Nations do not die of a heart attack. First, they are deprived of their language.
So that Lina Kostenko’s words do not come true for Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada is considering the draft law on the official language 5670-d. What will the draft law change in the society and will it be approved? We will tell you about the most significant changes for Ukrainians and the arguments against the draft law.
Spook stories that we can read online are far from the truth. Indeed, at first the draft law had an article on language inspectors. After all, the text was developed taking into account the experience of the Baltic States and France. In particular, language inspectors have been working since 1991 in Estonia and this fact causes no significant disturbances in society – their work positively affects the state of the Estonian language. In fact, the problems are caused by speculations around this issue rather than language inspectors themselves. To prevent these speculations, MPs have removed any reference to language inspectors from the draft law before the first reading.
The office of the official language commissioner (responsible for the protection of the official language) will be introduced and the secretariat of the commissioner will be established within six months after the law enactment.
The commissioner and their secretariat will be able to respond to complaints of violation of the law, in particular to check any official who has not responded to a citizen’s request in Ukrainian.
They will also be able to check, for example, a newsagent’s. If the law is adopted, each outlet will have to distribute at least 50% of titles of printed publications in Ukrainian. Also, all publications will have a mandatory Ukrainian language version, except for the exceptions provided for by law. Also, if in a newsagent’s you ask, for example, for “Viva!” magazine or “Football” magazine and it will be available in the languages other than Ukrainian, you will be able to complain to the commissioner about this violation.
Checks are possible only in cases clearly stipulated by law.
There are no penalties for using any language in everyday life. You can talk to your child in English. You can communicate with your friend in Chinese. Or you can speak to a passerby in Swahili.
Shop assistants, builders, cooks, hairdressers, etc. will not be required to present any certificate. However those performing public functions (for example shop assistants) will have to comply with the law and render services in Ukrainian.
The law envisages establishment of a committee on official language standards six months after it enters into force. The committee will take care of holding a state exam, will prepare tests, and monitor the process. Those who will still need to take the exam in the future will have enough time to prepare.
If you already hold an office, you do not need to take any additional exams in the Ukrainian language or complete certification. But if you have plans for a leadership position – like the President of Ukraine, the head of the SSU, school principal or a civil servant, etc. – you will have to take the exam and get a state certificate about the level of proficiency in the official language. There is even a gradation – from the lowest to the highest level of language proficiency.
Also, those who want to become a citizen of Ukraine will have to take the exam.
Those who wish to get a job as a teacher, health care professional, become a contracted military officer, private/sergeant/senior police officer, etc., will only need a certificate of secondary education, provided that such a document confirms that the person has taken a course in the Ukrainian language at school.
The language law does not interfere with religion or religious practices.
The draft law does not stipulate interference with the everyday life, in particular religious rites. You will be able to baptize a child in any church and in any language you want. By the way, a Russian-speaking priest or an English-speaking pastor can officiate your wedding ceremony. In no way will the draft law affect the church service or your religion.
Exceptions are stipulated for print media published in English or in other EU languages and whose target audience is foreigners. Therefore, KyivPost and other foreign magazines or newspapers will continue to be issued and sold in English, German, etc. only – in accordance with their traditional activities. There are no restrictions here. It would be illogical to force a publication that informs foreigners about the current situation in Ukraine to formulate the same messages for the Ukrainian audience. Foreigners will not buy Ukrainian copies.
You can study any language, based on own preference and at your own discretion. The language of national minorities will not be affected. In the draft law, the article on education is copied in its entirety from the law “On Education”, which was reviewed by the Venice Commission and received a generally positive opinion.
In addition, persons belonging to national minorities whose languages are official EU languages and who began their studies at secondary school by September 1, 2018, will continue to study according to old rules by September 1, 2023. First of all, this is due to the need to prepare Ukrainian-language teachers.
Law enforcement officials will be able to communicate with a person who does not understand the official language in a language acceptable to both parties or with the help of an interpreter. So, for example, an English-speaking tourist asking a police officer how to get to the stadium will be able to get an answer in English.
The language of television
An important provision of the draft law is an increase in the minimum Ukrainian-language quota on television – up to 90% for national and up to 80% for local channels. No less important is that only truly Ukrainian-language programs and films will be regarded as Ukrainian-language programs and films rather than bilingual ones as is the case now.
An article about the language of television evokes opposition on the part of some TV channel owners. In particular, “during the amendments consideration on March 20, certain MPs insisted on the removal of these norms from the second reading version. According to their requirements, these norms were removed from the first reading version, but the relevant committee on culture and spirituality still brought them back in the second reading version,” explains Serhii Osnach, one of the authors of the draft law 5670-d.
The authors of the draft law hope that the MPs will still vote for a real rather than declarative Ukrainization of TV. Moreover, the above norms will come into force in two years.
What about media advertising?
Advertising will be exclusively Ukrainian. The exception will be applied to media in the official EU languages only. After all, if the media, for example, is German-speaking, it makes no sense to target such an audience with Ukrainian-language advertising and thus reduce the profitability of the media.
