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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake 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.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid