Monday, May 4, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Kyiv Disputes Moscow’s Claim Few Ukrainians in Russia Want Native Language Schools

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 4 – Moscow’s assertion that ethnic Ukrainians in the Russian Federation, that country’s second largest nationality, do not have any problems with education in their own national language because they are not asking for it “does not correspond to reality,” according to a spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign ministry.
A week ago, Andrey Nesterenko, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said, in responding to an OSCE report, acknowledged that there were few Ukrainian language schools but said that reflected an absence of demand by Ukrainians for them rather than a Moscow policy against such schools (
The lack of such demands, the Russian diplomat continued, reflects what he described as “the closeness of the Eastern Slavic languages and cultures, the common history (Kievan Rus, the Moscow State, the Russian Empire and the USSR) and the common Christian faith” of the Russians and Ukrainians.
Not surprisingly, Ukrainians and Ukrainian officials were outraged not only because Moscow has always insisted on the provision of Russian-language schools in Ukraine – and complained when any of them are closed – but also because Nesterenko’s claim about the situation in Russia where in fact Ukrainians would like Ukrainian-language schools “does not correspond to the facts” (
Indeed, Ukrainian commentators have pointed out, Ukraine does support Russian language education in its schools and that last year, the OSCE commissar on national minorities declared after examining the situation there that he did not find “any violation of the rights of the Russian language population in Ukraine” (
Vasily Kirilich, a spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign ministry, said that Nesterenko’s statement was intended to mislead the OSCE by creating “the false impression of the supposedly problem-free nature of Ukrainian national cultural development in Russia,” a particular travesty because ethnic Ukrainians at 2.5 million are the second largest national minority there.
He pointed out that in Moscow alone, there are now more than 250,000 ethnic Ukrainians but not a single middle school with instruction in the Ukrainian language, something that creates problems both for the indigenous Ukrainian population of the city and the many other Ukrainians who “work temporarily” there and plan to return to Ukraine.
Elsewhere in the Russian Federation, throughout which ethnic Ukrainians are to be found, the situation is even worse, he said. At present “there is no school” anywhere in the Russian Federation where the entire academic program is conducted in the Ukrainian language. There exists only [a few] schools with an ethno-national (ethno-cultural) component.”
The Ukrainian diplomat was clearly infuriated by the suggestion that Ukrainians living in the Russian Federation were not interested in preserving their own language through the schools and that, to use Nesterenko’s words, “citizens of the Russian Federation of Ukrainian nationality and Russians among citizens of Ukraine are in a different ethno-cultural situation.”
Russian commentaries in support of Moscow’s point of view, such as Aleksandr Karavayev today, have suggested that the Ukrainians have only themselves to blame. Moscow has routinely supported Russian-language efforts in Ukraine, but Kyiv has been largely inactive in supporting Ukrainian-programs in Ukraine (
While there is some truth in what Karavayev says, that claim ignores two longer-standing if unfortunate realities. On the one hand, in Soviet times, Moscow provided Russian-language schools in all republics but did not provide any schools for non-Russians in their language outside their titular territories.
Thus, while Ukrainians living in Ukraine did have schools in Ukrainian, those Ukrainians living elsewhere did not, unlike Russians who in almost all cases had Russian-language schools wherever they lived. The current situation is a survival of that past, one Ukrainians and many other non-Russians decry.
And on the other, this pattern reflects an even older view, long propounded by Russians and accepted by many Western specialists. According to that view, Ukrainians and Belarusians are “byproducts” of Russian ethno-national development, and thus it is entirely appropriate that they be integrated linguistically and politically with the Russian nation and state.
In fact, as the Ukrainians and Belarusians know and, as statements like that of Kirilich last week show, are increasingly prepared to defend, those two nations have a separate and distinct ethno-national and political history, one that deserves equal treatment and respect not only from the Russians but from all members of the international community as well.

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