Anyone who has spent time in Ukraine knows that the Russian language remains dominant over Ukrainian. Russian is not a minority language. Russian does not require special protection by law.
In fact, the Ukrainian language – suppressed for centuries – could use a boost, along with a healthy dose of national identity and pride. Moreover, picking a fight over language – as politicians have done this week – is not what Ukrainians want. People remained most concerned about the economy, introducing rule of law to their nation and becoming a full-fledged member of the European family of nations. The people want their leaders to combat corruption, bureaucracy, cronyism and nepotism – not be the instigators of these pervasive problems.
Ukrainians and visitors alike also know that, despite historical and cultural differences that exist across this great land, it is home to 45 million people who are peaceful, seeking positive changes and far too patient with their unresponsive political representatives.
The nation is capable of uniting at key times for the common good. More and more Ukrainians are recognizing that their diversity can be a big advantage.
Unfortunately, the nation’s leadership continues to cynically exploit these differences to retain political power as the elite continue to plunder the nation’s riches. A perfect example of such devious plotting is the language law adopted on July 3 by President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions in parliament.
The obvious purpose is to polarize voters ahead of the Oct. 28 parliamentary elections.
The law claims to uphold Ukrainian as the national tongue while protecting minorities. But by giving equal status in regions of Ukraine where more than 10 percent of residents speak “minority” languages, it will allow Russian to remain entrenched, threatening use of Ukrainian.
There are only two parties of interest that will benefit from this scenario – Yanukovych and his oligarch supporters, who run the nation as a private fiefdom, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who loves tripping up Ukraine’s progress as a nation every chance he gets.
Any sensitive and sophisticated reading of history would lead politicians to encourage the wider use and popularity of the Ukrainian language as a pillar of sovereignty. Ukrainians, by virtue of geography and hard realities, will always find it useful to learn other languages – especially international ones, such as English and Russian.
But given Ukraine’s troubled history of foreign domination, the divisive path that Yanukovych has chosen could lead to cultural and economic disintegration.