Monday, May 29, 2006

Language issues

Following the recent legally dubious granting, by their regional councils, of regional language status to the Russian language in Donetsk and other Eastern Ukrainian regions , the Donetsk 'novosti' website conducted a straw poll on this issue.

When local respondents were asked if the granting of regional status to the Russian language would improve the prosperity of their families, 95% said No.

When asked if they considered that the work of the city economy would improve, once Russian is granted regional language status, 99% said No.

When asked for whom they thought that life would get better once Russian is granted regional language status, 89% replied, Nobody.

And 91% considered that none of the city's problems would be solved by the recent declarations in the Donetsk city council on enhancement of the status of the Russian language and on Ukraine's ties with NATO.

As in many matters, Ukraine's politicians are sometimes behind their citizens in their thinking. The language issue is periodically 'wheeled out' to challenge the authorities in Kyiv and probe the government's weakness. Everybody knows that central government is far too weak to make any changes on the ground in the regions on these matters, even if it wanted to.

Most enlightened Russian-speaking Ukrainian politicians are aware that it is smart to have some knowledge of spoken Ukrainian. Kuchma, and Yanukovych made an effort to learn passable Ukrainian. Yulia Tymoshenko on entering politics, spoke little Ukrainian, but now, in public, this is usually her language of choice, even though BYuT tend to avoid taking a firm line on this delicate issue.

Even the King of Donbas, Rinat Akhmetov, on being elected to to the Ukrainian parliament, last month promised to learn Ukrainian, calling his own inability to speak the language a shortcoming. And in the recent VR elections, the party that took the most vociferous line on the language issue, Nataliya Vitrenko's Progressive Socialist Party, performed worse than expected, and narrowly failed to breach the 3% barrier.

Note: In comprehensive surveys conducted in 1997, 44% of Ukrainians said Russian was their language of preference, 41% said Ukrainian, while 14% were equally happy in either language. [From Andrew Wilson's 'The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation'.]

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