News / Europe

Ukraine’s Language Fight May Backfire on Yanukovych

Ukraine’s Language Fight May Backfire on President in Pollsi
|| 0:00:00
X
August 09, 2012 10:34 PM
Ukraine is like Canada - split between two languages. And that has often been a source of political tension. Ukraine’s president has been dropping in opinion polls. So, in advance of Oct. 28 elections, he is playing the language card. James Brooke reports from Lviv, Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Language Fight May Backfire on President in Polls

James Brooke
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has signed a law that restores many privileges to Russian, a language that was favored in the Soviet era.
 
Under the new law, an estimated half of Ukraine’s districts will allow government business to be conducted in Russian. About one quarter of Ukraine’s 46 million people are believed to speak Russian at home.
 
In July, the language bill sparked fist fights inside Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada. Outside, protesters fought with riot police.
Deputies scuffle during a session in the chamber of the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev May 24, 2012.Deputies scuffle during a session in the chamber of the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev May 24, 2012.
x
Deputies scuffle during a session in the chamber of the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev May 24, 2012.
Deputies scuffle during a session in the chamber of the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev May 24, 2012.
In the 21 years since independence from the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian language has made strides, returning to the nation’s center and capital, Kyiv, from its Soviet-era stronghold in Western Ukraine.
 
Yanukovych is believed to have played the language card to energize his heavily Russian-speaking electorate in Eastern Ukraine. Ukrainians vote for a new parliament on October 28 and Yanukovych has steadily fallen in public opinion polls since his inauguration in February, 2010.
 
Olexiy Haran, a political scientist with Kyiv Mohyla University, says the president provoked the language debate in order to distract voters from Ukraine’s economic stagnation.
 
"The economic situation is not improving, so he needs to sell something," he said in an interview. "It is easy to say, ‘OK now I am going to solve the so-called language issue,' because according to polls language issue is not priority, even for electors of Yanukovych. But because he has nothing to boast about the realization of his socioeconomic promises, he can use this."
 
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukrainian became mandatory in schools, in movies, and on billboards.
 
Oksana Forostyna, editor of a Ukrainian language literary publication Krytyka, says it was easy for her family to switch between the two closely related languages.
 
"I spoke Ukrainian first to my classmates and to my friends at the university, then my parents began to speak Ukrainian to each other when they moved to Kyiv," said Forostyna, a native of Lviv. "And after that we switched to Ukrainian. That was very smooth and something very natural."
 
Interviewed in Kyiv, she says that since independence the nation’s capital has shifted from a Russian-speaking city to a bilingual city.
 
"When one person speaks Ukrainian and the other answers in Russian, I think it is something so common here that we do not even mention the thing," she said of a phenomenon often observed on Ukrainian television. "People who come here from elsewhere could be very surprised because there are not a lot of places in the world where you can see something like that."
 
Evhenia Tymoshenko moved from Ukraine to London in 1994, at age 14. Last year, she moved back to Kyiv to help her mother, Yulia, the imprisoned opposition leader. Speaking in English, she says Ukraine’s linguistic shift is clear.
 
"Even the Russian-speaking people who are not Ukrainian but live here, they prefer to have Ukrainian ... as only public or government language because they like Ukraine, they want Ukraine to be powerful as one state," she said.
 
President Yanukovych apparently picked August, when much of the nation is on summer vacation, to sign the language bill. On Thursday, the day after the signing, there was little public reaction.  
 
In Simferopol, the heart of Russian-speaking Crimea, the President’s Party of Regions held a support rally of about 400 people. People waved signs reading: "Crimeans welcome the language law" and "we want to speak Russian."
 
In the city of Lviv, in Western Ukraine, Ukrainian has become universal.
 
Andrei, a Soviet generation engineer, told me he once spoke daily in Russian — in the army and at his factory. When I chatted with him at a World War II memorial, he said it was the first time he had spoken Russian in one year.
 
"There should only be one language, the state language," said Andrei, who like many Ukrainians is bilingual. "That is my opinion, there should be only one language."
 
But several young people I met in Lviv and other Ukrainian-speaking areas could not speak Russian. In the west, students prefer to learn German, English or Polish.
 
Serhiy Kudelia, a Lviv political scientist who most recently taught at George Washington University in the United States, warns that the new language law may backfire on Ukraine’s president.
 
"The introduction of the regional language law may help the opposition to mobilize its voters against Yanukovych," he said, adding that some voters may think that Yanukovych's allegiance lies elsewhere.
 
"[Some voters may think] Yanukovych is really a foreign agent, an agent of Kremlin, and agent of Russia, who is promoting the interests of another country," he said.
 
By pushing the sensitive issue of language this week, Ukraine’s President may have activated his supporters — and his opponents.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Patrick JUng from: Rep. of Georgia, Tbilisi
August 10, 2012 5:42 AM
What a biased and unfair article, what gives people do not know much not a real idea about the situation in Ukraine.

In Response

by: mykry from: NY
August 10, 2012 12:53 PM
What exactly is biased? Because the article is pro-Ukrainian? What exactly is wrong with having Ukrainian as the official language in Ukraine? Why should Russian, the language of the occupiers, be given the same status? As is, Russian is still an overwhelming force in all of the media. Is this not by design? Limiting the Ukrainian language has been Moscow's goal; it's called Russification. It's been around for centuries and, make no mistake, it's still around.


by: Anonymous
August 10, 2012 1:10 AM
To learn more English go to www.eslexclusive.com. To travel to an English speaking country, go here to find cheap traveling rates: www.worldwidetravel.com

In Response

by: bobgumby from: USA
August 11, 2012 8:30 PM
Thats all well and good, but Ukrainians don't have the luxury of just traveling to just any place they wish...a lot of restrictions, and red tape.


by: Tom from: Vancouver
August 09, 2012 10:08 PM
Ukraine has been taken over by foreigners. The president is originally from Belarus, the Prime Minister is from Russia and the richest man bankrolling both of them is Tatar.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid