Ukraine’s lawless language law

The Yanukovych regime’s handling of the language law “is a classic example of its utter hypocrisy.”

If you are a political strategist in Ukraine and you really want to divide the electorate, follow the lead of President Viktor Yanukovych and his supporting cast of MPs in the parliament, primarily from his own Party of Regions and corrupt hangers-on including the Communist Party and others whose consciences are for sale to the highest bidder. Using these unscrupulous methods you would clearly be able to determine your electorate, the strength of your purported opposition and many other factors.
Although some time has now passed since the terrible day when activities that have been pointed out not only as underhanded but contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution and the parliament’s rules of procedure were used to past the so-called language law that is not only aimed at making Russian an official language of the land but at the same time elevating the status of other minority languages.

Incidentally, I think it is correct to refer to the power structure not as two separate entities as called for by the Constitution. The government is made up of a well-ordered group of yes men who are well-practiced at listening to the every nuance coming from the top and acting accordingly. Thus, I think referring to the presidential administration and the government as the Yanukovych regime is not only correct but an honest and proper description of the current power structure.

The regime’s handling of the language law is a classic example of its utter hypocrisy. When it is convenient, the regime will point with pride, as it does in the language area, to its attempts to comply with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Of course, at the same time the regime totally ignores a finding in the Lutsenko case that said in part: “Mr Lutsenko’s arrest had been arbitrary; that no valid reasons had been given for his detention.” It is exactly this kind of situational ethics and actions that will undoubtedly preclude serious progress on Ukraine’s European integration.

Twenty years of big talk and little progress on democracy continues

Since 1993 I have criticized many of my friends who were involved in politics for not pushing to establish normal policy analysis practices within all government structures at every level. However, what has happened in the nearly twenty years since I started pointing these matters out to a very nationalistically minded core group, very little progress has been seen.

Unfortunately, many of those I started trying to guide are now no longer with us, but clearly the only people who do any policy analysis are NGOs and think tanks within the country. For the most part they are not financed by any of the leading “parties” or by Ukraine’s population, but foreign entities that really do want to see Ukraine develop in to a true democracy, and a true market economy. Unfortunately, while Ukraine was on the right path of achieving these, and the later of the two was recognized by the world community some time ago, nothing lasts forever – particularly when the rule of law is not followed and some basic democratic principles are not followed.

This is very much the case of what the Party of Regions has become, and has always been, a bunch of bandits who have no respect for any laws. In the simplest forms of democracy and voting, where an open vote is done, things are done by a showing of hands. Then the chairperson of the gathering will simply count the hands. Very straight forward and simple, and it works.

Ukraine for some reason decided that they had to automate everything, including their voting system in the VR, trying to mimic well developed democracies where the rule of law actually works and those elected to their positions are to more or less of a degree God fearing individuals with a conscience. We can forget about anyone who was ever a member of the Communist party for being of that ilk. Thus, almost anyone in the parliament over the age of fifty is likely to fit that mold.

The parliament’s automated voting system was not a matter of improving democratic efforts, but exactly the opposite. It allows members who are seldom present to go forward with business and personal interests while any vote called in the Rada sees party leaders and apparatchiks “doing the monkey dance,” in which one party stalwart may hold and vote 10 to 20 voting cards belonging to absent members.

This is not only anti-democratic; it amounts to a form of sanctioned fraud. With the voting by present members for the often-absent ones, it is impossible for citizens to know how much attention any MP is paying to the business for which he or she is well-paid.

This fraudulent voting system will remain until citizens understand the level to which it is abused and demand that members must be present to cast ballots, as in the case in almost any civilized country in the world.

We commend Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and Deputy Speaker Mykola Tomenko who at least had the decency to submit their resignations to protest the illegal passage of the language law. However, one has to wonder if their efforts might not have been better aimed by remaining at their posts and fighting to right this obvious legislatives miscarriage.

We further commend all those honest Ukrainian MPs and other political figures who have spoken out against this illegal action. However, we feel constrained to agree with those who have said that the language fight was stage managed in such a ways to provide a smoke screen to shield a myriad of actions by the regime’s cohorts in the parliament to assure that the people had the narrowest choices possible in the October elections.

Unfortunately those in the regime, its party structure and hangers-on have successfully used the furor over the language law to good effect in dividing Ukrainian society when the focus should be on uniting to oppose the expanding power grab of the power incumbents. One can only hope that enough people see through this political smoke screen and concentrate on bringing some balance back to the Rada to make it less like the quack-on-demand body that’s Russia Duma has become.

Looking toward the future

So what has this piece of legislation that was passed on July 3 in a manner and procedure which contradicts the “rule of law” precipitated? And here we are not talking of the general principles of the Rule of Law, but all the procedures of the VR. How can anyone take this legislation seriously? Before looking at what is going on let’s just take a look where society stands on the language issue in Ukraine and a couple of aspects of this newest language legislation, which cannot become law so long as Lytvyn refuses to sign it.

