Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Language Policy in Education in Contemporary Ukraine: A Continuous Discussion of Contested National Identity

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Language Policy in Education in Contemporary Ukraine: A Continuous Discussion of Contested National Identity

Article excerpt

The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 has profoundly changed the political outlook of the world. All former USSR republics obtained a sovereign status that allowed them to choose the trajectory of their political development. The Soviet period had a significant influence on language policy in contemporary Ukraine, which is the focus of the following article. In the Soviet period, the so-called languages of "titular nationalities" (and Ukrainian is among them) were underrepresented and discriminated against and Russian was designated as the 'language of intercultural communication' (Malia, 2008). Young nation-states (re)-established after 1991 were confronted, along with the severe economic and political dilemmas, with two main problems: a poor command of the "titular" language and huge influxes of migrants, especially Russian-speaking.

After 1991 and the politics of 'gradual de-Russification' (Pavlenko, 2008), the Russian language lost its privileged political position and Ukrainian was established as the only state languages, which caused the outrage of a significant proportion of Russian speakers and led to the ongoing public debates on the current status quo in language policy. As Aneta Pavlenko (2008: 1-2) states in the introductory part of the book Multilingualism in Post-Soviet Countries:

These countries as a whole have emerged as a contested linguistic space, where emotional exchanges over language-related issues are fodder for the daily news and where disagreements over language- and education-related decisions have led to demonstrations and at times even military conflicts and secession.

Consequently, the controversial demographic situation and the promotion of Ukrainian as the only state language, without taking into consideration a huge group of Russian-speakers, enhanced a historical chance for this country to conduct the politics of nationalizing states, in terms of Rogers Brubaker's theory of nationalism. He considers them as the 'states that conceived by their dominant elites as nation-states, as the states of and for particular nations, yet as, "incomplete" or "unrealized" nation-states, as insufficiently "national" in a variety of senses' (Brubaker, 1996: 412; 2003). It means that Ukrainian politics after the restoration of independence is characterized by the decisive attempts of the governments to promote the interests of the so-called "core" nation. Language policy has also become a central element of the nation-building projects in modern Ukraine.

The current Ukrainian crisis and the military intervention of Russia have vividly shown that the question of language and the discrimination perceived by Russian speakers can become not only the part of the political game but can also lead to serious ethnic violence in the overall post-Soviet region. For instance, Barbora Moormann-Kimáková (2015: 1) argues:

It would be far too much to maintain that the Ukrainian conflict is one about language or that it was caused by a language law: the roots of the conflict, the parties involved and its further development are much more complex than that. But, it is a conflict in which, at one point, the change of language regime could have possibly played a positive role by perhaps winning the loyalties of more Russian speakers - and it has played a negative one instead. As the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government forces continues, the language issue remains part of the demands of the former, and most importantly, a strong argument showing that Russian speakers are not (and never would be) treated well in Ukraine.

In reaction to the Ukrainian political crisis, the language debates highlighted again the problematic position of Russian speakers who not only lost their politically advantageous status but have always been the object of the manipulations from Ukrainian politicians who heavily used the language card before the parliamentary and presidential elections. …

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