Statement of the Shevchenko Scientific Society of America on the New Law on Languages in Ukraine

September 9, 2012

The Shevchenko Scientific Society of America unequivocally condemns the new Ukrainian law on languages recently adopted by the Verkhovna Rada and signed by President Yanukovych. There is, we believe, no moral or political justification for a measure that cynically divides Ukrainian society on the eve of parliamentary elections and threatens Ukrainian identity, language, and culture.

Ukraine is a multiethnic and multilingual country that can survive if and only if it rests on a foundation of justice, fairness, and equality and shares a lingua franca that serves as a vehicle of interethnic communication. That means it must be a country in which Ukrainian identity and culture are encouraged to flourish and in which the Ukrainian language, as the language of the titular majority, serves as that lingua franca.

After centuries of anti-Ukrainian oppression and Russification, first by Russian tsars and then Soviet commissars, it is essential that any government concerned with justice, fairness, and equality adopt measures promoting Ukrainian language and culture. Ukraine will never be democratic if the identity of its titular majority is assaulted or disvalued. Ukraine will never be a rule-of-law state if Ukrainian language and culture are subject to discrimination. Indeed, it is unlikely to survive as a state if the majority of its population is oppressed culturally.

By the same token, Ukrainian must serve as Ukraine’s official state language—both because Ukraine claims to be a Ukrainian state and because Ukrainian is the native language of the majority of the population. Promoting Ukrainian language and culture in no way infringes upon the rights of Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Crimean Tatar, or any other language spoken in Ukraine. It is disingenuous and demagogic to suggest, as the present Ukrainian government does, that Russian is in need of protection. Russian dominates in today’s Ukraine in such areas as business, the military, sports, and the media—both in print and especially on the radio, on television, and on the internet. In major Ukrainian cities outside of western Ukraine, Ukrainian represents only a small fraction of the public discourse.

In view of the present, de facto hegemonic role of Russian, promoting it at the expense of Ukrainian, as the new law on languages intends to do, perpetuates historical wrongs and deprives Ukraine of the unifying official language essential for its integrity and stability as a state. As such, the new law plays into the larger official Russian and specifically Putin-inspired campaign to roll back Ukrainian independence and sovereignty and to force it into cultural and political dependence on Russia.

In a word, the new law on languages is unjust and deleterious. It threatens to transform Ukraine into a vassal state and to divide a population against
itself, against the state, and, against the present government.

The passing of this law and its eventual implementation will pose new hurdles and challenges to Ukrainian culture and scholarship, especially in the humanities. The Shevchenko Scientific Society of America is prepared to meet these challenges and calls upon all Ukrainian-Americans to help in this task. We also trust that Ukraine’s democrats—both Ukrainian and Russian speakers—will rally to reverse this unjust law. We express our solidarity with them.

Shevchenko Scientific Society of America