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Wednesday, 27 September 2017 16:07

UKRAINIAN LANGUAGE IN UKRAINIAN SCHOOLS: "CONTROVERSIAL" ONLY TO RUSSIA

Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 27.09.2017 
 
Ukrainian is the national language of Ukraine. The state language, the language of government, is Ukrainian. Education in Ukraine is in Ukrainian. With the reassertion of Ukrainian independence in 1991, the years of Russian occupation, and the cultural and linguistic oppression that went with it, were over. Ukrainians decided then that Ukrainian would be the sole state language and that Ukrainian would be the primary language of instruction in schools. A generation has grown up in Ukraine with the Ukrainian language being used in school and in interactions with government officials, and with any other minority language being tolerated and welcomed in family life and in business and in civil society.
 
This consensus for nation-building was broken by Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Moscow Party of Regions with a law passed on 8 August 2012. This law made Russian an official language in parts of Ukraine. The Russian language was not actually under any threat in those regions, but Yanukovych and his Kremlin backers wanted it to appear that way. He also wanted to exacerbate the notion that there was an east versus west linguistic and ethnic division in Ukraine – a notion that Kremlin propaganda hammered away at, and which Moscow-bureaux Western media picked up on. The “oppressed Russian-speaking minority” lie was at the heart of Russian propaganda justifying Putin’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas which stated in 2014.
 
The Ukrainian government has put things right by rescinding Yanukovych’s divisive 2012 law. As it was before, Ukrainian is once again the sole state language in Ukraine. The government has also restored a solid foundation for education in Ukraine, where Ukrainian is the principal language of instruction, and minority languages are taught where numbers warrant. President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has led the way to making English the preferred foreign language to be taught in schools. He declared 2016 to be a “Year of English” to boost efforts to make Ukraine more like its European neighbours, where English as a second language is more prevalent.
 
Ukraine has its national language as the principal language of instruction in schools, accommodates minority languages where numbers warrant, and emphasizes the world’s top second language, English, for foreign language instruction. This education policy is exactly what almost every country in the world follows, and it is entirely uncontroversial. But when Russia is invading Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas and interfering in every aspect of Ukrainian life, we’re told that education policy within Ukraine is “controversial.” Moscow-based Western press – reporting about a law passed 755 kilometres away in Kyiv – repeat the Kremlin lie, saying the law infringes on the rights of ethnic minorities. Without citing any provision of the education law, Russian and Hungarian officials have attacked Ukraine and its right to make Ukrainian the principal language of instruction in Ukrainian schools.  Russian politician Leonid Kalashnikov admitted he had not read the law, but he nevertheless called it “ethnic genocide.” The Hungarian foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, went so far as to threaten Ukraine. On September 26 he said, “We guarantee that all this will be painful for Ukraine in the future.” He also said Hungary will block Ukraine's efforts to integrate with the European Union. 
 
The attack on Ukraine’s very sensible education law is led by Russia, and picked up on by Moscow-bureaux press and some officials in neighbour countries of Ukraine. The “wedge issue” is the status of teaching in minority languages, and the propaganda lie that teaching in any language other than Ukrainian is banned by the new law. It is not. Hungarian in Zakarpatia is no more threatened by this education law than Russian in Luhansk and Donetsk is threatened by the language law. Kyiv has to get the real, good news story of the education law out, and counteract the malicious, fake news story being put out by the Kremlin and the Moscow-based press. It also needs to be pointed out that the sizeable Ukrainian minority in Russia gets no education at all in the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian language education has almost been wiped out in Russia-invaded and occupied Crimea.
 
French-Canadians in Quebec were inspired by the phrase “maîtres chez nous” in the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s. It means “masters in our own house.” They made French the primary language of instruction in schools, and accommodated minority languages where numbers warranted. Ukrainians first had the chance to be “masters in their own house” in 1991, and they started to truly make good on this opportunity after the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-14. Ukraine has a new law, “On Education,” passed on September 5. “On Education” is a bold and a wise effort to do the right thing for the young people of Ukraine: it will immerse them in an environment where the national language is primary, where minority languages are accommodated, and where teaching of English as a foreign language prepares them for life as Europeans and citizens of the world. This is not controversial. This is good policy.
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