Vitaly Portnikov: the Ukrainian language is Putin’s arch-enemy


Language, Op-ed, Ukraine

Putin’s arch-enemy – his absolute nemesis – is not the Ukrainian state or nation, but the Ukrainian language.

Without their language, the Ukrainian nation is transformed into a folksy misinterpretation – “khokhly” (хохли)*, whose only talents are dancing the Hopak before their “older brother” and making varenyky stuffed with cherries.

(*Russians commonly use the word khokhol, khokhly” as an ethnic slur for Ukrainians; the term is frequently derogatory or condescending-Ed.)

It is no coincidence that neither Ukrainians as such nor the Ukrainian language existed in the Russian Empire. When all is said and done, it was considered a ridiculously strange dialect originating from the great “true Russian tongue”. It is also no coincidence that the prominent Russian literary critic Vissarion Belinskiy, who sensed and understood every verse in Alexander Pushkin’s works, reproached Taras Shevchenko for writing the Kobzar in “dialect form”. Yes, indeed, why confuse the poor Ukrainian muzhiks even more? Teach them to read Pushkin in the “correct” language! After all, Pushkin is ours, isn’t he!

However, for modern Russians, the world revolves around Putin, not Pushkin. And, we all know that the Russian president is not going to step back in his fight against the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian culture. That is why, for the second time within a few months, Russia has called on the UN Security Council to review the law on the Ukrainian language; the meeting is set for July 16.

Russia already tried to gather a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine’s language law on May 20, the day of Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration.

On May 20, the UN Security Council refused to consider the law on the Ukrainian language at Russia’s request. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Poland, and the United States voted against.

This time, the formal reason is the fact that the language law has actually come into force-Ed.

Provisional Programme of Work of the Security Council – July 2019

The issue of the functioning of the Ukrainian language is not really important to the international community. But, it is decisive for the Kremlin. It is a law that calls into question the future of Putin’s empire. If Ukrainians don’t speak their language, the Russian Empire will continue to exist. If Ukrainians return to their native language, the Empire will disappear; it will not be able to dictate its rules for confronting the civilized world to Ukraine. The Kremlin knows that it is important for Ukrainians to become more Russified, for the Ukrainian government to be denationalized as a state that has been largely denationalized cannot protect the interests of its people and their language… so that, in the end, Ukrainian language and culture can be replaced by a “surrogate civilization”.

In the end, in a desperate attempt to silence the Ukrainian language and quell Ukraine’s aspirations, Moscow is again ready to appeal to the UN Security Council.

Translated by: Christine Chraibi


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