Report on the adoption of moratorium on the prohibition of the use of Russian-language cultural product by the Zhytomir regional Council.

Photo: zhzh.info

On October 25, 2018, Zhytomir regional Council (Ukrainian region West of Kiev) decided to impose a moratorium on the public use of Russian-language cultural product in all its forms in the Zhytomyr region, until the end of hostilities in the East. At the moment, such moratoriums have also been adopted by the local authorities of Lvov (September 19, 2018) and Ternopol (November 6, 2018) regions (Western regions of Ukraine).

Although the interpretation of the decision was somewhat different: “Until the complete cessation of the occupation of the territory of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.” But the terminology itself (what exactly will be considered as Russian-language cultural product), as well as what kind of territory is supposed to be freed from Russia, was not specified by the local government. According to the current legislation only Crimea is considered to be occupied, but not the territory in the East of Ukraine.

Despite these important aspects, the regional Council immediately decided to create a working group that will monitor the implementation of the moratorium. The group was to include representatives of law enforcement agencies, regional state administrations and civil society of the region. To date, the groups have not yet been formed; a list of their rights and responsibilities is also yet to be created.

The draft decision was submitted by the local head of the nationalist party “Svoboda” (Freedom).

This decision contradicts the Constitution of Ukraine, laws of Ukraine and international law.

Article 10 of the Constitution of Ukraine, without exception, guarantees “the free development, use and protection of Russian as well as other languages of national minorities”. This right is not conditional, has no exceptions and cannot be restricted. Accordingly, the regional Council had no authority to make such decisions.

In its decision to adopt the moratorium, the regional Council referred only to the appeal of the Supreme Council of Ukraine (Parliament) № 129-VIII (27.01.2015), which referred to the recognition of Russia as an aggressor. There were no language prohibitions in this decision on appeal (to International organizations).

Article 43 of the Constitution of Ukraine guarantees to everyone “the right to freedom of thought and speech, to freedom of expression of their views and beliefs”. The same right is guaranteed by article 10 of the European Convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Similar to the new moratorium, but a more specific decision has already been passed by the Zhytomir regional Council. The decision of 02.11.2017 № 861 had 8 recommendations, which referred to the use of the Ukrainian language in office work, document management, advertising, in the consumers’ services, in the preparation of contracts, etc. Control of execution of the decision was conducted by the Commission of Zhitomir regional Council.

The public reacted to the moratorium on the prohibition of Russian cultural product controversially. To a greater extent this is due to the interpretation, or rather its absence. Part of the population resented the fact that the local authorities can not prohibit the use of the Russian language, while others did not understand what specifically was banned (books, songs, inscriptions or entire Russian speech).

One of local journalists interpreted this decision as follows:

“The adoption of a ban on the Russian cultural product by the regional councils of Lvov, Zhytomir and Ternopol is nothing but a show. All three decisions were passed on the initiative of “Svoboda” (Freedom) party. And it is understandable; the low party rating somehow needs to be raised. And close cooperation of “Svoboda” with Pro-government fractions allowed passing of similar decisions which, in fact, have absolutely no legal consequences. Because of such decisions the regional councils are, in fact, exceeding their authority and act like they are the Supreme Council or the Constitutional court of Ukraine”.

The official of a regional Council commented that “this moratorium is only recommendatory, since the regional Council has no authority for such restrictions; there is a Supreme Council (Parliament) for this.  Various cultural institutions, restaurants, transport and travel companies should be informed about the moratorium by official letters with recommendations on the application of the decision of the regional Council. The implementation of the moratorium will be monitored by the working group and law enforcement agencies”.

The moratorium itself, based on the words of the official, was created to ensure that such working groups, as well as law enforcement and local government had a basis for claims to certain organizations.

Also, with such moratorium, the regional Council expresses its protest against the actions of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

So there is a contradiction, since on the one hand the regional Council only recommends, and on the other harasses various organizations with official letters and control. Though at the legislative level there is no administrative or criminal responsibility for violation of such decisions.

This case was also considered as an example of direct discrimination on the basis of language, which is prohibited by the Law “On the basis of prevention and combating discrimination in Ukraine” and article 24 of the Constitution of Ukraine.

Specialized laws to restrict the use of the Russian language in television and radio broadcasting already exist in Ukraine, any mass event, including concerts are also held exclusively in the Ukrainian language.

The public has nothing against the fact that every citizen of the country is obliged to know the state language. But, at the same time, does not understand the prohibition of the use of any other language, which is contrary to European norms and the freedom of speech.

Based on the above, the only explanation for the moratorium on the Russian-language cultural product (without clear definitions and distinctions) is an attempt of the nationalist party to attract attention of their own nationalist fans, especially on the eve of elections.

Alexey Pekhotsky