The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday approved the first reading of a bill which will significantly enhance the status of the Russian language in the country.
If it becomes law, Russian will acquire the status as “a regional language” in parts of Ukraine where it is the native tongue of at least 10 percent of the population, which is in 13 of Ukraine’s 27 territorial-administrative districts, including the cities of Kiev and Sevastopol.
Under the bill, Ukrainian would actually remain the only state language, but restrictions would be lifted on the use of other languages spoken in the country, including Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Hungarian, granting them official regional status.
Russian is still used in much of Ukraine, especially in the east, Crimea and the capital Kiev, and there is a strong movement to protect the rights of Russian speakers. The bill allows the parliament, government, and other legislative and executive bodies to publish their decisions in the regional language”, and enables TV companies to broadcast in that language.
The bill was passed by 234 votes with a required minimum of 226.
The parliamentary opposition vowed to block the second reading of the bill, and members of the opposition factions walked out of the Supreme Rada in protest against it.
“We have nothing to do with those who have betrayed their own people,” said Andriy Shkil, deputy head of the opposition BYuT-Batkivshchina parliamentary faction, addressing the ruling Party of Regions.
The authors of the bill maintain that it preserves the status of Ukrainian as the only state language.
However, the opposition regards it as a ploy by the ruling party, ahead of parliamentary elections, due in October, to deepen divisions between the country’s Ukrainian and Russian speakers.