KIEV - Reuters
Police spray tear gas against the group protesting the bill in Kiev in this July photo. AP photo
Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich on Aug. 8 signed into law a bill which will make Russian
the official language in parts of the former Soviet republic, angering opponents who warn it risks splitting the country.
Yanukovich’s Regions rushed the language bill through parliament last month in what opponents saw as an attempt to rally flagging public support in Russian-speaking regions ahead of the October vote.
The move led to street protests in the capital Kiev and brawls in parliament as the opposition, which fears it will lead to the status of Ukrainian as the state language being eroded, fought to block it.
But Yanukovich, who is on holiday in Crimea, on Aug. 8, took advantage of the lack of political activity in the summer lull to sign it into law.
Opponents of the bill say it is a blow to the fragile sovereignty of a country long divided between regional powers and persecuted by Moscow’s tsars and its Communist leaders. They say it will mean that knowledge and usage of Ukrainian will die out in traditional Russian-speaking areas.
Supporters of the bill say it responds to reality on the ground and will mean that Russian
speakers will not be discriminated against in state sector employment on the basis of language.
A statement by the presidential administration said he had instructed his government to take the necessary steps to adopt local legislation to take account of the new law.
Opposition politicians, including Tymoshenko and one-time foreign minister Arseny Yatseniuk whose two parties have united to fight the election together, have described the bill as a “crime against the state” which could set citizens at each other’s throats.
“Yanukovich has managed to do everything that the Russian
emperors and the Soviet general secretaries could not do. He has passed a death sentence on the Ukrainian language,” Oleg Medvedev, an opposition strategist, said.