June 18, 2021

Rada registers controversial bill to reduce Ukrainian language while Putin balks at indigenous people law


KYIV – Two legislative bills, one on indigenous people and the other on Ukrainian-language usage on television and in cinema, have sparked the ire of both Moscow and state-building activists.

Although the draft laws are only registered on the Verkhovna Rada’s long-listed docket, Russian President Vladimir has criticized a proposed law that defines which people are indigenous to Crimea, Ukraine’s peninsula that Russia forcibly seized in 2014.

Submitted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the bill defines indigenous people on the occupied peninsula as Crimean Tatars as well as two tiny sects with Jewish roots: the Karaites and Krymchaks.

Mr. Putin and members of the State Duma rubber-stamp parliament have balked at Russians not being included in the wording of the bill.

In an interview with state-owned Rossiya 1 television channel on June 9, the Kremlin leader said that labeling people according to categories starting with “indigenous, first-class and second-class people” was how Nazis divided groups of ethnicities during World War II.

The bill is “not just incorrect, it’s ridiculous and pointless…” and “does not correspond to history at all,” Mr. Putin said.

In 1783, Tsarist Russia conquered the territory of Crimea after a series of wars with the Ottoman Empire and its vassal state of the Crimean Khanate. Parts of the peninsula had been repeatedly colonized by Greeks, Romans, Huns, the Byzantine Empire, among others, Voice of America wrote in a historical article in 2014.

As part of the Soviet Union in World War II, the peninsula’s Crimean-Tatar population was entirely deported to Central Asia in 1944 over alleged collaboration with invading Nazi forces.

Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba subsequently told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that the bill corresponds with the United Nations’ 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“The president’s proposed bill actually implements these norms of international law in the national legislation,” he told Interfax-Ukraine news agency on June 10.

Part of the bill’s wording says that people are not indigenous if they have another country to call home.

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group told The Ukrainian Weekly that the bill also applies “to self-identification, some sense of community via self-governing bodies, etc.”

The Kremlin has argued that Russians have always lived on the peninsula so therefore it has a right to claim it. Ukraine’s law in Russia is perceived as a diminishing threat to its mainstream historical narrative that it derives from the medieval kingdom of Kyivan-Rus when Moscow didn’t exist and when Kyiv was an advanced, prospering city.

Russia’s bicameral legislative body, the State Duma, also condemned the bill, Ms. Coynash said, saying it is an “outrageous provocation.”

Covert Russian forces invaded the peninsula in early 2014 after a pro-democratic popular uprising pushed aside the Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, who subsequently fled to Moscow and who has been convicted in absentia of committing high treason in a Ukrainian court.

At that time, official Ukrainian statistics showed that ethnic Russians accounted for 58 percent of Crimea’s population, while Ukrainians comprised 24 percent.  Crimean Tatars, who began returning to the peninsula from exile after the fall of the Soviet Union, comprised 12 percent of its population, or about 300,000-350,000 people.

Russia then invaded the two easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk while waging a multi-front war that includes cyberattacks, subversion, assassinations and propaganda campaigns. Some 14,000 people have been killed in the war zone of eastern Ukraine, according to Kyiv officials.

Ukrainian-language dubbing
The other bill registered has caused ripples and perturbed pro-Ukrainian language activists because it would in effect remove Ukrainian-language dubbing from television programs and in movie theaters of foreign-made productions.

Most foreign-produced programs or movies shown in Ukraine have been Russian.
Over the past week, parliament tabled two amendments to an existing language law that would extend the period that foreign programs or movies would have to be dubbed into Ukrainian.

The overall legislative package initially was adopted on April 25, 2019, and has since gone into effect gradually. Most of its provisions took effect on July 16 of the same year.

Clauses on dubbing were supposed to enter into force this coming July 16.

The changes to the overall bill were registered for consideration on July 15 with 212 pro-presidential Servant of the People party members voting for it as well five members from the Holos party and 10 non-faction lawmakers.

The wording of the bill that is publicly available does not specify for how long the law’s implementation would be extended.

Since the law contains text related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic gripping the country with its related stipulations, pro-presidential party lawmaker Mykyta Poturayev and Yevheniya Kravchuk, co-authors of the bill, said that its provision should go into effect two months after quarantine measures related to the virus are lifted.

Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko told Ukrayinska Pravda that he is not opposed to extending the law’s implementation date due to the financial problems caused by the pandemic.

“There was a request from colleagues from TV channels because this year they had neither the financial nor the physical ability to continue filming the projects they had planned, to postpone this law during the quarantine,” he said.

He added: “As the law itself, in fact, does not change, but only is postponed, I see this as a step towards the representatives of the industry.”

Opposition lawmakers, however, like Mykola Kyazhytskyi and Volodymyr Viat­royvch, both of whom are part of former President Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party, have stated the amendments are designed to remove Ukrainian from cinemas and TV.

A group of protesters disrupted a parliamentary committee meeting on June 14 ahead of its registration vote in parliament, but it was pushed through anyway.

The bill is not ready for consideration due to procedural infringements, co-author Ms. Kravchuk said on June 17, as reported by state-run Ukrinform news agency.

The bill still remains registered on the parliamentary docket as of June 17.