Ukrainian-language software interfaces
Commodities (smartphones, TVs, etc.) must have a software interface in Ukrainian.
However, for example, specialized medical or scientific equipment may also be used with software that has English-language interface, as there is no need to risk the lives of patients or to hinder research for the purpose of Ukrainianization of uncommon devices.
Yaryna Yasynevych, Program Manager at the Center for the Study of the Liberation Movement, advises considering the language draft law from four perspectives.
The first one is the fulfillment of the provisions of the Constitution which everyone is obliged to adhere in a rule-of-law state.
The second one is cultural. The Ukrainian language, its protection and development will allow preserving, developing and, therefore, sharing the unique cultural heritage of our people with the world.
The third one is objectively historic. A long period of deliberate destruction of the Ukrainian language using both political methods (restrictions, sanctions, prohibition) and physical murders has led to the situation in which modern generation has to rectify the situation, help the language to return the lost position and create a space for its development. Despite political manipulation, the draft law does not interfere with the private sphere and does not contain norms that can look like the oppression of other languages even remotely.
The fourth perspective contains integration and economic factors.
“The same level of official language proficiency will provide Ukrainian citizens with equal access to public services and education throughout the country, helping to avoid barriers to competition in the labor market. Requirements for the creation of a Ukrainian-language product will contribute to the creation of additional markets and workplaces, as we have seen on the example of film dubbing,” concludes Yasynevych.
If there are genuinely well-considered arguments against the draft law in any of these four perspectives, they should be taken into account. So far, the Ukrainian information space is dominated by manipulative technologies which can only be countered by the critical minds of Ukrainians.
On the one hand, the draft law is attacked by the representatives of the faction “Opposition Bloc” in the Verkhovna Rada and the pro-Kremlin forces in general. They submitted the largest number of amendments to the draft law to delay approval. The technology is quite well-known; and we have to face it, it is efficient.
Experts point out that the “Opposition Bloc” is trying to create a maximum conflict around the language topic demonstrating alleged protection of its voters. The draft law was passed in the first reading on October 4, 2018, and more than two thousand amendments were submitted, almost half of them were filed by the representatives of the “Opposition Bloc”.
Now, the Verkhovna Rada is considering all the amendments so that there are no issues regarding the procedures. It is impossible to approve all these amendments as a package since the Constitutional Court may subsequently declare the law non-compliant with the Constitution because of a violation of the adoption procedure. As a result, the law will simply cease to be in force.
On the other hand, some radical elements stand against the draft law.
Representatives of radical forces accuse the authors of the draft law and its defenders of excessive liberalism and demand the ban on teaching in the languages of ethnic minorities, as well as criticize the norm according to which a shop assistant, at the request of the buyer, can serve them not only in Ukrainian, but in some other language acceptable to the parties.
Moreover, certain politicians argue that the law on language is not necessary at all, because the status of the Ukrainian language as the official language is stipulated in the Constitution.
The manipulation is rather cynical, stresses Serhii Osnach:
“The Constitution clearly states that the issue of the use of languages in Ukraine is governed exclusively by law. The Constitution does not specify how the official language should be applied in specific spheres of public life – it can be clearly stated only in a law, as well as provide for mechanisms for control and sanctions for its violation”.
Although the draft law envisages control over its enforcement and penalties for its violations, it is rather flexible at the same time. It facilitates rather than forces.
De facto, after the abolition of the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law, there is no language law in general in Ukraine, and the use of the official language is regulated only in some areas: at the civil service, radio and so on. The general legislative vacuum creates favorable conditions for speculations by politicians, linguistic conflicts and local abuses.
“Moscow has pulled out all the stops. The Kremlin is spreading a variety of horror stories voiced by these forces, and the only goal is the disruption of voting for the draft law No. 5670-d. It spreads a lie that the law will determine the language in which Ukrainians will be forced to speak in everyday life. On the other hand, it also spreads a myth that the draft law is cosmetic in nature and promotes Russification because it protects the rights of national minorities rather than the Ukrainian language,” notes Taras Shamaida, one of the authors of the draft law 5670-d.
The revision of the draft law recommended for the second reading is more balanced than the one in the first reading. For example, in the case of English-language publications: the norm on the mandatory duplication of the site version and circulation in Ukrainian was removed for the electronic and print media published in the languages of the European Union and indigenous peoples. The absence of the Ukrainian language printed version if the copy (website) is published in languages other than those mentioned above will be considered a violation.
In the development of the current draft law, the number of planned state bodies which would control the observance of the new provisions on the use of the official language was also reduced.
Some stage directors of theatrical performances also put forward arguments against the adoption of the draft law. Because it stipulates that state and municipal theaters should ensure Ukrainian translation by means of subtitling, dubbing or in any other way if a performance is staged in a language other than the Ukrainian language. On the other hand, opponents of the law in the theater environment do not offer any own ideas to increase the number of Ukrainian-language performances. It seems that they are quite satisfied with the current situation.
Of course, at first, the adoption of the law will create additional financial burden for small theaters that earn little. But this issue is being addressed. After all, equipment for subtitling is not too expensive and has been used successfully in some Ukrainian theaters.
