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Ukraine still divided by language

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Language is one of Ukraine’s most divisive issues. The Constitution cites one state language, Ukrainian, but demographics show that 1 in 3 Ukrainians is a native Russian speaker, and about half say Russian is their first language. Political groups have sprung up to advocate on both sides.
Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko leaned toward the nationalist point of view, and Russian-speaking groups assailed him angrily for decrees that ordered Ukrainian as the sole language to be used in courts, state service, and academia. Mr. Yushchenko, a fluent speaker of Russian, famously made his point during visits to Moscow by conversing with his Kremlin counterpart only through an interpreter.

With the recent election of Viktor Yanukovich, from the heavily Russified eastern Ukraine, the debate is already assuming a contrary tone. The fact that President Yanukovich speaks publicly in Russian is “a taste of how things are going to be,” says Vladimir Vyazivsky, a parliamentary deputy with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine movement. “It’s terrible to imagine how Yanukovich is going to mistreat not just the Ukrainian language, but also Ukraine’s culture and history in future,” he says.

Ukrainian nationalists say the solution is simple: Everyone who wants to live here should speak the eponymous language. “We need to create a united, integrated nation, and that means we must have one common language. Everyone must speak the state language, Ukrainian,” says Pavlo Movchan, head of the pro-Ukrainian grass-roots group Prosvita.

Written by: Publisher Tuesday, 16 March 2010 18:07