Friday, June 29, 2012
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Brawl in Ukrainian Parliament (courtesy of The New York Times)
Ukrainian political discussions are currently dominated by the proposed constitutional reforms to raise Russian to a second official language in the regions. According to the Eurasia Daily Monitor Russian speakers make up approximately 10% of the population in each of Ukraine's regions. To call the zakonoproekt divisive is an understatement; albeit the reform is one that political officials believe would improve the lives of millions of citizens in Ukraine's eastern provinces. Ukrainian nationalists believe that the law would remove any incentive for Eastern Ukrainians to learn the state language, and create a voter-base of nearly 37% of the population that does not speak Ukrainian. Put simply, Ukrainian nationalists fear another round of Russification policies that would threaten the existence of the Ukrainian language, a language which fortunately survived its colonial, genocidal, and totalitarian experiences of the 20th century.
President Yanukovych hopes to use the law to improve bilateral trade relations with Russia, which have soured since Moscow joined in the condemnation of ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's imprisonment. The memories of the Orange Revolution and then-president Viktor Yushchenko's plans to strengthen the country and its sense of "Ukrainianness" remain today, but little has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Regional identities have perhaps become stronger than ever in the wake of Soviet language policy and the failure of the Orange Revolution to introduce wide-sweeping changes in Ukraine, yet regionalism is doing little to strengthen Ukraine's position in the region or in its geo-political contacts with Europe and other Western states. The language debate taking place in the Ukrainian government creates an arena for highlighting contending issues of regional and national identity in present-day Ukraine. A number of regional protests (photos below) shed light on ordinary citizens' perspectives on identity and its importance in the future of the country.
"No words, no language" (courtesy of tyzhden.ua)
In a recent lecture given by historian Ivan Fedyk, of L'viv National University, the question was raised how post-Soviet Ukraine continues to exist despite regional cleavages concerning identity. Prof. Fedyk contends that the otherwise divided country of Ukraine and nation of Ukrainians is unified by the shared idea of Ukrainian statehood. Is the population actually willing to sacrifice its identity to preserve the state? It's doubtful, but the law could come up for referendum in the near future.
"I'm Russian and I don't ask for protection" (courtesy of tyzhden.ua)
Debates in government and among citizens suggest that neither side is considering backing down. Images from protests, as shown above, also suggest that Russian-speaking or native Russians living in Ukraine do not unanimously support the decisions of Yanukovych's government (it is this observer's intent to find more concrete figures and reporting about the breakdown of Russophone Ukrainian's opinions on the current debate in weeks to come).
The immediate future holds more of the same for Ukraine, perpetually suspended between East and West, as the European Union demands democratic reforms and the release of political prisoners while Russia continues to draw Ukraine closer to membership in its Customs Union. The revitalization of Ukraine's protest culture over language reforms could spread into other spheres as election season draws nearer. Some observers argue that another revolution on par with the 2004 Orange Revolution is necessary to transform the current system of governance in Ukraine, which is dominated by small families or clans. Ukrainians continue to be hugely invested in the dominant discussions in the country so there is no lack of political participation in the country.
Articles referred to in this post:
Zenon Zawada, "A political threat to Ukraine’s language," http://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/op-ed/a-political-threat-to-ukraines-language.html#.T-cyA2thiK0
"James Sherr: Ukraine's Relationship with the EU is Destructive", http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/james-sherr-ukraines-relationship-with-the-eu-is-d.html#.T-cDyVxhiSN
"Party of Regions Plays Russian Language Trump Card Again," Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 9, Issue 105
"Ukraine's Opposition Program Requires Another Revolution," Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 9, Issue 101, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%255Btt_news%255D=39430.
Tatiana Zhurzhenko. Borderlands into Bordered Lands: Geopolitics of Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine. Stuttgart: Ibidem-Verlag, 2010 [full review forthcoming]
«Всє на защіту русского язика!»: чому вітчизняні політики ігнорують національні почуття українців? ("All in defense of the Russian Language!": Why do domestic politicians ignore national feelings of Ukrainians?), http://tyzhden.ua/Politics/52929
"Мовний законопроект – поклони Кремлю за підтримку на виборах," (Language Law: Bowing to the Kremlin for Support in the Elections), http://www.radiosvoboda.org/content/article/24618065.html