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Questioni di lingua (russa, ucraina e non solo) in Ucraina

The nationalities in Ukraine
compiled by Tadeusz A. Olszański
(from Tadeusz A. Olszański, The language issue in Ukraine. An attempt at a new perspective, OSW STUDIES 05/2012)

Introduction
Ukraine has been an independent state for only 20 years and the consequence
of the long-term incorporation of Ukrainian lands into the Russian/Soviet state
is an ethnically mixed society. InUkraine, alongside Ukrainians, there are
very many Russians and members of other nationalities of the former Soviet
Unionas well as a still large group of people who identify themselves as Soviets
(in terms of their nationality). A significant part of Ukrainians use Russian
in their everyday life (particularly professional) while knowing Ukrainian to
only a small degree or not at all. Due to this Kyiv has to implement a language
policy (which does not have to be pursued in e.g.PolandorHungary) in search
of solutions to ensure the stable functioning of a modern state for a multilingual
society. The language issue is therefore an important challenge for the
Ukrainian state and one of the more significant issues inUkraine’s internal
politics.
Since the very beginning of its independenceUkrainehas been a bilingual
state/society: a considerable section of its citizens irrespective of their declared
nationality have used exclusively Russian in speech and particularly in
writing. Despite this fact, the Ukrainian constitution of 1996 states that there
is one state and official language, rather on the grounds of symbolism than
pragmatism. The state from the beginning has tolerated a wide extent of the
use of Russian in various spheres of public life, including in parliament. This
was possible due to the mutual transparency (intelligibility) of the Russian and
Ukrainian languages.
The language issue inUkrainehas four basic aspects: everyday use (communication
between people), formal and official use (the functioning of the
state, particularly the legal and education systems), the commercial aspect
(the press, books and electronic media market, and advertisements) and the
symbolic and identity aspect. The first aspect is the least important as the
Ukrainian and Russian languages are similar. The crucial aspect is the symbolic
one which affects the establishment of reasonable and fair solutions in
the remaining aspects. On the one hand, Ukrainian national thought identifies
belonging to the nation with the use of its language (thus granting this
element nigh on complete importance). On the other hand, a section of the
Russian-speaking circles believes that the use Russian in public life is a political
declaration of belonging to the “Slavic/Russian community” defined
as opposed to the Ukrainian national community distinct from the Russian
nation. For this reason the “language dispute” is becoming a dispute over
a symbolic and ideological rule and the significance of this aspect has been
growing with the passage of time.
The language issue inUkrainereveals the contradiction between the right
of a democratic country to define and impose the language which is compulsory
in official, educational and symbolic areas and the right citizens have to
choose the language which they want to use, including in contacts with state
institutions authorities, and in which they want their children to be taught.
In fundamentally monoethnic countries such asPolandorHungarythe solution
is simple (limited concessions for few minority groups). In multilingual
countries such asSpainand particularly in bilingual countries –Belgiumor
Ukraine– there appears a problem to which a good and especially universal
solution has not yet been found.
A considerable section of Ukrainian citizens in daily life uses mainly or exclusively Russian; the 20 years of independence have only led to a certain reduction in number of people who admit to this. In terms of language, Ukraine
considerably varies from region to region: in the west the Ukrainian language
is clearly predominant, whereas in the east and south – it is Russian. It seems,
however, that the process of the official (formal) Ukrainisation of social life
is being accompanied by a spontaneous Russification: a stronger presence of
Ukrainian in social life in the east and south of the country is being paralleled
to an increased presence of the Russian language in the centre and the west.
The possibilities for resolving the language problem are the following: tolerating
the present state of “unofficial bilingualism”, legalisation of the use of
Russian in public life in a narrower or wider scope in the entire territory of
Ukraineor in part of the country (as long as it is recognised as an equal state
language) or a planned and consistent removal of the Russian language from
public life; in the short term the first option seems the most probable.
One of the leading Ukrainian political analysts, Volodymyr Fesenko stated recently
that “The [language] issue does exist. Although it is not the country’s
most urgent problem. The optimal option is in my opinion to maintain and consistently implement the state status of the Ukrainian language and to grant
official status to the Russian language at the regional level in places where
clusters of Russian-speaking citizens of the country live”. This “optimal option”
is in fact an attempt at squaring the circle; it could be feasible if it had
not been for the symbolic and identity-related importance of the issue which
makes a painless solution – one satisfactory to all parties – unrealistic.
The aim of this report is to outline the language issue inUkraineand its social
context, with a particular focus placed on important questions, which are usually
overlooked in similar publications, such as the trade (commercial) aspect
of language regulations in the media and the key role of the “language issue” in
Ukraine’s identity policy (the symbolic, historical policy etc.).
In the first section I focus on general questions; important in order to understand
the language issue inUkrainebut having a more general nature.
These are followed by the main practical aspects of the language dimension of
Ukraine’s social and economic life, the significance of the rivalry between the
Ukrainian and Russian languages for the country’s symbolic identity. Finally,
I approach the Ukrainian law relating to the language, including the draft of
a new law which is underway. The appendix presents the data onUkraine’s
national minorities, including the extent to which they are Russified or Ukrainised
in terms of the language.
In this text I eschew a detailed analysis of the question ofCrimeaas its social
dynamics (also in the language area) is clearly distinct from the remaining
part ofUkrainefor four reasons: the short-term character of the region’s links
withUkraine, its relative geographic isolation (Crimeais almost an island), the
formal autonomy of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the presence of
the Crimean Tatar community which is demanding the recognition of its language
rights.

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Besides Ukrainians and Russians there are members of 16 larger and a few dozen smaller national minorities living inUkraine; they make up both national minorities and communities of immigrants. As they are treated on an equal footing with Russians legally and often in terms of propaganda, it is justified to present a brief outline of them. These nationalities are presented in the order of their numerical size determined by the census of 2001. LEGGI TUTTO

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