Language scandal in Ukraine: Three draft laws that upset the public

The Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee for culture and morality, Ukrainian MP Mykola Knyazhytsky, wrote on his Facebook page that there are three patriotic draft laws concerning language policy in the country: draft law #5556 “On languages in Ukraine,” draft law #5669 “On functioning of Ukrainian language as the state language and procedure for the use of other languages in Ukraine” and draft law #5670 “On the state language of Ukraine.”

Knyazhytsky promised that the specialized committee will rapidly reach compromise and propose an adequate draft for the consideration of the deputies. It is expected that voting will take place in February. The draft laws received ambiguous responses on the Internet.

The essence of laws

The Ukrainian language would become compulsory for all state authorities and local public authorities. This relates to holding of meetings, processing of documents, requests of citizens. The framers also want to make Ukrainian language compulsory for pre-school, school, non-school and higher education establishments. All cultural-mass performances on Ukrainian scenes would be held exclusively in the state language.

Movies in Ukraine will be shot only in Ukrainian and separate lines in other languages should have subtitles in the Ukrainian language. In addition, there is a proposal to make Ukrainian compulsory for all media outlets. Programs in other languages should be dubbed. TV Channels will be obliged to provide simultaneous interpretation in Ukrainian if any of the participants of a program speak in a different language.

The committee also wants to oblige electronic media to have a page in Ukrainian language, which should be loaded for the user by default. The names of geographical objects of Ukraine will not be translated into other languages.

Fines for non-compliance

The draft law provides for a fine in the amount of 200 to 400 tax-free minimum incomes that equal 3,400 to 6,800 hryvnias for non-compliance of its provisions as applied to the work of official authorities and budgetary organizations.

From 200 to 300 tax-free minimum incomes will be applied to the field of education, science and culture. From 400 to 500 tax-free minimum incomes will apply to media. Criminal liability can be incurred for attempts to introduce official multilingualism in Ukraine and it could be considered as an attempt to overthrow the state order. Public disrespect for the language can be considered as desecration of the state symbols of Ukraine.

The pros and cons of language laws

The Ukrainian MP, Anton Herashchenko, believes that a law that protects the Ukrainian language will result in the dominance of the Russian Federation. Herashchenko cited the examples of Canada and Switzerland, where several languages obtained the status of state languages. “If we continue to divide the country, figure out what language who speaks, then we will get Russian dominance here,” the Ukrainian MP summarized.

However, Ukrainian writer Yuriy Vynnychuk is sure that the law on Ukrainian language should be radical and not less pliant than in France or Poland after centuries of total Russification. 

“The very appearance of a draft law is political technology. Introduce the topic for discord, which has already been used many times over the past ten years. If talks about Ukrainian language have started, we should get ready for unpleasant events,” Viktor Nebozhenko, a well-known political scientist, stated.