Ukrainian Catholics Oppose Language Law

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Church leaders in Ukraine have signed an open letter calling for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych not to sign a law that would grant Russian, spoken by most people in eastern and southern Ukraine, “regional language” status.

The legislation would keep Ukrainian as the country’s official language. However, several regional languages designated by the bill could be used in courts, hospitals, schools and other state institutions in areas where they predominate.

Church leaders — including Catholics — said preserving the Ukrainian language is instrumental to preserving the nation’s culture and “should not become the subject of political speculation,” reported the Religious Information Service of Ukraine.

Ukrainian “unites people in the nation, creating a social and humanitarian space,” the church leaders said. Language is “designed to unite people and not be a source of hatred.”

Regional language status would also be granted to Bulgarian, Romanian and Hungarian, all of which are spoken in Ukraine.

Some Ukrainians have expressed concern that granting legal status to the Russian language would be a threat to national sovereignty. Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union for at least 300 years without the opportunity of developing its own language and culture.

Among the church leaders signing the letter were the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych; Bishop Markiyan Trofym’yak of Lutsk; and Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate.

The Religious Information Service of Ukraine reported the church leaders called for a balanced language policy that would protect the public status of the Ukrainian language and promote the development and functioning of languages of national minorities. They urged the president to veto the bill and return it to Parliament for review.

In an interview with Ukraine’s Channel 24 TV, Archbishop Shevchuk said: “When we speak of language or of respect for the language another person speaks, we speak of respect for the human person.”

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