I started this commentary with a foray into the problems of lack of policy analysis in Ukraine at a government level and with good reason. The issue of language in Ukraine is a thorny one, with the polling by the Razumkov Center showing that one in four Ukrainian citizens are for giving the Russian language official status as a state language in certain regions of the country, while other pollsters state that 46% of those polled were “against” giving Russian official status while 45% were “for” providing this. The legislation that was “voted” on, as many analysts have pointed out, is full of gaping holes, inconsistencies and lack of clarity and only opens up Pandora’s box when it comes to human rights and minority language issues. The goal of the legislation is clear, to make Russian an official language in Ukraine, and to eventually eradicate the Ukrainian language and other minority languages all together. It is a long term plan in the guise of being in favor of minority languages in the country.

Having grown up in Canada, a country that has touted itself as bilingual for many years, and even multicultural, I have some idea of what the costs are, both actual and some of those that are not as tangible until one has to deal with the realities of such a society. At the beginning of this year the Fraser Institute, a leading Canadian think-tank, issued a report on the cost of official bilingualism in Canada. The figure is quite astounding – $2.4 billion. Has anyone thought of what it will cost Ukraine to implement the said piece of legislation? Probably not. Can Ukraine really afford to implement such a piece of legislation? In all fairness, probably not. Then please tell me why the clowns in the nation’s parliament would even table such a document?

The said piece of legislation calls for the possibility of using regional languages in regional self-government, the court system and decisions of certain government institutions can be published not both in Ukrainian and the minority language but solely in the minority language of that region or district. What happens then to the individual who doesn’t speak or understand the minority language of the given region they live? I guess they are simply out of luck. Then there is even an article which deals with passports. A citizen of Ukraine has to choose from at least one of eighteen regional languages, in addition to Ukrainian, this language will be used in addition to Ukrainian to enumerate all the particulars which a standard passport has to convey. The authors of this legislation clearly have an agenda that has nothing to do with logic, national unity or economy in government. Their only aim is short-term political gain with no thought whatsoever for the best long-term interests of the country.

As for what has resulted from this legislation, anyone who follows news in Ukraine will know that peaceful protests in front of Ukrainian House, located on European Square in the heart of Kyiv, started almost immediately and will continue probably for some months at a minimum or until this law is given the burial that it so rightly deserves.

This building is the perfect place for such action since it was formerly the Lenin Museum, designed as a place of veneration of the founder of the Soviet state under the old Communist regime. During the first days of those protests peaceful protestors were pitted against the strong arm of the law in full battle dress ready to crack a few skulls because that is what the leader of the country clearly is not against doing. It clearly seemed to me that the use of Berkut, a special division of the Ministry of the Interior, were there to defend this memorial to Lenin and all that he stood for during Soviet times. The Berkut’s presence and actions had nothing to do with a peaceful demonstration in an independent Ukraine.

Clearly, Yanukovych knows nothing more than brute strength and disrespect for the law to stay in power and control and will stop at nothing to hold his position. Killing someone to stay in power is not out of his sphere. I am certain of this. He has disrespected normal diplomatic approaches to resolving some of his problems he current faces with the international community because of the blatantly obvious political prosecutions that have been decried in almost every democratic capital.

Yes, contrary to what his regime tries to tell everyone it is very clear that the arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko, Yuriy Lutsenko and many others is nothing but a way of keeping them out of the picture, so why on earth would he give a damn about some student who cares about his country, and one of the most essential aspects of a nation, it’s language?

However, even before the buffoons in parliament voted on the language legislation, an MP and long-time activist, Oles Doniy spearheaded the formation of the all-Ukrainian Committee for the Protection of the Ukrainian Language on June 27, 2012. It is no secret that Doniy spread the word using every means possible to get people to gather in front of Ukrainian House. As always, every political party had to have its say, and soon those who were left were the hard core believers in the cause.

On July 7, there were eleven protestors who started a hunger strike as they see the government purposefully introduced such legislation in order to cause a rift in Ukrainian society prior to the fall elections. Of the eleven who started the hunger strike a week ago eight remain, as the others had to be hospitalized, and on July 13 held a briefing to once again reiterate their demands that the President not sign draft law №9073 into law.

They also made clear to the Russian speaking portion of the population that the authorities shouldn’t be believed. The hunger strikers holding the briefing in front of Ukrainian House also expressed their concern regarding freedom of speech, and more particularly repressions by the government that have been experienced by TVi, Channel 5 and ATV.

While these protests continue, and most Ukrainians just try to survive, there are many things that continue to sneak by us on a daily basis. One of the little oddities that didn’t slip by me was the Twitter postings of Eduard Prystupa former vocalist with TNMK and now lead man of the group Nedilia. Sometime in the last week or so, his posts started appearing in Ukrainian whereas earlier his tweets were primarily in Russian. However, individuals are fickle, and once again I have found most of his recent entries in Russian, though like any social media savvy politician he may simply be targeting particular segments of his fan base.

So have the illegal actions of MPs had an influence on Mr. Prystupa? I can’t say for certain, but it seems that if he is now tweeting in Ukrainian and may continue to do so in the future, then he and plenty of other people in Ukraine still believe that the Rule of Law is much more important than the legislation which is passed on their behalf.

I say that the country should forget the language law and get back to bringing Ukraine into compliance with rules of law that are universally observed in the Europe that we continue to see as our ultimate destination. The European Court for Human Rights has already sent the Yanukovych regime one strong message and they may soon get another.

Vasyl Pawlowsky
Independent Consultant

The commentary of this was first published on the Ukraine Business Online site.