Supporters of the Ukrainian opposition hold up the Ukrainian national flag during a protest in Kyiv on July 30. Ukrainian lawmakers refused to re-consider a controversial language bill that upgrades the status of the Russian language. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
During recent language debates in the sea of emotions one thing has been painfully missing: an island of basic critical thinking.
Poetic quotes such as “нації вмирають не від інфаркту спочатку в них відбирають мову” (Nations do not die from a heart stroke – at first they are deprived of their language) while undoubtedly lyrical, are devoid of any testability beyond iambic pentameter. The purpose of this article is to expose the ubiquitous lack of reasoning behind the most popular arguments put forward for not allowing Russian language any legally recognized status.
We often hear: “The name of the country is Ukraine, hence the only legal language must be Ukrainian.” The frequency with which it is said (even by people with higher education) is peculiar in its own right, because a 15 second look at the world map will reveal plenty of independent countries for which this presumed axiom does not hold: from Austria to Australia to Aruba to Argentina to Belgium to Brazil to Belize to Bosnia and this is just an (incomplete) list of countries starting with letters “A” and “B...”
Another platitude deserving attention is: “The state language is Ukrainian, it is what it is – deal with it.” Sucha quaint example of circular logic rests on the notion that a state language is as impervious to changes as the Laws of Thermodynamics. Closer look at even most recent world history will reveal that this process is indeed very possible without altering Earth’s gravity.
What about the opinion that “We have to go back to the times when everybody spoke Ukrainian?” While being a credible position in Imagination Land, it, of course has nothing to do with reality. The veracity with which this myth is reiterated at times passes for sincerity. Millions upon millions of people living in the territory of modern Ukraine have been speaking both languages for centuries.
Some would argue that: “People who support Russian as a second language are against Ukrainian.”
It cannot be farther from truth as there has not been a single credible social study made showing that people who want to give Russian any legal status want it to be the ONLY official language allowed.
Others will say that “People supporting Russian as a second language want reunification with Russia.” Again, no credible evidence has been put forward. As a side note –who, one may wonder, in the Party of Regions would like to pay “a cut” to Moscow? A desire for stronger economic/cultural ties is NOT the same thing as being ruled by another country.
One of the counter arguments on the topic to be heard sounds like: “You cannot make a comparison to multilingual Europe because Ukraine is very different.”
Of course, no country is shown which we CAN actually compare Ukraine to. The irony gets amplified when it comes to conversations about membership in European Union –these unbridgeable differences tend to be conveniently forgotten. This position is probably the more irresponsible one because it suggests that we should not use any historical precedents even as approximate guides, not mentioning being in direct contradiction to human rights aspects of the very Europe, part of which they are striving to be.
A statement that “Ukrainian language will not survive” –is hardly said with a straight face. If actually meant seriously, it is borderline cowardly because people saying it are inherently implying Ukrainian language’s inferiority, and that the only way it can survive is through forcing it upon the unwilling: “Mommy, kids won’t play with me – can you make them?”The fact that Ukrainian language proved its self-sufficiency and vitality during the hardest of times will make one doubt the seriousness of this claim.
The absolute majority of arguments put forward on this topic can be found in the paragraphs above. We can speculate about the source of emotions which make the aforementioned “reasoning” go unchallenged, but I would surmise that Russian nationalists have a lot to do with this anger fueling if not creating thisbitter disdain.
Ukraine, being a young country needs its identity, its heroes, but the fact that Andriy Shevhenko or Yana Klochkova speak Russian, does not make their achievements less Ukrainian. Investing in Ukrainian language and culture is a venture worth undertaking, but it shouldn’t be stained with a shameful practice oflanguage cleansing.
Yan Pronin works for Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas, Nevada.