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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ukraine-Russia Relations
Letter 9

Certainly, not all Americans should brace themselves for bilinguality. But immigrants who seek American citizenship should. And as R. Smith noted, people interested in expanding their horizons or reviving their roots would be welcome, too. Shevchenko, the Langston Hughes of Ukrainian poetry, may be a tough nut to crack for English-speaking students of Ukrainian.

Unfortunately, throughout the 15 years of Ukraine’s independence, its academia has been cash-strapped and in a state of atrophy. It has failed to produce popular online engines or quality self-help manuals for English speakers eager to learn Ukrainian. Anyway, explore these links:

And if anybody knows Yushchenko’s CIA controllers, ask them to share:)

Shevchenko became a cornerstone of Ukrainian culture for his insightful and inspirational rhymes such as, “І чужому навчайтесь, і свого не цурайтесь.” (Always learn from others, never unlearn what’s yours.) Unfortunately, millions of Ukrainians in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union had a different values system scripted for them: “Learn what’s mine, lose what’s yours.” Geopolitical corollary: “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine.”

With a mammoth PR budget at its disposal thanks to the big brother media, the Kremlin employs regional “escort services” in a bid to keep its ideological “adware” alive. After the Orange Revolution had run a devastating virus scan, they thought they could never plant it again. But the orange guys left too many things unpatched. And now comes another chance for the Kremlin to run its vampiric program. Breaking news: What does it mean for the grass-root donors? Among other things, it means being coopted as people with learning disabilities, disposable the day after the election — like an empty box of chocolates. Does a non-binding referendum guarantee Russian as a second official language? Not really. To amend Ukraine’s Constitution, the blue belt would have to muster a total of 300 votes in the newly-elected Rada. Tall order, isn’t it?

That’s how it goes. That’s why Ukrainization rings like a marketable bugaboo in Ukraine, while Russification doesn’t ring in Russia at all — it’s a bizarre notion. And what it all comes down to? Ukrainization probably holds the record for the longest run at number #1 on the Kremlin’s CIS agitprop charts. Whenever an election comes up in Ukraine, there it is — raving mad, from station to station, all across the nation. Dear Russian speakers, somebody wants to play you like a tune. Would you enjoy every minute of it?

More on the double standard. The Russian leadership propagates linguistic liberties everywhere except its own domain. Take Tatarstan, for one. Populated by a Turkic-speaking people, this oil-rich autonomous republic requested a switch from Cyrillic to Latin. Guess what the Kremlin said to the largest minority in the Russian Federation.

In Ukraine, the previous administrations would keep Ukrainian on the backburner while touting Russian to snag a few extra votes. President Kravchuk (1991-94), who craves reincarnation in this parliamentary election, campaigns for Russian as a second official language. President Kuchma (1994-04), who shuns the world of politics, had exploited Russian as a publicity scratch pad in the 1994 campaign. Once elected, he would quietly abandon it. Did his confidence trick signal a tsunami of Ukrainization to be unleashed on the Russian community? No. In fact, under the chameleon and colonial karma of these leaders, many Ukrainians would still consider themselves culturally lower-caste.

They would have their self-image probed on a regular basis. In the 90s, if one spoke Ukrainian to an urban Russophone, she could get a response that would amount to something like “Get your black ass out of here, you cotton field nigger.” Now that the melting pot of the Soviet Union had fallen apart, the Ukrainians expected cultural recovery. It didn’t happen. Not only did the Russians, whose language the Ukrainians had learned, refuse to return the courtesy, but in southeastern Ukraine they would also despise them. Thus, folks who strongly identified themselves with Ukrainian culture would often navigate their own country as islands unto themselves.

Ukraine did not buy into Communism Inc via a mail-order catalogue. CEO Vladimir Lenin had to dispatch his sales reps. Armed to the teeth and well-organized, they called themselves the Red Army. And they had to kill millions of prospects literary (1917-21, 1932-33) before ringing the sale and going bankrupt in 1991. On December 1, 1991, 90 percent voted yes to an independent Ukraine. Turnout was 84 percent. More than you would normally expect from a “deeply divided” country.

