THE LANGUAGE BATTLE - DAY 2

04.07.12


Language montage

Today has been a bitter battle of assertion and accusation between the opposition, the ruling Party of the Regions and Government Ministers.

The day began with clashes between protesters and riot police outside the Ukrayinskiy Dim in Kyiv. Tear gas was used to try to disperse crowds and there were several injuries. Other cities, including Lviv, Kharkiv and Donetsk, have held public meetings and are settling in for protest demonstrations. The police seized tents being put up by protesters in Kharkiv, and the Kyiv City Council has banned all public meetings in the centre of Kyiv for the next 4 days. Even so, the opposition is calling on its supporters to come to Kyiv for a demonstration outside Verkhovna Rada tomorrow. It is reported that buses carrying protesters from various parts of Ukraine are being stopped and turned back by the police. Read more about protests throughout Ukraine here. Demonstrators in Donetsk have written to the President demanding that the two authors of the bill are stripped of their Ukrainian citizenship.

On the political front, the Speaker of Verkhovna Rada, Volodymyr Lytvyn and his deputy, Mykola Tomenko said this morning that they were resigning in protest at yesterday's passing of the language bill. Members of the opposition said that Lytvyn had promised them that he would not sign the bill under any circumstances, which would mean that the bill could not then go to the President for ratification. However, his press secretary said, in a statement later in the day that he had made no such promise and that he had not held any meetings with the opposition. The statement also says that Lytvyn will sign the law provided that proper Parliamentary procedures are followed. The opposition are saying that 7 MPs heard Lytvyn make the promise.

The President, Viktor Yanukovych, delayed a press conference planned for this morning to hold a meeting with MPs about the situation. The meeting included members of the Party of the Regions and the Communist Party amongst others, but opposition MPs refused to attend. He said that he did not rule out the possibility of immediate parliamentary elections as a result of the situation, but the only official statement from the President today is that he will study the language bill and then make a decision, but that his main concern will be political stability in Ukraine.

Various MPs and political figures have joined in with their views. Three Party of the Regions MPs, Orest Muts (Ternopil), Vasyl Chudnov (Ivano-Franksivsk) and Petro Pysarchuk (Lviv) have withdrawn their vote in favour of the bill, saying that they left the chamber of Verkhovna Rada and did not know that the bill was to be discussed. As soon as they found out that their voting cards had been used, they made a complaint to the Parliamentary authorities. This is in addition to the MP who is abroad, whose voting card was also used in his absence.

Prime Minister Azarov has strongly attacked the opposition, saying that they are seeking to deny half the country the right to speak in their native language and that they, not the Party of the Regions, are displaying contempt for democracy. Ex-President Viktor Yushchenko, whose party "Nasha Ukrayina" is not part of the united opposition party, has blamed opposition politicians for the language bill, saying that the demonstrators have shown more courage on the streets than they have in parliament. Church leaders have written to the President urging him not to sign the language bill on the grounds that it divides the nation and creates conflict which will damage the foundation of Ukraine's independence and sovereignty.

In the evening session of Parliament, a new draft law has been registered, which would nullify the language bill. The law was deposited last night by two "Batkivshchyna" MPs, Yuriy Odarchenko and Stepan Kurpil.

Perhaps the last word should go to Petro Poroshenko, Economic Development and Trade Minister, who said that the bill was a further step towards confrontation. Instead of building on the success of Euro 2012, lawmakers had decided to go for an 'absurd' confrontation which risked spilling over into the economy of Ukraine.

This has been a sad day for Ukraine, and there are no signs of the political turmoil abating.



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