural organizations in Russia.
Because the Ukrainian language was threatened with extinction in its own homeland through Russian policies, it was necessary to provide the bare minimum of security for its continuation.
Frankly, existing Ukrainian language legislation is already toothless. So what’s the problem? Is it unreasonable to expect a minority to learn the language of the country they are living in, while preserving their own? Or do they really expect their own to dominate at the expense of the native language?
This is not therefore a matter of minority rights – but of minority rule, much as was the case in Apartheid-era South Africa.