The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament, passed a language bill on Tuesday that promotes the acceptance of Russian as an official language in that nation.
Given Ukraine is a former Soviet republic, Russian is the first language of many of the country's citizens, including the president himself. However, opponents of the bill's passage, including Vitali Klitschko, believe the action violates the Constitution which states Ukrainian is to be the only official language.
Protesters assert the promotion and acceptance of Russian as an official language is a 'slap in the face' to Ukrainian nationalism and self-identity, and will alienate Ukraine from the European Union and ultimately impede the country's post-Communist transition towards greater democracy and capitalism.
Moreover, its believed the bill was fraudulently pushed through as it was not on the legislative agenda Tuesday. Perhaps many of the bill's congressional opponents were not available to vote that day and supporters of the initiative seized an opportunity to take advantage of an easy passage?
Vitali Klitschko, currently a member of the Kyiv City Council, campaigns on anti-corruption platform and told Spiegel Online earlier this year:
"Publicly, the (Ukrainian) leadership may proclaim democratic values and declare the country's integration in Europe to be a priority. But in fact, the government is undertaking steps that run contrary to European standards and values."
When asked about the language debate, Klitschko, who speaks Ukrainian, Russian, German and English, stated:
"This is not a language issue, this is a splitting of the country,"
After the bill was signed into law, a furious protest erupted as nearly 1,000 people congregated in the center of Kyiv, eventually clashing with a large police force sent to quell the melee. Although there have been no fatalities reported, it's believed several people were seriously hurt by glass bottles that were were hurled by one or both factions.
Vitali Klitschko, who recently confirmed a September 8th title defense against Manuel Charr in Moscow, sustained a hand or wrist injury and was sprayed with tear gas. The extent of the WBC Champion's hand/wrist injury is not fully known but, at this moment, Klitschko vs Charr is scheduled to take place as planned.
Its been rumored the Charr bout will be Vitali's last as the 41 year old brawler has his sights set on Kyiv's mayoral position and hopes to focus more on the worsening situation in his native Ukraine. Elections will take place in October.
Vitali Klitschko, a loser of few rounds during his 46 fight career, boasts an impressive 87% knockout-to-fights ratio which is currently the highest of any heavyweight champion in history. He, along with his brother, Wladimir, have dominated boxing's heavyweight division for the better part of the last ten years.