Friday, April 15, 2005

The Politics of Language in Ukraine and Eurasia

The following are two older articles from Taras Kuzio dealing with language issues inUkraine and Post-Soviet Eurasia in general that I have cut and pasted here since the articles are available only as PDFs off Kuzio's site. Below these will be links to more articles dealing with the language issue and Ukraine, and some of my own thoughts as I get around to writing them.

One statement to begin with: The political leadership of Russia is clearly refusing to facilitate and encourage a process of decolonization of the Russian collective mentality, refusing to allow happen in Russia a process of decolonization similar to what took place in Great Britain and France as those former imperial centers lost their empires. In fact, the Russian leadership is heading in the opposite direction, whipping up chauvanist fervor by manipulating the nostalgia for imperial greatness (be it in Soviet or Monarchical form) felt by an all-too significant number of Russians as a technology of its rule, and it does so in effort to consolidate its power domestically and to (re-)extend it internationally. On the international front, this technology of rule involves, as a primary technique, the manipulation of Russian diasporas and the politicization of issues of culture and especially language, the Russian language. The Putin government and its pundits have repeatedly attempted to politicize matters of language in order to destabilize the situation and therefore to gain leverage in a number of countries in what certain Russians like to call Russia's "near-abroad." Russian pundits and politicos and their stooges of different backgrounds tell people in Russia that their brethren abroad are being persecuted, and at the same time send messages to the Russian diaspora of various post-Soviet nations that they stand to loose their language/culture/identity altogether as Russians due to supposedly extremist policies of nationalist governments hostile toward minority rights in a number of post-Soviet states. This attack has been launched, most perniciously, in Russia's dealings with Ukraine and Latvia. Ukraine has the largest Russian diaspora numerically of any former Soviet republic, while Latvia has the highest ratio of Russian to the number of the main ethnic group per capita; i.e. it has the greatest ratio of Russian to non-Russian majority (to Latvian). Ethnic Russians constitute nearly half the population of Latvia today, but in 1941 Latvia was nearly 95% Latvian. Latvia has just about the toughest post-Soviet era laws, when it comes to the matter of language, governing how one can become a citizen: In order to obtain Latvian citizenship, one must prove fluency in Latvian. Hence, the majority of Russians in Latvia are not citizens of any nation, neither of Latvia nor Russia, and are thus are left with three options: 1) Learn Latvian; 2) Remain as a permanent resident of Latvia, but without the vote; 3) Emigrate to Russia (which few want to do, as Latvia has a much higher standard of living). This has led one Russian official (rather hysterically, I may add) to call Latvia Russia's "enemy #1."

These are tough issues. However, there would be much less polarization on the matter and much more clarity if the Russian government would back off of its manipulations through its various mechanisms and contacts with the diaspora. People have been living together in a bilingual or multilingual world within each of these countries for a long time; it always takes politicians and other powerful people with agendas that are way beyond the concerns of everyday people to stir things up. Latvia, a country in which MANY Russians understand and speak Latvian quite well (while nearly every Latvian can speak and understand Russian), would be a much calmer place without the rhetoric eminating from the eastern neighbor that supports the rhetoric of ultranationalist Russian zealots in Latvia (the local equivalents of Russia's Vladimir Zhironovski) to the point in which their extremism begins to seem normal and un-extreme. For an extreme comparison, this is part of the explanation for what happened in Bosnia: local Serb ultranationalist zealots got support from neighboring Serbia (in that country, not just ideologically, but militarily), a significant enough of people started to accept the ultranationalist rhetoric as normal, and things went bizerk. And back to Ukraine: the Russian government and it's agents in Ukraine tried to convince Ukrainians that Yushchenko was an Ukrainian ultranationalist who would shut down Russian language schools (a blatant lie, which has not come to pass in a Ukraine with Yushchenko as president). In the end the majority of Ukrainians (in the civic sense), whether they spoke Ukrainian or Russian, saw through the rhetoric. They saw how the oligarchs and their stooges, and their supporters in the Russian government and press, were merely trying to distract the Ukrainian people by encouraging them to think in terms of khlib' (Ukrainian for bread) or khleb' (Russian for bread), as they--the oligarchs--were preparing to steal the dough.

Is the Russian government really interested in individual human rights? Is Putin really crusading on the behalf of down-trodden brethren whose rights as minorities are facing annihilation by ultranationalist governments? Or is there another agenda behind the rhetoric and posturing?


