Fwd: RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report (exceprts)

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Fwd: RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report (exceprts)

RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report
Vol. 2, No. 7, 15 February 2000
A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the
Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.


register a Free Independent German Minority Trade Union has been filed
with a district court in Opole, southern Poland, PAP reported on 6
February. Parliamentary deputy Helmut Pazdzior, who represents the
German minority in the Opole region, said the union is going "to take
care of the interests of our fellow citizens who have dual
citizenship, work legally in EU countries, and have problems with
their workers' rights." Pazdzior added that the union can also render
services to Poles legally working in Germany.
According to him, some 70,000 Opole region inhabitants have been
working in Germany.

February that the Ukrainian President's Council for Language Policy
Issues has approved a government draft resolution "On Additional
Measures To Expand the Use of Ukrainian as the State Language."
According to the news agency, in addition to expanding the use of
Ukrainian, the government is seeking "to de-Russify various spheres of
life" in Ukraine.

In particular, the document calls for checking the knowledge of
Ukrainian among all state officials and re-assigning them to posts
depending on their ability to use the state language (the so-called

The implementation of the state language policy will also be monitored
in the regions. Among other things, local authorities will be
scrutinized for their use of Ukrainian in official documents and
correspondence as well as in their dealings with citizens on a daily

The draft resolution also proposes "bringing the system of educational
institutions into line with the ethnic composition of the population,
working out programs of de-Russification for the sports and tourism
spheres, bringing the repertoire of theaters into conformity with
their language status, [and] using taxation levers for regulating the
import of publications," according to the agency.

The news agency also notes that the authors of the document believe
the proposed measures "will change the trend of hindering and
localizing the process of promoting the state status of Ukrainian."

Russia's Foreign Ministry told Interfax on 1 February that it is
seriously concerned about the strengthening of "administrative and
other measures directed against the preservation and development of
the Russian language and culture" in Ukraine.

The ministry pointed to the 14 December 1999 ruling by Ukraine's
Constitutional Court that Ukrainian is "the obligatory language of
instruction in all state educational institutions in the country,"
while instruction in national minority languages may be carried out
only if special permission is granted. The Constitutional Court also
ruled that the Ukrainian language is "the obligatory means of
communication on the entire territory of Ukraine for the state
authority bodies and local self-government bodies to exercise their
powers, as well as in other spheres of public life." According to the
ministry, such policies contravene the Ukrainian Constitution, which
guarantees the "free development, use, and protection of the Russian
language" and the right of national minority citizens to receive their
education in Russian.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said that on 28 January it sent a note to
the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, expressing the hope that Kyiv's
policies vis-a-vis Ukraine's Russians will be conducted "in the
spirit" of the Russian-Ukrainian Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation,
and Partnership.

On 9 February, Russia's Foreign Ministry commented that the
implementation of the Ukrainian government's draft resolution on
language may "infringe upon human rights and damage the cultural and
linguistic environment," according to ITAR-TASS. The ministry warned
that "actions of this kind in such a sensitive area as language
usually have dire consequences."

More harsh were the 10 February comments made by Oleg Mironov, Russian
human rights commissioner, who said that Ukraine's restriction of the
official and business use of the Russian language "is a gross and
explicit violation of the norms of civilized relations among peoples
and of the basic rights and freedoms of citizens proclaimed by the
European Convention, to which Ukraine is a signatory," according to
ITAR-TASS. Mironov urged international organizations such as the
Council of Europe and the OSCE to increase their monitoring of the
situation. "The scale of language discrimination [in Ukraine] is
massive and unprecedented," Mironov noted, adding that the
Ukrainization campaign has affected the interests of more than 50
percent of Ukrainian citizens who consider Russian their native

Yuriy Bohutskyy, an official from the Ukrainian presidential
administration, rejected Mironov's accusations. Bohutskyy told
ITAR-TASS that Russian is the language of instruction for 31.7 percent
of Ukraine's schoolchildren. Moreover, Russian is taught as a subject
in all Ukrainian schools. Bohutskyy added that 25.3 percent of
children in pre-school establishments are brought up in Russian.

According to the 1989 census in Ukraine, 64 percent of the population
declared Ukrainian their native language, while 31 percent gave
Russian that status (9 percent were ethnic Ukrainians who considered
Russian their native tongue).

These figures, however, give a somewhat false impression of the
language situation in Ukraine insofar as "native language" in Ukraine
(as is the case in the far more Russified Belarus) seems to mean
something other than the language people prefer to use in everyday
life. Recent studies have found that some 40 percent of Ukraine's
population are Ukrainians who prefer to speak Ukrainian, some 33
percent are ethnic Ukrainians who prefer Russian, and some 20 percent
are ethnic Russians who prefer Russian. (By comparison, the 1999
census in Belarus found that some 82 percent of the population think
their native language is Belarusian, but only 36.7 percent speak
Belarusian at home.)

If the above-mentioned studies are accurate, then a majority (some 53
percent) of Ukrainian citizens prefer to speak Russian. However,
Mironov's comment that more than 50 percent of Ukrainian citizens
consider Russian their native tongue is basically untrue. Most
Ukrainian citizens still regard Ukrainian as their mother tongue in
the sense that it is the language of their indigenous cultural and
ethnic heritage, which is essentially non-Russian. Whether they
actively use Ukrainian in their daily life is another question.

Copyright (c) 2000. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.
RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report is prepared by Jan
Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by
"RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed
every Tuesday.
Direct comments to Jan Maksymiuk at maksymiukj@rferl.org. 
For information on subscriptions or reprints, contact Paul Goble in
Washington at (202) 457-6947 or at goblep@rferl.org. Back issues are
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