Twenty years ago, on June 28, 1996, at 9:18 a.m., after a 16-hour marathon session of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament adopted a new Constitution with a vote of 315-36 with 12 abstentions.
“We have a Constitution,” proclaimed Parliament Chairman Oleksander Moroz. The lawmakers were in a euphoric mood as they took group photos outside the Parliament building, then making their way to a celebratory reception, that The Ukrainian Weekly’s reporter Marta Kolomayets said was reminiscent of when Ukraine declared independence on August 24, 1991.
“Today, we proved we are Ukrainians. Today we look so good compared to Russia. And, slowly but surely, we will show the world who we are. They all think we are ruski [Russians],” said Kateryna Vashchuk, a deputy from the Agrarians for Reform faction.
President Leonid Kuchma decreed to hold a national referendum on the Constitution on June 27, and that had triggered the lawmakers in to instant action. Mr. Kuchma attended the final hour of the plenary session and the final vote. He also apologized to the lawmakers “for stimulating this process in perhaps not the most conventional way.” Mr. Kuchma also threatened to call a vote of “no confidence” if the Constitution was not approved. Following the vote, Mr. Kuchma said “there should be no doubt about the effectiveness of the Parliament.”
Mr. Moroz underscored: ‘The strength of this Constitution is the fact that it created a precedent of unity in the Verkhovna Rada, which I hope will be a lasting factor in the work of the legislature. We are now one united family, a feeling that has for so long evaded us.”
Mr. Moroz was tossed in the air by lawmakers outside of Parliament after the passage of the vote in a celebration of his efforts. Former Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk and Volodymyr Musaiaka, the president’s representative in Parliament, were also instrumental in convincing the left-wing forces to vote for the symbols of Ukraine – the tryzub (gold trident on blue background), the blue-and-yellow flag of Ukraine and the national anthem of Ukraine (the words were adopted under a separate law).
“Understanding our responsibility before Ukraine, we were able to rise above inter-party and personal conflicts. The turning point did not only take place in the Verkhovna Rada, a new era in the development of Ukraine has begun,” said Mr. Moroz.
The result of the vote also granted Crimea the status of an autonomous republic with its own Constitution, which must be in line with the Constitution of Ukraine approved by Parliament.
Regarding Ukrainian as the official language of Ukraine, the Constitution states: “The state ensures the comprehensive development of and use of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of social life on the entire territory of Ukraine.” The document also guarantees the “free development” of the Russian language and other languages spoken by the citizens of Ukraine.
The same day the Parliament adopted the Constitution, deputies passed a three-point resolution declaring the new Constitution as the law of the land, putting it into effect immediately, annulling the Constitution of April 20, 1978, (of the Ukrainian SSR) and cancelling the Constitutional Accord of June 8, 1995, that had served as the petit constitution of Ukraine.
June 28 was also declared by parliamentary resolution as Constitution Day – a legal holiday in Ukraine. A grand reception to mark the event was held in Kyiv on July 3, 1996.
Former President Leonid Kravchuk noted, “Now our main goal is to learn to live in accordance with this Constitution.”
Source: “Parliament adopts Constitution in marathon session,” by Marta Kolomayets,, The Ukrainian Weekly, June 30, 1996.