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"Russian language eradication is almost impossible"
Editor’s office of the Russkiy Mir Portal
Photo credit: amp.politeka.net
On September 1, millions of children in Russia went to school. And millions of their peers in Ukraine also went to schools. Everything seems to be the same: flowers, bows, well-dressed children, excited parents... And yet there is a difference and a very significant one: children in Russia go to schools to study in their native language. However, starting with this academic year, hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking children no longer have this opportunity in Ukraine.
From now on, all children from schools with Russian language of instruction will study in Ukrainian public schools in Ukrainian. Thus, Russian-language education in Ukrainian schools has been virtually eliminated. Only private schools can keep Russian-language curriculum, and there are very few of them in the country.
Everything is done according to the law. Back in March 2020, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky signed the Law "On Complete General Secondary Education", which eliminates Russian-language schools in the country from September 1, 2020.
Until that moment, there were about 120 schools with Russian language of instruction working in Ukraine. According to a study conducted by the Ukrainian Institute of Politics (UIP), 281,000 Ukrainian children (which is about 7% of all students) studied in Russian in the 2019/20 academic year. And now, in no time, they cannot do it any longer. Just think about this number!
Teaching in all Russian-language schools has been transferred into Ukrainian as of September 1, 2020. There is one subject only that can be studied in the national minority language - the first language, but its program has been significantly reduced. As to other national minorities (Romanians, Hungarians, Slovaks, etc.) with languages represented in the EU, a three-year grace period has been provided, but they shall also switch to the same system from 2023.
After 2023, only Crimean Tatars will have the opportunity to receive a comprehensive education in their native language. Even this particular point shows that the Law of Ukraine 'On Complete General Secondary Education' has an absolutely political - and discriminatory (mostly for the Russian-speaking population of the country) - nature.
The Law 'On Complete General Secondary Education' was elaborated under Petro Poroshenko and adopted by the previous Verkhovna Rada in April 2019.
MPs advocating the interests of voters in the predominantly Russian-speaking Southeast of Ukraine tried to make a stand to keep Russian language in the education system. Oleg Voloshyn, an MP from the Opposition Platform — For Life party, and Maksym Buzhanskyi, an MP from the Servant of the People party, submitted the relevant bill to the Verkhovna Rada. The Voloshyn-Buzhanskyi law provided that all national minorities should have the right to receive education in their native language both in schools and universities (education in Russian in higher educational institutions of Ukraine had been liquidated long ago).
However, the majority of the pro-presidential Servant of the People party and the country's president had absolutely different position. Volodymyr Zelensky personally appealed to the Supreme Court with a request not to abolish the "Law on Education" stating that everything was fine with it. However, experts believe that schools are simply not ready for such drastic changes; and if pupils are not taught in their native language, it will inevitably cause decline in general literacy and school performance.
In July 2020, a real battle flared up around another bill introduced back then by Maksym Buzhanskyi alone. He proposed to postpone enactment of the new law on education for three years only - until 2023. However, nationalists met it with an outcry as well. Before the proposed vote, ex-President Poroshenko even brought people to the Verkhovna Rada with banners on protecting Ukrainian language. But in reality it meant quite the opposite - repressions against Russian language. Andriy Parubiy, the former speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, stated literally that the fight for the mova* was the same war as the war against "Russian aggression" in Eastern Ukraine.
Capability to speak and develop native languages freely is provided for in the Ukrainian Constitution. The topic of linguistic diversity was brought up again in connection with the 30th anniversary of the Declaration on State Sovereignty of Ukraine adopted on July 16, 1990. That document also contained the rule on free development of all languages of the peoples of Ukraine ("Ukrainian SSR is independent in resolving issues of science, education, cultural and spiritual development of the Ukrainian nation; it guarantees all nationalities living in the territory of the Republic the right for their free national and cultural development.").
Today, Ukrainian statehood has ended up with the complete elimination of education in Russian language. Although Ukrainian politicians used to make completely different statements at the birth of this independent state with a quite significant percentage of Russian-speaking citizens, both in the past and currently. Once during his run for the presidency Leonid Kravchuk, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada back then, said, “Forceful Ukrainization of Russians will not be allowed under any circumstances. Any attempts of ethnicity-based discrimination shall be cracked down on."
