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Controversial language law causing unrest in Ukraine

Followers of political affairs in Europe will be well aware of recent goings on in Ukraine, but for those of you that haven’t seen the controversy that has been caused by a language law, then let me explain.

In early July the Ukrainian government made an unexpected decision to pass a controversial law that made Russian an official language in areas of the country where it is predominantly spoken.

In a country where language is a very contentious issue this consequently caused mass protests, with hundreds of protesters and activists clashing with police, who used tear gas to disperse crowds.

Many people were taken to hospital with injuries as a result. It is believed that several civilians also went on hunger strike in anger at the vote.

Most Ukrainians understandably deem the Ukrainian language as vital to the country’s identity, and with a well documented history of Soviet and Russian hegemony, they feel that to truly be Ukrainian, you must speak the language.

So by passing this law to make Russian an officially recognised language, many have been angered and fear that this move by the government will only serve to have a negative impact upon the Ukrainian language, damaging its integrity.

The new law was drafted by Ukrainian President Mr Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions, and was adopted by parliament on Tuesday 3 July without any debate on the numerous amendments. This, along with the fact that it effectively boosts the Russian language, is why many felt it only necessary to take to the streets and show their feelings.

One Ukrainian political commentator named Roman Tsupryk was reported to have made this stark observation: “This law is sending an incredibly powerful signal that the Ukrainian language is not needed.”

Russian is the native language of most people living in eastern and southern Ukraine. The bill will grant Russian ‘regional language’ status.

The major fear is that this move will dilute Ukraine’s sovereignty and in turn push Ukraine back towards Moscow’s sphere of influence.

Of course, Ukrainian will remain the official language. However, Russian could now be used in the public sector, courts and educational institutions throughout Russian-speaking regions.

The new law says local officials can use a “regional language” if at least 10% of the local population are native speakers of that language. Those officials would have to know the regional language and be able to use it in their official duties.

People will have the choice of which language they wish to have their documents issued in, either Ukrainian or regional.

What are your thoughts on the passing of this law, and do you think it will have a negative impact upon Ukrainian as a language? Let us know via the comment box below.

For more information on Ukrainian and our Ukrainian language services, click here. For more information on our Russian services, click here.

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About Sharon Stephens

Sharon Stephens is Operations Director of Lingua Translation. With a First Class Honours Degree in Translation and a University Lecturer in Translation (Masters), she is a self confessed language geek! Bringing the academic principles of translation and business together Sharon offers a quality-driven and needs centric translation and interpreting service - like no other.

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