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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Ukraine-Russia Relations
Letter 8


Ukrainian citizenship does imply rights and responsibilities. Ditto for Russian or US citizenship, for that matter. We don’t need the double standard, do we?

For more than a century, millions of Ukrainians have mastered Russian and English to become productive citizens of their host countries. If I were a member of the largest minority in Russia or America, would I be able to get a decent job without speaking the language of my host country?

Kuchma’s claim to fame started in a village where hardly a person spoke Russian. He quickly absorbed Russian in college and later on would trace himself as Russian. He rediscovered his Ukrainian roots only when he became Prime Minister. And he barely spoke Ukrainian at the time. But motivation moves mountains. He relearned Ukrainian and, in the twilight of his presidency, begot an international bestseller in Ukrainian:)

That’s why I just don’t believe that mastering Ukrainian, a Slavic language that has so much in common with Russian, creates a linguistic challenge for goodwilling Russians. The 2001 census did show a slightly stronger standing for the Ukrainians. Still, it was not a distant cry from the 1989 Soviet census to validate suspicions of rampant Ukrainization. In the good old Soviet times, many Ukrainians would dress themselves as Russians. What was the trick? Once they buried their ethnic identity and couched their credentials in the language of cultural superiority, they could gain access to better jobs. That’s how millions of Ukrainians unlearned their mother tongue. I doubt that the Russians would entertain the sort of cultural transition experienced by millions of Ukrainians.

In fact, learning Ukrainian never implied unlearning Russian. When Ukraine became independent, the Ukrainians did not retaliate by stigmatizing the Russians culturally. Had they done so, the Russians would have either walked away en masse or crammed themselves with Ukrainian. If all-out Ukrainization happens to be the case, then why do they have just a couple of Ukrainian schools in the entire Crimea and in Donetsk?

Ukraine does vote along ethno-geographic lines to a high degree. But other patterns also come into play. In December of 1991, the Ukrainians were not alone in voting for Ukraine’s independence. In July of 1994, the Russians living in Ukraine were not alone in voting for a pro-Russian Kuchma. In October and December of 2004, large numbers of Russian-speaking intelligentsia voted Yushchenko. And Yushchenko defeated Yanukovych in a total of two rounds — round 1 and 3. The March 26 parliamentary election does not promise a landslide victory for any single party.

I reject nazism in any form. I’m not a fan of KUN/UNSO extremist escapades, and I don’t think they are as active in Ukraine as skinheads are in Russia. At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words: On March 6, an elderly Cuban was murdered in Moscow.

Can anybody recall a single Russian slain in the streets of Lviv by Ukrainian nationalists, given the fact that Russian troops slaughtered and deported their fellow people by the tens of thousands? It’s still the other way around. A famous Ukrainian songwriter was slain in Lviv by a Russian who didn’t like Ukrainian songs.,3604,393658,00.html

Can anybody imagine a Ukrainian who would demand that a famous Russian songwriter stop singing Russian songs in a Moscow café, let alone assault him? What would be the consequences for the Ukrainian community? No Russians were killed in revenge, and that makes the Ukrainians different.

Kyiv rejects the idea of a referendum in the Crimea for exactly the same reasons why Moscow would reject one in Kaliningrad. Neither Ukraine nor Russia exhibits much interest in promoting separatism on its own soil.

More than 8 million Russians live in major Ukrainian cities: Kharkiv, Odessa, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Kyiv, Lviv. Almost 3 million Ukrainians live all across Russia: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kursk, Stavropol, Khantymansiysk, Komsomlsk. Have all the Ukrainians living in Russia mastered Russian? Yes. Have all the Ukrainians living in Ukraine mastered Russian? Yes. Have all the Russians, or at least younger people, living in Ukraine mastered Ukrainian? As of today, the answer is no.

The best way to promote unity and uniqueness is to treat people as linguistically capable and responsible individuals. It means individuals who are neither forced to forget their mother tongue nor are loathe to learn the mother tongue of their host country.

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