Why is the Ukrainian Language Treated With Such Contempt?

Image: euromaidanpress.com

Marco Levytsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

Ukraine’s boisterous and self-centered minorities are screaming blue murder over new legislation that is remarkable only for its modesty.

Under the education bill, passed by the Verkhovna Rada on September 5, the language of instruction in the first four grades may be in a minority language. By grade five, however, only two or more subjects can be taught in any of the languages of the European Union. That rules out Russian, but includes Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian. The legislation foresees a two-year transition period before fully taking effect in 2020.

That is extremely generous to minorities. Except for Hungary, Poland, Romania and Russia, the package of educational reforms of which it is a part has been largely praised, including by Washington. In just about every other country in the world, children are expected to learn the language of the country they are living in right from grade one. And, as former Justice Minister Serhiy Holovaty argues there is nothing in the legislation to bar minority communities from studying in their languages, or, in fact, opening their own schools – providing they fund them on their own.

What is particularly disgraceful about the attitude of these countries is that this bill provides for many more minority linguistic rights than any of their respective home countries allow for their own Ukrainian minorities. In fact, every one of these countries has an abysmal historical record, when it comes to their treatment of Ukrainians.

Hungary suppressed the Ukrainian majority in Transcarpathia, which it occupied from the 11th century until 1918. Romania suppressed the Ukrainian majority in Northern Bukovyna which it occupied from 1918 until 1945. Poland suppressed the Ukrainian majority in all the vast territories it occupied between 1340 and 1772 and then again in Halychyna and Western Volyn between 1918 and 1939. Then there was the infamous Akcja “Wisła” — the 1947 forced resettlement of the Ukrainian minority including Boykos and Lemkos from their ancestral homes in “Zakerzonia” (named after British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon of Kedleston, who arbitrarily set it as the border between ethnic Poles and ethnic Ukrainians in 1920), to the territories taken from the Germans after World War II.

And Russia? Well Russia is in a disgraceful class all of its own. Not only did Russia systematically try to russify Ukraine, even going so far as to ban the use of the Ukrainian language in any printed form between 1876 and 1905, Moscow leaders starved an estimated 6 to 10 million Ukrainians to death in the genocidal Holodomor of 1932-33, then filled the resulting depopulated vacuum with ethnic Russians, artificially creating the ethnic tinderbox which provided Moscow with the excuse to launch its latest aggression against Ukraine.

The problem is that some of Russian speakers in Ukraine have nothing but contempt for the Ukrainian language.

This was brought home to me during my recent visit to Ukraine. When my wife Lesia and my former Kyiv correspondent Vitaliy Shevchenko (father of Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko) and I, visited a centre which acts as a shelter for abused children, the person running it refused to speak in Ukranian claiming, she did not know the language. So, she spoke English and Russian, leading to the absurd situation where I was translating her English into Ukrainian for Shevchenko – right in the heart of the nation’s capital. While saving children is a noble cause, that woman’s contempt for the Ukrainian language was abominable. It turns out she was taking courses at the Kyiv university — so she had to know Ukrainian. She just refused to use the language of the country she was living in. This was extremely rude when it is very evident that one of the persons in the room does not understand English, while two of the others don’t understand Russian.

If someone lives in England, they are expected to learn English. If they live in France, they are expected to learn French. If they live in Germany, they are expected to learn German. And so on. So why should Ukraine be any different?

If people who live in Ukraine take such a contemptuous attitude towards the language of that country, then I suggest they buy themselves a one-way ticket to Moscow … and dosvidania.