Monday, August 9, 2021

Moscow Upset by New Talk in Kyiv about Latinization of Ukrainian

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 3 – The Institute of Linguistics of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences has opened a new discussion about the possibility of shifting from the Cyrillic to the Latin script for Ukrainian, an idea various Ukrainian nationalists have promoted in the past but that is abhorrent to Moscow and many Russians.

            The Ukrainian Institute has used as the occasion for this new discussion the 130th anniversary of the birth of Sergey Pilipenko who promoted Latinization not just of Ukrainian but of Russian as well in the 1920s ( and

            Russian officials are angry; but one Russian writer, Anna Shershnyeva points out that Pilipenko is a more complicated figure than the Ukrainians may recognize and that if one knows something about him, he may not be the person Kyiv should want to hang its hat on (

            Pilipenko, she writes, was a convinced communist and viewed “a single (Latin) alphabet as a means of uniting various peoples who in the future could build communism. Indeed, he treated differences in alphabets as a manifestation of nationalism and an obstacle on the path to ‘participation in international cultures.”

            Although he joined the Bolshevik party in 1919, Pilipenko became the leader of linguistics in Ukraine during the 1920s. “Possibly” for that reason, he was expelled from the party in 1933, arrested and shot, a history Shershnyeva says Ukrainians considering his ideas should remember.

            But the Russian critic may have missed the point. Instead of undercutting the Ukrainian drive toward Latinization, referring to Pilipenko reinforces that effort, reminding Ukrainians just how much a challenge Moscow views Latinization and thus elevating its political importance in the minds of many Ukrainians who have not focused on this issue up to now.   


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