[JURIST] The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday passed a language bill that would allow Russian to be spoken in official settings in particular regions of the country. The legislation, which would allow Russian in courts, education and other government institutions [AP report] in Russian-speaking regions of the country, has sparked public opposition demonstrations that have continued since the bill’s initial approval [JURIST report] last month. Opponents of the bill have argued that its passage would divide the Ukraine, weaken the Ukrainian language and hinder newly developing relations with the European Union. President Viktor Yanukovych [official website, in Ukrainian] is expected to sign the bill into law, even as thousands of protesters gathered on Thursday to oppose the newly passed legislation. Jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] said [press release] that the vote was “shameful” and criticized Yanukovych for supporting the law. Even a parliamentary discussion of the bill turned violent on Thursday after members of parliament began fighting one another [BBC report].
Pro-western Ukrainians are wary of increased Russian influence in the country. In April 2010 Ukrainian prosecutors considered filing criminal charges after a parliament session in which lawmakers hurled eggs and smoke bombs and engaged in physical violence in an attempt to prevent a vote [JURIST report] on a Russian treaty. The chaos erupted as lawmakers voted to approved a treaty that extended Russia’s lease on a naval base in the Ukrainian Sevastopol port on the Black Sea until 2042 in exchange for discounted Russian gas. The agreement was strongly opposed by pro-Western lawmakers who see Russian influence as reminiscent of Soviet occupation. The treaty came soon after the election of Yanukovych as President [JURIST report], who took office in February of that year. Yanukovych replaced Viktor Yushchenko [JURIST news archive], who had sought to cut ties with Russia and strengthen relationships with Western Europe. Yushchenko opposed the extension of Russia’s Black Sea lease.