However, all promises were forgotten quite quickly - Russian language was gradually squeezed out of the education system. Number of Russian schools decreased from one year to another, and higher education in Russian was prohibited.
As a result, there were only 125 Russian schools operating in Ukraine last academic year, while in 1989 the Ukrainian SSR had had 4,633 of them. Following Crimea’s accession to Russia in 2014, number of students in Russian schools decreased sharply – it nearly halved and for obvious reasons. According to the UIP, the next collapse was observed after adoption of the new law "On Education" in 2017. Since 2018, subjects could be taught in languages of national minorities in elementary schools only, which has made about 400,000 children from national minorities subject to discrimination.
Such developments in the language policy of Ukraine caused problems at the international level. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a tough resolution on this matter. The Venice Commission criticized the new law and called it discriminatory. The protests were voiced by Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, Moldova, Poland, Russia and other countries.
But what was the outcome? Vladimir Kornilov, a well-known expert and political scientist, commented on this intervention by European human rights defenders the best. “I had a chance to attend the consultations held by European experts on supervision over observance of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in Ukraine,” he wrote in his column. “You should have seen how they interviewed Ukrainian education specialists about the state of affairs with teaching in Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Hebrew and even the Roma language – it was done in such a meticulous, detailed and thorough way. But when any issue related to education in Russian language was mentioned in their presence, they dismissed it like an annoying fly as if saying: we don't need to hear about it, we know it without you. Harassment of linguistic and national rights of Russian residents of Ukraine does not bother Europe at all."
This is what the Constitution of Ukraine says in respect of free development of Russian and other languages of national minorities:
Ukraine guarantees free development, use and protection of Russian and other languages of national minorities of Ukraine. The state promotes study of languages of international communication.
(Russian is one of the UN working languages and the language of international communication; it is widely used in the former USSR countries);
The state facilitates …………… development of ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of all indigenous peoples and national minorities of Ukraine.
Citizens have equal constitutional rights and freedoms and are equal before the law. There can be no privileges or restrictions based on …………. language or other grounds.
The law guarantees citizens belonging to national minorities the right to study in their native language or to study their native language in state and communal educational institutions or through national cultural associations.
Let's not forget that apart from the above-mentioned limitations on the Russian-speaking population’s rights, there are many other restrictions: the ban to speak Russian in the public sphere - menus in restaurants and prescriptions in pharmacies shall be in Ukrainian; even firefighters, doctors or the police have to be addressed in Ukrainian (by law); there are quotas for programs in Russian on television; translation of films into Ukrainian is obligatory; all the media, including print media, have to make additional printing of content in Ukrainian that duplicates content in Russian (which actually forces editorial offices to cancel Russian versions, since it is simply unprofitable), etc.
Why is this happening? It is clear that Ukrainian society is deeply rifted. Nationalistic politicians came to power. Residents of the South-East of Ukraine set their hopes on President Zelensky, but he failed to confront the nationalists (both in the government and on the street) and in fact retracted all his election promises.
Well, the nationalists consider discrimination against everything Russian in Ukraine to be a matter of principle, and they are not going to set back. They believe this is the only way to build true Ukraine – the country that is pure and homogeneous in ethnic, linguistic and cultural terms. The battle against Russian language and cultural influence is one of the major aspects here.
It is no coincidence that a resolution to abolish the Law on regional status of Russian language that provided regional languages including the Russian one with at least some protection was proposed among the first decisions to be taken after the Maidan’s victory in February 2014.
Back then the resolution did not find the required support; the "winners" still felt insecure and were afraid of significant unrest in South-East regions that had already been discontented. However, having strengthened their positions, they buckled down to elimination of Russian language.
The Russkiy Mir asked the President of the International Pedagogical Club and the Head of All-Ukrainian NGO Russian School Aleksander Kondryakov to comment on the situation with Russian language in Ukrainian schools.
– In the new academic year, education in Russian language in Ukraine has been eliminated, at least de jure. Does it mean that education environment will be absolutely free from Russian language?
– There will actually be no Russian schools in Ukraine as of September 1. Of course, there are options for Russian language to stay in the education system. The huge number of Russian language teachers is still there. 30 years ago there were 40,000 Russian language teachers in our country, now there are a few hundreds of them. But they are all alive and live in this land, although they appear to be odd here.
