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Language policy in Ukraine

Language policy in Ukraine is based on its Constitution, international obligations, and 2012 law "On the principles of the state language policy" (before 2012, the 1989 law "On the languages in the Ukrainian SSR" was in force).

The Ukrainian language is the state language of Ukraine. The State has to ensure the comprehensive development and functioning of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of social life throughout the entire territory of Ukraine (Article 10 of the Constitution of Ukraine adopted in 1996). Other languages spoken in Ukraine are guaranteed constitutional protection. The Russian language in Ukraine is recognized as the language of a national minority. It is explicitly mentioned in the Constitution (Article 10): "In Ukraine, the free development, use and protection of Russian, and other languages of national minorities of Ukraine, is guaranteed".

The law "On the principles of the state language policy" was aimed at giving Russian or any other minority language the status of a "regional language"; approving its use in courts, schools and other government institutions in areas of Ukraine where the percentage of representatives of national minorities exceeds 10% of the total population of a defined administrative district. In practice this was mostly the case in the country's southern and eastern regions with predominant or significant part of Russian-speaking population. Ukrainian remains the country's only official country-wide language. The law was supported by the governing Party of regions and opposed by the opposition parties. It raised strong criticism within the expert community and the civil society, and sparked big protests in the country. According to its opponents the law is undermining and supplanting the role of the State Ukrainian language, and is not in conformity with Article 10 of the Ukrainian Constitution.

The bill was adopted without any debate amid fistfights in the Ukrainian Parliament building on 3 July 2012. The opposition protested that the procedure of adopting the law was not respected. The law came into force on 10 August 2012. Since then various cities and regions of Ukraine declared Russian a regional language in their jurisdictions. Three minor settlements did the same for, respectively, Hungarian, Moldovan and Romanian. Other cities and regions declared their opposition to this law. A proposal to repeal the law was paused on 28 February 2014 by acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, who ordered drafting of a new law to "accommodate the interests of both eastern and western Ukraine and of all ethnic groups and minorities." Since October 2014 the Constitutional Court of Ukraine is reviewing the constitutionality of the law.



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