Ukrainian protests flare up against new language law

Yesterday 03.07.2012, Ukraine passed a controversial language law, recognising Ukrainian as the official national language, but at the same time granting regional language status to Russian. The passing of the bill was met with several large-scale protests outside Ukraine house in Kiev yesterday evening. According to the BBC website today the police have intervened in an attempt to disperse the crowds with tear gas.

The root of the problem lies with the political position of Russian in the Ukraine. While it is the mother tongue of roughly 10% of its citizens in the east and south of the country, it is also a reminder of the years of Soviet control, which only came to an end in 1991 on the collapse of the Soviet Union. The status of Russian as a language in Ukraine therefore pushes issues such as Ukrainian national identity, the country’s political proximity to Russia and the image of Ukrainian independence into the spotlight. As mentioned in the New York Times’ online article about the Ukrainian protests, former Soviet satellite state, Latvia also refused to hold a referendum earlier this year: a referendum that also favoured an official and bureaucratic recognition of Russian in the country. In this sense, Ukraine is certainly not alone in the problematic relationship between Russian and the national language.

For Ukraine, this tension has claimed the foreground of the current political picture, as the government finds itself torn between those who are native Russian Ukrainian speakers and demand the right for their mother tongue to be recognised, and those who feel that Ukrainian is one of the key ways in which the country’s independence asserts itself against the former Russian-based control that was imposed upon the country for so many years. In addition to this, some Ukrainians believe the passing of the bill to represent a political tactic for the President Mr. Yanukovich, to secure votes in the Russian speaking parts of Ukraine in the forthcoming elections.

The uproar caused by the passing of this bill in the Ukrainian parliament shows the significance a language can have for the people who speak it. It can represent a means of oppression or limitation; recall a certain image of the past and create a sense of personal identity. Giving a language a certain official status within a country is therefore not simply an aspect of necessary bureaucracy, but also a political statement, which, as seen in the current Ukrainian protests, has the power to either unite or divide a nation.

News sources include: The New York Times online, Yahoo UK News online, BBC news website.

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If you need translation or interpreting services worldwide, TJC offers a wide range of services in more than 100 languages and dialects. For more information, visit our website or contact us directly by email. If you would like to know more about Ukraine, please also visit our country profile page. TJC also offer translation and interpreting services in both Ukrainian and Russian, with professional linguists specialised in variety of fields such as law, environment, industry, engineering, oil and gas and business.

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