Why English Should Be Ukraine's Second Language

KIEV, Ukraine -- On January 29 Dmytro Pavlychko again warned Ukrainians about the threat of Russian becoming the official second language.

At a time when the educated in every country in the world, including China and Russia, are learning English as a second language, because English is the de facto world-language, Ukraine's neo-soviet Russophile politicians threaten to isolate the country from the rest of the world with their Russian language legislation and throw Ukraine back culturally 100 years.

Continued use of Russian for business and in the public sphere would send the message that "capitalism speaks Russian;" it would reinforce Russophile orientations and the notion that Ukrainian is only suitable for domestic use. Russian as a second language would mean educated Ukrainians who want contact with the world would have to learn a third language.

Although the language issue is overshadowed in the domestic media by well-merited concern over poverty and corruption, and foreign neo-liberal commentators ignore cultural issues because they think them irrelevant, the economics and politics of public language-use in Ukraine should not be overlooked as language-use is related to political orientations.

Fifteen years after independence public life, business and the media is still Russian-speaking outside Ukraine's three westernmost provinces. At the beginning of this century, In a country where 20% of the population were Russian speaking Russians, 33% were Russian speaking Ukrainians and 47% were Ukrainian speaking Ukrainians; 10% of Ukraine's annual published book titles, 12% of its magazines, 18% of its TV programs and 35% of its newspapers were in Ukrainian.

The government does not enforce its language legislation. All government employees must speak Ukrainian, but most don't and continued to be paid nonetheless. Whether or not foreign corporations use Ukrainian inside their stores is ignored. MacDonald's does use Ukrainian on its menus. Baskin Robbins does not.

As of 2004, teachers still used Russian in "Ukrainian language" schools, some of which also had separate Russian language classes. Much more than the legally permissible 50% of TV programming is in Russian. The neo-soviet Russophile dominated parliament, for its part, has refused to follow the lead of the Russian government and abolish taxation on domestic publications, thus keeping Russian-language products in Ukraine cheaper than Ukrainian - or English-language products.

The fact that Ukrainian speakers buy fewer books and audio visual products than Russian speakers because they are poorer also plays a role here. Perhaps Ukraine's moguls could produce and sell Ukrainian-language audio-visual products and books for less than Russian- language products and finance a Ukrainian- language mass culture, but they do not seem to have tried.

It is thought that as much as 80% of Ukraine's media is owned either by Russians or Russophile Ukrainian citizens. Sixteen years after independence, however, no one really knows who owns Ukraine's media. In 2006 the Ukrainian Helsinki Union, funded by Soros's Renaissance Foundation, was able to reveal partial information about 10 stations.

Foreign companies, of which 3 are Russian, own all or part of at least 9, individuals unknown own all or part of 3, and one is partly owned by a Russophile Ukrainian oligarch.

Mass-circulation Russian-language dailies like Bulvar, Kievskie vedomosti and Fakty i kommentarii are not merely sympathetic to neo-soviet Russophile politicians. They regularly belittle, ridicule and mock things Ukrainian, and highlight Russian rather than Ukrainian pop- stars, movies and television programs.

Ukrainian-language anti-Russian opinion is limited to low-run fringe publications. Russian popular newspapers and domination of the public sphere, however, does not promote political loyalty to Russia. What it does do is promote Russophile/CES orientations thereby reinforcing the old imperial Russian tie and impeding the creation of new ties with the rest of world -- which speaks English.

Logically, there is no necessary correlation between language-use and loyalties. Scots, Irish, Indians, Americans, Australians, and Canadians, have all expressed their nationalisms in English. Corsicans and Bretons have used French, and Latin Americans have used Spanish. Ianukovych and Ukraine's Communist Party leaders even speak Ukrainian when they must, and use it as a medium for neo imperial/ neo-soviet ideas.

On the other hand, no one can ignore that few of Ukraine's Russian speakers support political reincorporation into Russia and that almost none have emigrated to Russia since 1991. Ukrainian Russian- speakers can be as pro- EU as Ukrainian -speakers, Russian -speaking Ukrainians can be Ukrainian patriots, and Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainian political leaders sooner see themselves as representing a territorial region than a Russian-speaking population.

Russian-speaking Kiev voted overwhelmingly for Yushchenko in 2004 and Russian speakers were as critical of Putin's gas price-rise policy as were Ukrainian speakers. Historically, however, Russian was not a medium for Ukrainian national ideas and today Russian is rarely used to publicly promote Ukrainian national ideas or integration with the EU.

Consequently, to the degree that the correlation between Russian language-use and pro- Russian political/cultural orientations, though not political loyalties, remains high, Russian as Ukraine's second language would reinforce Russophile/CES orientations.

Russian language-use in business and the public-sphere will return Ukrainian to its pre- 1991 status a second-rate medium suitable only for folk-culture and market-place bartering.

Russian language-use, in short, impedes Ukraine's integration with the EU and the rest of the world. Teaching Russian as a second language in Ukraine's schools will isolate it from the rest of the world. Teaching English would not.

Source: The Action Ukraine Report


nancy john said…
English is one of the most important languages in the world. It can even be said to be the single most important language.Other languages are important too

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Anonymous said…
English is truly the lingua franca of the world, yet we must strive to preserve Ukrainian as it is a beautiful language and the mother tongue of many Ukrainians and especially their forefathers. Foreigners can start with books like Teach Yourself Ukrainian from amazon or sites like http://www.funkyukrainian.com