July 10, 2019

Once Again About the Language

What Russia Wants and What It Is After


Ivan Sichen

In June 2019 Russia for the second time in a row initiated a meeting of the UN Security Council because of Ukraine's new Language Law. For the first time such an initiative was put forward by Moscow on May 20, 2019, but it did not find support from members of the Security Council. In this regard, it was clearly stated that the issue is Ukraine's internal affair and does not create threats to security of other countries or the world as a whole.

At the same time, Russia is once again trying to exacerbate the situation around the Language Law of Ukraine at the international level. Why Moscow does it is common knowledge. We and other Ukrainian mass media have repeatedly analyzed this issue. This is the Kremlin's using any occasion to discredit Ukraine. And an attempt to distract the world's attention from really urgent problems in Russian-Ukrainian relations, and to conceal the true essence of Moscow's policy, which poses a threat to the world and regional security.

And, of course, — to accuse Ukraine of non-fulfilling the Minsk Agreements, which, according to the Kremlin's plan, should relieve it from responsibility for the continuation of the armed confrontation in the Donbas. Today this is especially important for Russia as the main condition for lifting of Western sanctions from it. At this, the leadership of the Russian Federation does not care about the fact that the Language Law of Ukraine has nothing to do with the provisions of the plan for settling the conflict in the East of Ukraine.

…Russia is striking on Ukraine in the language sphere, which plays a major role in shaping the consciousness and self-identification of Ukrainian nation…

Russia's goals regarding the Ukrainian Language Law are much more profound. For one, they include undermining of the basic foundations of Ukrainian statehood in order to create conditions for returning Ukraine to the sphere of Russian influence, or, to be exact, to make it part of the so-called Russian world. To this end, Russia is striking on Ukraine in the language sphere, which plays a major role in shaping the consciousness and self-identification of any nation, Ukrainian one included.

Within the framework of practical steps to implement such intentions, the Russian leadership is trying to force Ukraine to minimize the use of the Ukrainian language and to actually replace it with Russian. They do not mind also regionalization of languages in Ukraine as a basis for federalization, but, in fact, disintegration of our state.

All these Moscow's plans were completely destroyed by the adoption in Ukraine of the new Language Law. Moreover, for the first time since Ukraine's getting independence in 1991, this Law has created all the necessary conditions for ensuring the country's national, spiritual, cultural, and hence state development.

It is clear that this completely contradicts Russia's interests. That is why the RF is making every possible effort to force Ukraine to cancel its Language Law. To this end, Moscow exerts pressure on Ukraine in a wide range of spheres and hopes to wing over to its side the Western partners of our state.

How it is done is again known to everybody. By accusing Ukraine of “harassing” and “violating the rights” of national minorities who allegedly are forbidden to use their own language. And also through assertions that all those who do dare to use their native tongue, “are persecuted by Ukrainian nationalists”.

Unfortunately, in this issue, Russia already has followers, such as Hungary, or rather, its ruling elite, headed by Prime Minister V. Orban. What can be added here if for Russian money and economic preferences for its own business Hungary's leadership blocks the development of relations between Ukraine and NATO under the pretext of the “language problems” of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine.


However, we will still say our word in response to such allegations and insinuations.

Firstly, the vast majority of countries make every possible effort to protect the national language at both, the state and at the community level. And they have the right to do so. For example, in almost all countries, legislative norms have been adopted that give the national language the status of the state (official) one, guarantee its development and protect against negative external influence. The exception is a number of countries with a federal government system, where equally are represented different nations with compact residing areas, or former colonies that maintain close links with their metropolises. Given this, they may have a few equal state (official) languages. Ukraine is an independent, sovereign and unitary country and has the full right to defend its national language in exactly the same way as all other countries do.

The world by number of official languages
The world by number of official languages

Secondly, the Ukrainian Language Law was adopted in compliance with the requirements of the Constitution of Ukraine and in no way discriminates the languages of national minorities or foreign languages in the territory of our state. On the contrary, the Law guarantees the right to study in languages of national minorities and indigenous people at elementary schools, along with the state language. Besides, the Law does not apply to the sphere of private communication, religious cults and the work of private educational institutions. All this also applies to the Russian language, “being protected” by Moscow. No protection is needed at all. It is the Ukrainian language that needs protection, especially in the occupied territories of Ukraine, where it is deliberately suppressed by Russia.