By Taras Kuzio

In the second round of Ukraine's July 1994 presidential elections, the incumbent, Leonid Kravchuk, won the majority of votes west of the River Dnipro and his main challenger, Leonid Kuchma, the majority east of that river. The larger urban and industrial centers of eastern Ukraine gave Kuchma a modest lead over Kravchuk. Since those elections, the prevailing view among many scholars and policymakers in the West has been that Ukraine is clearly divided into two linguistic halves: "nationalist, pro-European, and Ukrainophone" western Ukraine and "Russophile, pro-Eurasian and Russophone" eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, this framework for understanding post- Soviet Ukraine has failed when it has been applied to the Kuchma. When elected in 1994, Kuchma was an eastern Ukrainian Russophone, and it was predicted that he would return Ukraine to Eurasia. Instead, Ukrainian foreign policy has remained consistent throughout the 1990s, regardless of the language spoken by the president or his support base. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs defined this policy in 1996 as "Integration into Europe, Cooperation with the CIS," which continues to rule out Ukraine's participation in the military and political structures of the CIS. Under Kuchma, Ukrainian foreign policy has shifted westward more decisively, especially with regard to NATO. Ukraine has also been instrumental in preventing Russian regional hegemony through its membership in the pro-Western GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) regional group, which in effect split the CIS into two groups of an equal number of states. Using language as the sole or main criterion by which to analyze post-soviet Ukrainian developments has proved to be flawed for two reasons. First, it assumed that Ukrainians belonged to either one or the other linguistic camp-- Ukrainophones or Russophones. Most observers argued that language data in the 1989 Soviet census were flawed and that the actual number of Ukrainophones was far smaller than the number of Russophones in Ukraine. Moreover, a large proportion of Ukrainians, perhaps even the majority, are bilingual and therefore cannot be characterized as either purely Ukrainophone or Russophone. Kuchma himself, for example, uses Ukrainian in public but has a Russian wife and almost certainly speaks Russian in the private sphere. Which of the two linguistic groups does he belong to? Data from an Intermedia National Survey in late 1999 conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology asked "In which language is it easier for you to talk?" Of the respondents, 44.2 percent said in Ukrainian and only 38.7 percent said in Russian. In response to the question "which language do you speak at home?" 47.8 percent said Ukrainian, 36.3 percent Russian, and 14.4 percent both. Second, there has been no evidence of the mobilization of Russophones as a group or lobby. Indeed, there is strong evidence that Russophones in Crimea, Odesa, the Donbas, Kyiv and western Ukraine have very distinct separate identities and have developed different attitudes toward the Ukrainian language, nation-building, and foreign policy. A recent study found that Russophones in Odesa and the Donbas exhibit "language retention," while in Kyiv and Lviv they favor assimilation or "language integration." A large number of Kyivites, for example, continue to use Russian as their main language but have not opposed sending their children to Ukrainian language schools, which now account for 80 percent of all schools in the city. A recent poll conducted in Kyiv by the National Democratic Initiatives Center among a representative sample of Kyivites was aimed at gauging the attitudes of Russian speakers and demonstrated this lack of uniformity among Russophones. Five main results emerged from the poll. First, 53 percent of Kyivites speak Russian always or most of the time. Of these respondents, 70 percent were brought up in a Russian-language environment. Second, half of these Russophones believe that the "Ukrainian language is an attribute of Ukrainian statehood." They feel that its usage in all spheres in the capital city does not reflect its state status and that there is still a need to raise its prestige. Moreover, according to these Russophones, state officials should take exams in the Ukrainian language to prove their proficiency. Only 30 percent of Russophones in Kyiv disagreed with these views. Three, two-thirds of Russophones in Kyiv feel that their rights as Russian speakers are not infringed on within a Ukrainian language information space. Four, 70 percent of Russophones in Kyiv believe that Ukrainian citizens should know the Ukrainian language well and 44 percent believe that they personally should improve their Ukrainian because it is important for them to do so. And five, only 43 percent of Russophones in Kyiv agreed raising the status of Russian to second state language. The organizers of the poll concluded that only up to one-third of Russophones in Kyiv are opponents of Ukrainianization. Meanwhile, 50-55 percent use Russian but remain positively disposed toward increased use of the Ukrainian language and do not see such a development as in any way harming their national dignity. Contemporary Ukrainian studies await further research into the myth of Russophone unity in Ukraine. Clearly the situation in Ukraine is far more complicated than a simplistic division of the country into two linguistic groups , one oriented toward Europe (Ukrainophones) and the other toward Eurasia (Russophones). If Ukraine's elites wish to maintain an independent state, they have no alternative but to continue with a policy of "Integration into Europe, Cooperation with the CIS."