The Ukrainization of the 20s and 30s was a pet policy from the world’s most oppressive regime designed to increase popularity and ensure self-prolongation. The sticks that followed vastly outnumbered the carrots:

“Starting from the early 1930s, the Ukrainization policies were abruptly and bloodily reversed. ‘Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism’ was declared to be the primary problem in Ukraine. Ukrainianized newspapers, publications, and schools were switched to Russian. The vast majority of leading scholars and cultural leaders of Ukraine were imprisoned, deported, or shot, as were the ‘Ukrainianized’ and ‘Ukrainianizing’ portions of the Communist party. The so-called Great Terror in Ukraine reached its climax in 1933, presaging the Soviet Great Purge of 1937–38. Soviet Ukraine's political autonomy was completely destroyed. See Ukrainian language#Persecution and russification.”

The bitter turf war between the Ukrainians and Poles during WW II witnessed atrocities committed on both sides. The Jews indeed were caught in the crossfire, as centuries of hatred accumulated against them translated into a series of terrible pogroms. Still, not all Ukrainians felt the same way about Jews. Many would risk their lives to saves Jews. Ukraine ranks fourth on the list of Righteous Gentiles among nations.

Propelled by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Russian troops stormed into Galicia as peacemakers. They also excelled as widowmakers. When it came to the art of genocide, Stalin could coach Hitler.

Members of all sides in this conflict with a heart for history have attempted reconciliation. But the Russian leadership often resists such attempts. Recently, the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office found no evidence of genocide in the Katyn massacre.

Ukraine is neither a confederation nor a federation. This distinguishing characteristic sets Ukraine apart from Switzerland, Canada, and Russia. If all Canadians spoke two languages, Quebec would never feel uncomfortable. (Still, in that case, Celine Dion would have probably launched her career in English, killing the very cultural ingredient that makes her special.) If all citizens of Switzerland spoke four languages, it could pass for a unitary state. If Russia promoted regional languages on a scale it promotes Russian in Ukraine, some 3 million Ukrainian Russians, the second-largest minority, would be free to practice their language. Some 8 million Russian Ukrainians have always been free to practice theirs.

Once destigmatized, the Ukrainian Russians would open a few more schools in Russia to discover their ancestors’ language. Once dechauvinized, the Russian Ukrainians would open their minds to Ukrainian while staying true to their roots. A healthy cultural diet neither stems from the inferiority complex nor does it flourish on the superiority complex.

Color me utopian, but when the Golden Rule rules, no one gets ruined.

And in our case, the Golden Rule would outrule the need for fraud, referendums, and “Abu Graib-Ukraine” mythology. The guy below would have saved himself the trouble of feigning ethnographic amorality.

He mounts a vocal defense of the use of Russian in Ukraine. But when it comes to the use of Ukrainian in Russia, he says the Ukrainians never uttered a word. What a nice “silence-of-the-lambs” argument. Well, Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who kept a diary, was quiet too. She never asked for Hebrew lessons when the Germans came to town. And Bubba, the African American character in “Forrest Gump,” had used to ride at the back of the bus, with his lips sealed tight. But then one day, Rosa Parks begged to differ, inspiring the Civil Rights movement.

By applying transactional analysis and drawing sharp historical parallels, you unmask the hypocrisy and help your neighbor become a better person.

In 1989, the last Soviet census took place. We discussed this event in school. I still remember one of my teachers raising her eyebrows and gasping in surprise the moment I reported Ukrainian as the language my family spoke. An otherwise intelligent teacher, she was enslaved by Soviet stereotypes, assuming that that Ukrophones didn’t measure up to Russophones.

The Soviet system is history now. I harbor no Soviet stereotypes, although I went to a Russian school from day one to graduation. No kidding. I took the best and left the rest. Did I forget Ukrainian? No. Did I forget Russian? No. That’s why I believe that Russian speakers who plan on being productive citizens of Ukraine should have no fear in learning Ukrainian.

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