Studying in languages of national minorities in Ukraine
Studying in languages of national minorities in Ukraine

Thirdly, the real violation of the rights of national minorities in the language sphere is not in Ukraine, but in Russia itself and in Hungary. For example, neither Russia nor Hungary has ratified the European Charter for Regional Languages and Minority Languages. According to the Charter, such languages should be granted the status of the second official in the regions of their historical spread and use. Besides, the Charter also reads about making it possible to study in the regional language, from preschool to higher education.

Instead, within the framework of the policy of strengthening the internal regime in the country, Russia conducts total assimilation of national minorities in its territory, including by limiting the possibility of using their own national languages. In particular, in June 2018, on the submission of V. Putin, the RF State Duma adopted its own law “On Education”, which cancelled compulsory study of local national languages in autonomous republics of the country. As expected, the consequence of this was the exclusion of local languages from most curricula. As a result, today in Russia there are textbooks for studying only five national languages, while there are 230 of them.

Exactly the same situation is with the language rights of Ukrainians living on Russian territory. Well, we wont talk about those who came to work. What rights can they have? But in due time, in exchange for Crimea, Russia received five districts of Sumy and Kharkiv regions of Ukraine, Belgorod region and the city of Taganrog. Ukrainians who speak Ukrainian, including young people, are still living in those territories. At the same time, there are no Ukrainian schools or higher educational institutions there, let alone local Ukrainian media. Moreover, the Ukrainian language in Russia is in fact equated with terrorism, which also shows the prosecution of Ukrainians for political reasons.

Ukrainian schools in Russia and Russian schools in Ukraine
Ukrainian schools in Russia and Russian schools in Ukraine

However, this is nothing new for Russia. Throughout our common history, it had been trying not only to prevent the emergence of an independent Ukraine, but also to eliminate Ukrainians as a single nation in general through all possible oppression of the Ukrainian language and culture.

For example, back in 1720, Russian Tsar Peter I banned publishing books in Ukrainian. In 1731, under the order of Empress Anna, all Ukrainian books were confiscated and studying in Russian was introduced. And in 1763, Catherine II banned teaching in the Ukrainian language at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. At the same time, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church forbade the Ukrainian ABC-book.

Later, the oppression of the Ukrainian language and culture became systematic. In the 19th century, were forbidden all Ukrainian schools, publishing of Ukrainian books and conducting church services and theatrical performances in the Ukrainian language. Besides, the use of the Ukrainian language in public institutions was prohibited.

…In the 20th century, the policy of Russian tsars and emperors to assimilate Ukraine was continued by communist authorities of the USSR…

In the 20th century, the policy of Russian tsars and emperors to assimilate Ukraine was continued by communist authorities of the USSR. Thus, in 1922 a course was announced for the victory of “urban” (Russian) culture in Ukraine over “peasant” (Ukrainian) one. And in 1933, leader of the USSR J. Stalin officially launched a policy of total Russification of Ukraine and of the entire Soviet Union.

The next step on this path was the Decree of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) “On Preparing for the 50th Anniversary of the USSR”, which for the first time set the task “to create a new historical community — the Soviet people” through denationalization of the peoples of the country. The implementation of such plans continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union. In particular, in 1989, the Central Committee of the CPSU adopted a resolution on “legislative consolidation of the Russian language as a nationwide”. And in 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted the Law “On the Languages of the Peoples of the Soviet Union”, where the Russian language was given the status of the official language.

…In the occupied and annexed territories of Ukraine Moscow destroyed everything that concerns the Ukrainian language and culture…

As mentioned above, the same policy is pursued by Moscow in the occupied and annexed territories of Ukraine, where everything that concerns the Ukrainian language and culture is being completely destroyed. Thus, in Crimea and the “DPR” and “LPR”, all Ukrainian schools are closed and the spiritual institutions of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine are being systematically eliminated.

And after all this, Russia cynically and shamelessly puts forward claims to Ukraine's Language Law of all places — at the UN Security Council. How else can this be identified if not Moscow's direct interference with internal affairs of our state and intention to continue its Russification. Fortunately, most members of the UN understand this, which is confirmed by their support for Ukraine. I wanted this to be at last understood by those citizens of our country who believe in Russia and consider the Ukrainian Language Law as such that “violates their rights”. Not to mention the politicians who use it for the purpose of their pre-election struggle.