The author is a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University. 07-07-00


By Taras Kuzio

A battle is raging over language in the post-Soviet space. Soviet nationality policies left a legacy of 25 million Russians and many more "compatriots," that is, Russian speakers, in countries of the former USSR excluding Russia. Moscow sees the continued use of the Russian language in former Soviet states with large numbers of Russophones as ensuring its continued influence over these countries. Russia has therefore praised Belarus and Kyrgyzstan for elevating Russian to second state language and official language respectively, and Kazakhstan's President Nazarbaev for proposing a CIS Fund to Promote the Russian Language. In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that if Moldova raised Russian to a second state language, Moscow would cease supporting the separatist Transdniester. And last month Russia released its new foreign policy concept, which seeks to "obtain guarantees for the rights and freedoms of compatriots" and "to develop comprehensive ties with them and their organizations." Currently, the State Duma is drafting a bill on the status of the Russian language in the CIS. By contrast, states such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine are downgrading the status of Russian. In Ukraine, the language question has been the source of heated exchanges with Russia since last December, when the Constitutional Court ruled that all state officials should know and use Ukrainian and suggested how the constitutional provision for Ukrainian as the sole state language could be enforced. Deputy Prime Minister for the Humanities Mykola Zhulynskyi drew up a program for expanding use of the Ukrainian language, and a draft law was placed before the parliament that replaced Russian with Ukrainian as the "language for inter-communication" in Ukraine. In fact, Ukraine's policies on enhancing the Ukrainian language are similar to those advanced by President Putin, who in January established a Council on the Russian Language that aims to enhance the use of Russian both at home and abroad. One of the council's first moves was to order the Ministry of Education to fine Russian officials who have a poor command of Russian. This summer, Russia and Ukraine began to trade accusations after nationalist demonstrations in Lviv followed the death of Ihor Bilozir, a popular singer who was killed by two Russophones after he refused to stop singing Ukrainian songs. The Lviv Oblast Council responded by limiting the use of Russian in public places, including popular music in cafes, and in business circles. Radical nationalist parties formed volunteer squads to monitor the application of these new rules. On 7 June, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the "anti-Russian hysteria" sweeping western Ukraine, and 10 days later, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Ivan Aboimov complained about the alleged official encouragement of the Russophobic campaign against the Russian language. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry rejected these allegations and the right of Russia to speak on behalf of Russians and "compatriots." The Russian State Duma, for its part, provoked further tensions by accusing Ukraine of having violated the provisions on national minorities in the May 1997 Russian-Ukrainian treaty. It went on to demand that Putin adopt the necessary measures to halt the alleged discrimination. The Ukrainian parliament rejected all the Duma's accusations as a "manifestation of interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state." The increased use of Ukrainian in education throughout the 1990s has inevitably led to a commensurate decline in the use of Russian. The Ukrainian parliament sees this as "the Ukrainian authorities' intention to secure the inalienable and natural right of Ukrainian citizens to use their mother tongue," and it has rejected accusations that this is in any way "racially discriminatory." Within the CIS, according to the Ukrainian lawmakers, Kyiv's nationality policies are "balanced and far-sighted," leading to "interethnic accord and peace." In claiming that Ukraine had violated the 1997 treaty, the State Duma pointed to Article 12, which outlines the obligation of both states to ensure the ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious identity of national minorities in each country. The status of Ukrainians in Russia and Russians in Ukraine was the subject of a visit to the two countries by OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Max van der Stoel, last month. However, it is Russia--not Ukraine--that has breached Article 12. Although the 4.5 million-strong Ukrainian community constitutes the second-largest national minority in the Russian Federation (after Tatars), they do not have a single Ukrainian school, theater, or newspaper. Parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarch have been forcibly abolished. In Ukraine, where Russians are the largest minority, constituting 22 percent of the population, 33 percent of pupils and students are enrolled in Russian- language schools and universities. And also in Ukraine, 1,193 newspapers are published in Russian, compared with 1,394 in Ukrainian. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarch continues to boast the largest number of parishes. While the Lviv Oblast Council resolutions detailing language requirements in the private sector are excessive, the region remains more tolerant than either the Donbas or Crimea. A Sotsis-Gallup opinion poll on ethnic tolerance found Crimea to be the most intolerant among Ukraine's regions. Although Ukrainians make up a quarter of the Crimean population, only four of 582 Crimean schools (0.69 percent) are Ukrainian, and only one out of 392 publications on the peninsula is in Ukrainian. In the Donbas, where Ukrainians constitute 50 percent of the population, the proportion of pupils in Ukrainian language schools is still only 10 percent.

The author is honorary research fellow, Stasiuk Program on Contemporary Ukraine at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta.


3) Another Kuzio article; summary: Ukraine's population is decreasing, but use of Ukrainian is increasing as well as number of population who consider themselves Ukrainian.

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