Saturday, July 24, 2021

Despite Putin’s Words, Moscow Does Recognize the Ukrainian Language as Distinct, Yaroshinskaya Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – All Yaroshinskaya, a senior Moscow commentator who was politically active at the end of Soviet times and the beginning of Russian ones, says that whatever Vladimir Putin says about Russians and Ukrainians being one people, even he has been forced to recognize that a separate Ukrainian language has existed for a long time.

            Beyond question, Putin wants Ukrainians to speak Russian; but his discussion of the history of Russian-Ukrainian relations unintentionally calls attention to Russian efforts from the 18th century up to now of Moscow’s efforts to restrict Ukrainian, an acknowledgement of its existence and power (

            Again and again the tsars and the commissars and now “democratic” Russian leaders have tried to restrict Ukrainian and get Ukrainians to speak Russian. Yaroshinskaya details the decrees and decisions of Russian rulers from the times of Peter the Great to the present; and she points as well to the single exception until now.

            That was the period in the 1920s when the Soviets, under their policy of korenizatsiya or “rooting,” required all officials in the non-Russian republics to know the titular language on pain of losing their jobs. That policy created a large cadre of people with new linguistic skills and helped win support among the non-Russians for Soviet power.

            But in the early 1930s, Stalin ended that policy and returned to the Russian-first one of his predecessors and successors. Like them, he believed that the promotion of non-Russian languages helped power the rise of nationalistic and secessionist sympathies and movements and therefore suppressed those who had risen under korenizatsiya.

            “History,” Yaroshinskaya says, “as is well known repeats itself. Today in Ukraine is taking place so to speak a corrected version of korenizatsiya. And in doing so, the present-day Kyiv authorities are acting in the best traditions of the Muscovite Bolsheviks.” The successors of the latter are reacting in exactly the same way too.

            But in doing so, they are admitting de facto what they publicly deny: Ukrainian is a self-standing language; it isn’t some dialect of Russian that can be readily suppressed. 


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