Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ukraine’s New Language Law ‘Best Gift to Putin’ Since Russian Invasion Began, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 29 – Not because of its goal but because of its methods, Kyiv’s new language law does not serve Ukrainian national interests in unifying society or integrating with Europe, Vladimir Pastukhov says. Instead, it represents “the best gift to Putin” he has received since he launched his invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

            On the one hand, while it may cause 15 percent of Russian speakers in Ukraine to learn Ukrainian, it will lead another 15 percent to leave the country with the 70 percent remaining angry and thus available for mobilization as a fifth column against the regime, the London-based Russian analyst says (republic.ru/posts/93636).

            And on the other, it will anger the Europeans with whom Kyiv wants to integrate because EU countries today are committed to providing language rights to the minorities on their territories. They will not look kindly at what Ukraine has done not because it is done to Russians but because it is being done to minorities. And they will be less prepared to welcome Kyiv.

            In neither case will this new law contribute to the strengthening of the national security of Ukraine, Pastukhov says. Rather the reverse. Why then was it adopted? The Russian government by its actions certainly helped create conditions for that, but the real reason, the analyst says, lies in the set of ideas which one can designate as “’the Ukrainian dream.’”

            That dream, which has a history extending back far before 2014 is “the striving to the establishment of a Ukrainian state independent of Russia. In this phrase, ‘from Russia’ are the key words.

            “The most important part of this independence for many ideologues of the Ukrainian national state is cultural independence and freedom from the complex of ‘the younger brother.’” The informal hymn of the Maidan in fact was “Never will we be brothers” with its refrain “you are enormous [but] we are great.”

            The Russian invasion did not create this attitude: it simply made it possible for that attitude to achieve “its radical project” in the form of the Ukrainian language law, Pastukhov continues. That law must not be criticized from the point of view of the defense of the rights of Russian speakers or the pretenses of the residents of the former imperial center.

            Instead, it deserves criticism because the law does not promote “the achievement of the main goal – the construction of a Ukrainian nation state and the securing of its cultural independence.”  Ukrainianization is “historically and politically justified. The entire question is in the choice of means and speed.”

            The current situation in Ukraine and many other “former Russian colonies” is anomalous: the universal language is not that of the titular nations but the language of a major ethnic minority, the representatives of the former empire.  For these countries to become successful, that should and must change.

            The issue is how to do that. “The creation of a single language space on the basis of Ukrainian is possible either by stimulating its spread or by suppressing the spread of Russian. That is, there is a choice between non-discriminatory and discriminatory models,” Pastukhov continues.

            Promoting Ukrainian as the national language is appropriate and good, but discriminating against Russian speakers by limiting their access to Russian-language materials and activities is not. Instead, the new law by doing the latter offends, alienates and separates a community that should become part of the nation.

            “The deep causes of the popularity of the discriminatory approach to the resolution of the language question among a significant part of the Ukrainian intelligentsia are obvious and in no way connected with the war” and its impact, he argues. They are “impatience and a lack of readiness and an inability to wait.”

            The current linguistic situation in Ukraine wasn’t created overnight and won’t be changed overnight, but the supporters of this law don’t want to wait. As a result, this impatience has given rise to linguistic bolshevism with its philosophy of the great leap forward … [But] like any other great leap, this is a utopia.” Worse it will subvert its own goals.

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