Language and constitutional reform: dangerous trends
Mykola Melnyk from the Razumkov Centre writes that immediately after the vote adopting in full the Law on the Principles of State Language Policy (No. 9073), one of its authors, MP Vadym Kolesnichenko stated that “the next stage is consideration as part of the work of the Constitutional Assembly of the possibility of legalizing official bilingualism.”
Such a statement is an extremely worrying signal for the entire process of constitutional reform initiated. It demonstrates the intention of those in power to carry out constitutional reform in a manner which is flawed and dangerous to the public, i.e. by using the Main Law of Ukraine to fit a specially created reality. Such reality is furthermore created with overt departure from the Constitution and disregard for its norms. It should be noted that for a long time now there has been a reduction in the sphere of force of the Constitution, with this having become particularly evident recently”’ The author points to a shortage not in the constitutional resource, but in the actual force of the Constitution.
He sees the Constitution becoming devalued for a number of reasons:
“failure to apply the Constitution;
lack of adequate legal reaction to infringements of the Constitution;
amendments to the content of the Constitution through ordinary laws (with this becoming more and more common, leading to an increased number of non-law-based laws;
giving it a different, “adjusted”, meaning which can, for example, take place via inadequate official interpretation by the Constitutional Court.
As a result we are seeing a serious shift away from the Constitution in many spheres. There is a danger that in the process of constitutional reform this shift will be consolidated within a new Constitution as the mew legal reality. The adoption of the “language” law and statement asserting the need to legalize its key provisions at constitutional level confirm such an approach to the carrying out of constitutional reform.”
The author writes that this, together with an analysis of the socio-political situation, key trends in legislating and governance, lead him to identify the following risks to constitutional reform:
narrowing of the democratic principles for the country’s development;
entrenching of a model of governance which is not optimum for the country;
a reduction in the scope of constitutional rights and freedoms;
an increase in the State’s presence in public and private life;
weakening of national aspects in the Constitution.
The latter has already taken on real proportions with the adoption of the Law on the Principles of State Language Policy. He believes there was no objective need at all for the bill.
Mykola Melnyk writes that “Ukraine does not have a language problem, at least not on the scale which would require such a radical change in legislative regulation of the use of languages. The issue is being artificially manufactured by politicians solely with a political aim. This, incidentally, is the view of most Ukrainian citizens. According to the results of a survey carried out by the Razumkov Centre from 16 to 25 June 2012 65.1% see that bill introduced by the Party of the Regions which increases the status of the Russian language as a pre-election step aimed at increasing popularity before the parliamentary elections. Only 24 % of those surveyed believes that this is a demonstration of concern for the needs of citizens who speak Russian (10.9 didn’t know).”
The law, he says, was also passed in an unconstitutional manner since during both readings some MPs voted for other, using MPs’ cards where their owners were not in Kyiv, or even not in Ukraine. This is in direct breach of Article 80 of the Constitution.
The author believes there are all legal grounds for preventing the coming into effect of this law. either through its being revoked by the Verkhovna Rada before being passed by the Speaker, or through Presidential veto.
He believes a law-based solution can be found only “judging by everything those who initiated this law and sought its adoption are least of all interested in the law.”
Mykola Melnyk is also a member of the Constitutional Assembly, the advisory body created under the President.
Abridged from the original