A mere 10-12 years ago, the entire film industry in Ukraine was completely Russian-speaking. When the government began to introduce partial, and then full dubbing in Ukrainian, initially, there was a lot of criticism. Ukrainians were frightened that all cinemas will simply close down. Today, we can see that such a decision not only did not harm, on the contrary, it became successful – the Ukrainian film industry appeared.
If the law on language is adopted, language standards will be introduced for television two years after the law enters into force.
We can see a similar story with the struggle for introducing quotas for Ukrainian products on the radio. Before, the share of Ukrainian-language products in prime time varied between 3 and 5%. Russian-language radio stations would say: “This is how the market works.” But time has shown that this was not “market”, it was the situation imposed by the oligarchs and pro-Moscow owners. Therefore, after the law set a 35% quota on Ukrainian songs (a similar quota is used in France), it was overfulfilled rather than fulfilled, because radio editors have finally noticed a lot of high-quality interesting Ukrainian music. There are hopes that with the introduction of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of public life, the Ukrainian film industry will develop even faster.
Some political scientists believe that, first and foremost, society should be interested in the economy rather than the issue of language. There is certain logic behind this: after all, without the economic development the state cannot function properly. But without the language of its own, the nation ceases to exist. According to experts, the draft law on language 5670-d does not contradict economic development, on the contrary, it will stimulate the development of many spheres of the economy and create jobs not only for philologists.
Ihor Koliushko, chairman of the Centre of Policy and Legal Reforms, draws attention to the fact that for many years the Ukrainian society has been forced to think that first of all it has to deal with the economy issues, while language and spiritual issues can wait, as they will resolve themselves when the socio-economic development level increases.
“Today one can confidently assert, referring not only to theory and philosophy, but to 27 years of experience of Ukrainian state development: attempts to develop economy without simultaneously addressing the issues of the growth in spirituality, national consolidation and patriotism lead to the growth of corruption, export of the results of economic growth abroad, emigration, etc., rather than the thriving society and the state,” emphasizes Koliushko.
According to the expert, the public agreement on the status of the official language, which must be enshrined in the law on the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the official language, is one of the most important elements of the foundation on which one can build national unity and spiritual development as a prerequisite for economic development.
On February 28, the Verkhovna Rada passed the draft law to the second reading.
According to experts, it is the supporter of the draft law – Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Andrii Parubiy – and the head of the relevant parliamentary committee and the author of the draft law, Mykola Kniazhytskyi, that are actively working to increase the chances of the document adoption. There is evolution in the draft law support by certain factions and groups in the Verkhovna Rada, which was not observed six months ago. While at first the full support for the law was granted by the factions of the People’s Front and Self Reliance, now we can see an increase in support among the representatives of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the Radical Party, Fatherland and some of non-attached MPs.
The parliament has its own agenda, regardless of the presidential or parliamentary elections – therefore, consideration of the draft law is not directly related to them. The adoption of the language law is not measured by the months of the election campaign. There is a well-known saying that politicians are thinking about the next election, while and statesmen and stateswomen are thinking about the future generations.
History of the draft law 5670-d
In the public environment, the work on the draft law on language started back in 2016. In the same year, the Coordinating Council on the Use of the Ukrainian Language in All Spheres of Public Life was established under the Ministry of Culture.
A working group entrusted with drafting the law led by Volodymyr Vasylenko, professor of law, diplomat, former Ukraine’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council, was created on the basis of the Coordinating Council. The working group included experts – Taras Shamaida, Serhii Osnach, Maksym Kobieliev, Taras Marusyk, Viktor Heneraliuk, Oksana Zabolotna, Yurii Hnatkevych, etc. Some experts offered suggestions remotely, such as Sviatoslav Litynskyi and Roman Matys. The drafting of the law was accompanied by consultations with many specialists in various spheres of public life.
In January 2017, on the basis of the draft law developed by Serhii Holovatyi and Oksana Syroid, the working group completed drafting of the law 5670 “On the Official Language”. It was submitted to the Verkhovna Rada by 33 MPs. Then, the draft law 5670 was finalized by a committee on culture and spirituality – taking into account the relevant provisions of other drafts and suggestions of experts. Thus, a draft law 5670-d “On Ensuring Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the Official Language” appeared. It was registered by 76 MPs – representatives of the majority of parliamentary factions in the Verkhovna Rada – in June of that year.
In October 2018, the draft law was adopted in principle in the Verkhovna Rada in the first reading. On February 28, 2019, the consideration of the draft law in the second reading started, and, in fact, the MPs moved to amendments consideration on March 12. Such a big pause between the first and second readings is due to a large number of amendments introduced, first of all, by the representatives of the “Opposition Bloc”, which the committee had to process. The delay in the second reading is also due to the fact that the MPs, especially those from the “Opposition Bloc”, insist on considering each amendment.
According to the authors’ plans, the 5670-d draft law should ensure comprehensive support for the Ukrainian language.
Photo: Serhii Nuzhnenko, Radio Svoboda