The trouble is that Ukraine is ruled by people who don't read books. Ukraine was first marked on the map in 1920 through efforts of the Soviet Union. Then, for 10 years the communists carried out the harshest Ukrainization there. And now, 100 years later, children are taking revenge on their parents for preserving their native language and turning it into beautiful and rich language it is now.
As for Russian language, you need to understand that there is one simple reason why Russian schools have not had prospects for a long time - no university has been training teachers able to teach special subjects in Russian for 20 years now.
This topic is very much needed for modern politicians to show that they are waging some kind of battle - with Muscovites and Russian language. But the point is that the stage for everything we are talking about was set 30 years ago... And now we are reaping the benefits.
Head of All-Ukrainian NGO Russian School Aleksander Kondryakov
– So what can be done?
– One option could be just to put hands in the air and surrender, but I am an optimist in this matter. It seems that all possible actions have already been taken against Russian language - well, except that they haven’t hung anyone on lampposts yet. I think it is all downhill from here. This topic has been highly publicized, nobody keeps it secret.
Local communities, especially those located in the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, still have ways to find local budgeting funds for certain modes of learning Russian language. Of course, some issues are still there, but there are opportunities to include Russian language into the school curriculum.
At this stage we need, among other things, to educate our colleagues, to explain about our rights, because many teachers of Russian language and literature are not aware of them. This is what the Russian School and the International Pedagogical Club do.
Those in our orbit do not feel as gloomy about the future as many of their colleagues. But you can understand people who have devoted their whole lives to their profession. And then they hear: you are an invader and so on.
– How do they teach now in Ukrainian schools in the Southeast of Ukraine where the most population traditionally speaks Russian? Did they get retrained, and is it pure, good Ukrainian or is it Surzhik - a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian?
– Of course, it is Surzhik. Teachers were sent for retraining so that they could teach their subjects in Ukrainian. But when people throughout the region speak Russian (by the way, it also applies to Kiev)... I will give you an example: I have two grandchildren who study at a Ukrainian school in Kiev. Everyone speaks Ukrainian during the lessons. But when the bell rings, everyone, from a first grader to the school principal, switches to Russian.
– How do the teachers see this situation? Maybe someone makes attempts to fight, or makes appeals?
– No, they feel utterly discouraged and if they say something, they talk in whispers.
– But at the same time, as you said, people continue to communicate in Russian…
– Russian is the language of common communication between people in this country; I don’t mean politicians now. I have been lucky to travel all over the country. Even when you come to Lvov and speak Russian, they will also speak to you in Russian. It is literally the language of interethnic communication.
And it is quite difficult to eradicate Russian language. Even if books are published in Ukrainian, no one reads them - it's just not interesting. I don't know who can compete with Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy ... Maybe, Taras (Shevchenko) could, but they don't read his works either...
And Ukrainian was destroyed in the course of fight against Russian language - now some kind of creepy Surzhik is used instead of normal Ukrainian.
– What is your forecast as to the outcome of all these actions against Russian language by the Ukrainian authorities? After all, higher education in Russian has not been provided in Ukraine for a long time, and now the secondary education is no more. They have adopted restrictions on communication in Russian in public; Russian books have been banned, Russian media have been blocked...
– Russian will remain the language of interethnic communication, and all these actions of the authorities won’t impact it on a global scale. The only thing to be affected is the way people feel toward the authorities that have absolutely no respect to them. Not a single good house has ever been built on hatred.
Russian language is very powerful and relevant, so it is very hard to manage to eradicate it. It is not only the language of communication, but also the language of economics.
Russian language remains important for many people who travel to Russia for work, but not for them only. My grandchildren, for instance, study in a Ukrainian school, but they read books in Russian, the more so since there are no particular alternatives.
Russian is also the language of science. In Ukraine, they want to replace all terminology with Ukrainian one, but it may seem easy only to a person with deformed imagination. For example, all instructions for maintaining nuclear reactors are in Russian
Nevertheless, this does not mean that everything shall be left to chance. If the state does not want to teach in Russian, you need to take care of your children yourself.
* Ukrainian language