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Ukraine: Minority Languages May Become Official in Parts of the Country

(Aug. 13, 2012) On August 8, 2012, the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, signed into law the Principles of State Language Policy Act adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament on July 3. (Yanukovich Signed into Law the Act on Status of Russian in Ukraine [in Russian], ROSSIISKAIA GAZETA (Aug. 8, 2012).) The Act was initiated by the pro-government parliamentary faction Party of Regions and was hotly debated. After the Law passed, four parliamentary resolutions aimed at repealing it were introduced, but they did not receive enough parliamentary support. (President of Ukraine Signed a Scandalous Law on the Status of Russian Language [in Russian], GAZETA.RU (Aug. 8, 2012).)

According to the Act, which was officially published on the Parliament's website (last visited Aug. 10, 2012), Ukrainian will remain the only state language of the country (art. 6). However, in the regions where at least ten percent of the population considers another language as their native tongue, that language may receive official status. It appears that Russian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Armenian, Yiddish, Tatar, German, Polish, Romanian, and other languages may be recognized as official regional languages (art. 7).

A special procedure for granting official regional status to a minority language is prescribed by the Act. If the status is granted, the minority language will be used together with Ukrainian in local branches of government institutions, enterprises, and state and local educational and cultural establishments (art. 11). In regions where minority languages are granted official status, they can also be used in courts, if both parties agree to do so (art. 14).

Opponents of the Act believe that, as was stated in one of the Venice Commission's conclusions, this policy may result in “disproportionately strengthening the position of the Russian language, without taking appropriate measures to confirm the role of Ukrainian as the state language, and without duly ensuring protection of other regional and minority languages.” (European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission), Opinion No. 651/2011 on the Draft Law on Principles of the State Language Policy (Dec. 19, 2011), ¶ 4 (last visited Aug. 10, 2012).) Russian is widely spoken in Ukraine and can be established as an official regional language in 13 of 27 Ukrainian regions. (Yanukovich Signed into Law the Act on Status of Russian in Ukraine, supra.)

Prepared by Virab Khachatryan, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Peter Roudik, Director of the Global Legal Research Center.