[JURIST] Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych [official website] on Wednesday signed into law a bill that makes Russian the official language in parts of former Soviet republic within the country. Opponents of the bill heavily criticized the move, condemning [Reuters report] the bill as a crime against the state. Politicians opposing the new language bill such as Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] and one-time foreign minister Arseny Yatseniuk [official website, in Ukrainian] argued that the act of signing the bill amounts to a crime for which the president should face impeachment. The united opposition Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) [official website, in Ukrainian] has called [press release, in Ukrainian] on local councils to initiate such proceedings against Yanukovych. There are concerns that the new bill may escalate tension among the country’s citizens resulting in violence.
The bill was passed [JURIST report] by the Ukrainian parliament earlier in July despite protests and heavy opposition. The legislation would allow Russian in courts, education and other government institutions [AP report] in Russian-speaking regions of the country. The bill went through the parliament a month after it passed [JURIST report] the first reading of a controversial bill. 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 [JURIST report] of Yanukovych, 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.