As Russian tanks roll across Ukraine’s frontiers in an invasion the Kremlin says is “to protect… the Russian-speaking population of those areas,” a new Ukrainian government struggles with Russian language rights.
The Kremlin’s move came after the the old Russian-centric regime was overthrown by popular protests a few weeks ago, and a Western-oriented government has risen to power in a messy takeover.
One of the first acts of the new parliament was to ditch the country’s language law passed in 2012 to protect Russian language rights. The law, “Principles of the State Language Policy,” made Russian and other minority languages official anywhere in the Ukraine where speakers represented more than 10% of the local population.
Serge Schmemann writes in the Times that linguistic and ethnic differences in Ukraine are real, but that dividing lines are foggy. In some western provinces Ukrainian nationalism runs strong, and 2. 3 million “Russians in Crimea who are not reconciled to being part of Ukraine and are now demonstrating against the changes in Kiev. In the rest of the country of 46 million people, languages, ethnic identities and loyalties are mixed and muddled.”
As the Russians roll in from the east, Hungarians and Bulgarians in the West are outraged at the loss of their language rights. Many Ukrainian speakers are opposed to the new government’s action too.
Residents in Ukraine’s western city of Lviv, a stronghold of Ukrainian nationalism, chose to speak in Russian for the day last Wednesday to show support for the overturned language law, Euronews reports.
“People in Ukrainian-speaking Lviv say they wanted to show solidarity with the mainly Russian-speaking east and south. Even the city’s mayor joined in.
“‘I can speak Russian without any problems – with an accent though,’ Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said in Russian, before adding ‘Lviv is open to the world’ and repeating it in Ukrainian, Polish and English. ‘Our position is that all decisions should be taken when the moment is right. You should throw seeds on the warmed-up ground. Not on the asphalt that is covered with blood,’ he went on to say in Ukrainian.”