KIEV, July 3 – Elevating a political standoff to a new level, Parliament on Tuesday voted to approve a highly controversial law making Russian the de-facto second state language in many of Ukraine’s regions.
Opposition leaders, who vehemently rejected the law amid concerns it would diminish the role of the Ukrainian language and weaken the country politically, called on supporters for a massive street protest.
Hundreds of opposition activists and prominent figures have been spontaneously gathering in front of the Ukrainian House in downtown Kiev, vowing to continue the protest indefinitely.
The development may trigger a strong response from the authorities overnight as President Viktor Yanukovych has planned to hold his annual press conference in the Ukrainian House on Wednesday.
“Occupiers have openly started a war against Ukraine and Ukrainians,” Oleh Tiahnybok, the leader of nationalist Svoboda party, said. “We declare a national mobilization. Let’s fight the aggressors back.”
Tiahnybok was joined by leaders of all main opposition parties, including Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the Batkivshchyna party, and Vitaliy Klichko, the leader of the Udar party.
“Everything that could be violated during the approval of this law has been violated,” Yatseniuk said. “This is a showcase vote by the bandits, not by the people’s deputies.”
The opposition groups have repeatedly pledged to disrupt the approval of the bill, but they have failed on Tuesday after Regions Party lawmakers have deployed a new technique.
The draft law was originally not on the agenda on Tuesday, but it had been added quickly and approved within minutes even before the opposition lawmakers had managed to react.
The draft law was approved by 248-2 and without any debate, automatically rejecting 2,600 amendments that had been submitted after its approval in the first reading on June 5.
“Appreciate the beauty of our play,” Mykhaylo Chechetov, the senior lawmaker from the Regions Party, said after the vote. “We have tricked them like babies. I don’t know what they’re going to do at elections.”
The approval of the bill in the first reading triggered a protest rally of about 9,000 people in front of Parliament on June 5, and can lead to a similar or a bigger protest within days.
The law is seen by analysts as a tool to spark a new wave of support for the Regions Party in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, where many people use the Russian language for everyday communication. The party is battling declining popular support due to stalled economic reforms and rampant corruption.
The law would almost automatically make the Russian language the second state language in Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Odessa, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Chernihiv and some other Ukrainian regions.
“Parliament must dissolve,” Klichko said addressing the rally of the opposition groups and supporters late Tuesday. “The president must veto the law. If the president doesn’t veto it, he will show his true face.” (tl/ez)