Kiev, Ukraine – The Ukrainian parliament erupted in a brawl when one politician addressed the chamber in Russian.
The use of the Russian language versus Ukrainian is a hotly contested issue in the eastern European country, and it’s not the first time that lawmakers got into a scuffle over it — or other contentious, divisive issues — in the country’s parliament, which is called the Verkhovna Rada.
In this particular case on Tuesday, Aleksandr Yefremov (the leader of the ruling Party of Regions) gave a speech in Russian which prompted opposition Svoboda (Freedom) party members to began chanting “speak Ukrainian.”
According to various news outlets, Efremov, in turn, called the Ukrainian parliament opposition fascists. When Oleg Tyagnibok, the Freedom party leader, subsequently tried to speak from the rostrum, he was drowned out by more fascist catcalls, and the brawl/Rada riot among the members of parliament from the two major parties broke out.
These legislators in this political “fight club” will have to somehow have to find a way to coexist for the upcoming several years, however, because the next parliamentary election in the Ukraine is not scheduled until the fall of 2017.
The situation in the Ukraine appears to serve as a cautionary note about efforts to establish bilingualism — either officially or unofficially — in any country. “Ukraine is deeply divided into the Russian-speaking east and south, which favors close ties with Moscow, and the Ukrainian-speaking west, which wants Ukraine to ally itself with the West.”
With a population of about 45 million, Ukrainian is designated as the official language of the country, although an estimated 17 percent of the country is of Russian heritage and speaks Russian (78 percent of its citizens are classified as ethnic Ukrainians). Ukraine achieved its independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991.
Watch the Ukrainian parliament brawl prompted by an MP speaking in Russian: