The Language Law: Myths and Reality
- Ø On April 25, 2019, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law of Ukraine "On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the state language". 278 Members of Parliament of Ukraine voted in favour of the draft law.
- Ø The law does not discriminate against the languages of national minorities and foreign languages in the territory of Ukraine. At the same time, the primary task of the Law is to eliminate the remnants of a discriminatory approach to the Ukrainian language, which is the legacy of the era of the Russian Empire and the USSR.
- Ø In Russia, the law was described as the one prohibiting the Russian language. However, in reality, the word "prohibition" is never met in the text of the Law, while the word "protection" is contained in dozens of time.
- Ø Under Russian aggression against Ukraine, the state language policy aimed at establishing Ukrainian as the state language should be considered not only in the humanitarian but also in the security context.
- Ø In this regard, Russia distributes disinformation myths and fakes, aimed at devaluing the adoption of a historical legal act for our state.
1. What is the essence of the Law? The law regulates the functioning of the law and the use of the Ukrainian language as the only state in the spheres of social life throughout Ukraine.
The Ukrainian language should be used by public authorities and local self-government bodies, as well as in other public spheres of public life.
2. Why to adopt the Law? Adoption of the Law is a requirement of the Constitution of Ukraine, which in 1996 established that the state language is Ukrainian, and its use is determined by law. Subsequently, this norm was provided by the official interpretation of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. According to its decision, the areas of compulsory use of the state language should be determined by law.
3. Does the Law limit the use of languages of the national minorities? – No. The law guarantees the rights of national minorities and indigenous peoples to use the languages of the respective national minorities and indigenous peoples, for pre-school and primary education, along with the state language, the language of the respective national minority of Ukraine, and the right to learn the languages of indigenous or national minorities in the institutions of general secondary education or through national cultural societies.
The peculiarities of the use of languages of national minorities and indigenous peoples will be determined by a separate law in accordance with the obligations of Ukraine pursuant to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which will be prepared half a year after the adoption of the Law "On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the state language".
The State undertakes to establish proper conditions for learning the state language for representatives of indigenous peoples, national minorities of Ukraine, foreigners and apatrides.
4. Does the Law envisage criminal liability for ignorance of the language? – No. The law does not prescribe any changes to the Criminal Code of Ukraine.
5. Is it true that communication in Russian on the street will be banned and the streets will be patrolled by the language police? – No. The law does not apply to the sphere of private communication and religious rites. The institution of the Language Inspectors itself has been removed from the text of the Law even before the second reading – it does not exist anymore. But even when it was, nobody was going to patrol the streets. Inspectors needed only to decide a situation in which the rights of Ukrainian-speaking citizens are violated. It was assumed that they can be engaged in inspection of the institution from which the complaint came from. But it is not prescribed for the inspectors to walk in the streets and listen to conversations.
6. Is it true that the law completely prohibits the education in languages other than Ukrainian? – No. As far as the language of education is concerned, the law does not make any changes. In accordance with the recommendations of the Venice Commission, the Law provides for the extension of the transitional period until 2023 to apply the provisions of the Law of Ukraine "On Education" for national minorities who study in the official languages of the European Union.
7. How will the use of languages on television and radio change? The use of languages on television and radio is determined by the law "On Television and Radio Broadcasting". The demand for 75 % of the Ukrainian language on national TV channels has been in force for several years now. The language law provides for an increase of this share to 90 %, but it will gradually change only after 5 years. According to the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting, in 2018, an average of 92 % of the Ukrainian language was broadcast on the air of the channels.
8. What will be the use of languages in culture? The law provides for cultural events in the state language. In some cases, the use of other languages is permitted, but most of them must be determined by the relevant law on the rights of indigenous and national minorities.
The language of cultural and entertainment events is the state language. The use of other languages during such activities is allowed in the event that it is justified by the creative idea of the organizer of the event, as well as in cases stipulated by the Law of Ukraine "On National Minorities in Ukraine”. With regard to the activities of museums, art galleries and centres, they provided their information in Ukrainian long ago. It goes about both public and private institutions. This in no way interferes with the perception of the public.
9. What will be the situation with medical aid? At the request of a person seeking medical assistance or medical care, one’s personal treatment may also be provided in a language acceptable to the parties. In other words, in a case when a patient requests the doctor to conduct the reception in Russian and a doctor has no objections, a doctor may ensure the reception in Russian. Often this is what happens. However, if the doctor deliberately refuses to speak to Ukrainian-speaking patient in Ukrainian, in this case it may be the reason for the inspection, because it is about protecting the state language.
10. What will be with customer service? Customer service should be conducted in the state language. This is one of the most important guarantees arising from the state status of the Ukrainian language, as the state must guarantee everyone the opportunity to receive information about goods and services in Ukraine in Ukrainian. However, the law allows free use of any other language, provided that there is an agreement between both parties, the seller and the consumer.
According to the Law, all information about the products must contain the Ukrainian version to the extent specified by the Law on Consumer Rights Protection. Most entrepreneurs already do this, but for those who need time to adapt, the law provides for a transitional period of 18 months.
As of today, the complete “ukrainization” in Ukraine has never happened, so the Ukrainian language needs protection and development, to which this Law does pay special attention. In general, the Law is about that Ukrainians should learn Ukrainian. Without the knowledge of Ukrainian, it is impossible to make a career, become a civil servant, work in public sector and services.
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