Vienna, August 17 – Despite Moscow’s frequent charges and complaints, Kyiv pays for the operation of nearly 3,000 Russian-language schools as well as other Russian-language institutions in Ukraine, a level of support especially striking given that Russia does not pay for the operation of even one Ukrainian-language school on its territory.
And that absence of Russian support for Ukrainian-language schools not only violates the Russian constitution but also makes it harder for Ukrainian officials to justify continuing their backing of Russian-language schools while providing evidence for those Ukrainians who argue that Russia doesn’t respect Ukrainians and that Kyiv should pursue a more independent course.
Indeed, on his Ekho Moskvy radio talk show Friday night, Sergey Parkhomenko argued that the Russian attitudes this absence reflects, is an important reason for antipathy toward Moscow among Russia’s neighbors and hence Russia’s increasing isolation in the former Soviet space (www.echo.msk.ru/programs/sut/612419-echo.phtml).
According to the most recent national censuses in the two countries – and Parkhomenko notes that these enumerations are neither recent nor completely relliable – there are 8.3 million ethnic Russians in Ukraine, and 2.9 million ethnic Ukrainians in Russia. Of the latter, 1.8 million told Russian census workers that Ukrainian was their native language.
That provides the basis, he suggests, for comparing Ukrainian support of Russian-language schools with the absence of Russian support for Ukrainian-language schools. According to a recent survey, there are 983 Russian-language pre-schools in Ukraine with 164,000 children enrolled; in Russia, there are no Ukrainian-language pre-schools.
In Ukraine, there are 1199 general education schools with Russian as the language of instruction, with 779,500 pupils. In Russia, there are no Ukrainian-language schools and hence no pupils in them. At the same time, there are another 1755 schools in Ukraine in which Russian is a language of instruction alongside Ukrainian; in Russia, there is not one such school.
Another measure of the difference concerns the number of people studying one of these languages in the two countries: In Ukraine, 1.3 million children are studying Russian; but in Russia, only 205 are studying Ukrainian. According to Parkhomenko, that number is so low that it must involve students at a school attached to the Ukrainian embassy.
And yet a third of the comparative figures he offers shows that Ukraine currently publishes 1.5 million Russian-language textbooks and 125,000 Russian-Ukrainian dictionaries each year, whereas the Russian Federation government is not paying for the publication of a single copy of a Ukrainian-language book for students in that country.
What this points to, the Ekho Moskvy host says, is the existence of “two state policies. There is the state policy in Ukraine of financing the Russian language. And there is … [ellipsis in the original]. Fine, there are problems. It would be possible for there to be more [Russian-language schools in Ukraine]. Certainly, earlier, there were more, and now there are fewer.”
But Parkhomenko notes, “the state policy of Russia is … clear, direct, precise, thought-out, systematic, and consistent. It is that there is no Ukrainian language and no Ukrainian culture on the territory of Russia,” despite Ukrainians being the third largest nationality in Russia and despite nearly two million of them saying Ukrainian is their native language.
And this policy, he continues, ignores the provisions of the Russian Constitution which says in Paragraph 26 that every Russian citizen has the right to use his native language and to choose it as the language of instruction as well as of the Russian education law which declares the same thing.
In Soviet times, the slogan, “Fulfill the Provisions of the Constitution!” was the basis for “the entire dissent movement,” the Ekho Moskvy broadcaster says. But “today this slogan has disappeared” from the scene. And relatively few Russian citizens demand that the provisions of the Constitution or of the laws be realized – or even expect them to be.
Obviously, as Russian callers to Parkhomenko’s program insisted and as he admitted, the international status of Russian is very different than that of Ukrainian, and hence many Ukrainian parents may prefer to have their children study Russian rather than their native language. But the imbalance in the number of schools does not reflect just that.
Instead, it is the product of Russian attitudes, Parkhomenko says, which have helped over the last decade to “destroy the interrelationship of Russia with the countries around it.” Russia, he says, “remains alone, entirely alone ... and not because of conspiracies or because someone is pursuing anti-Russian interests.”
And he concludes that this unfortunate situation reflects the even more unfortunate fact that “the Russian leadership treats its responsibilities [to its own citizens] with such sincere contempt,” an attitude that the citizens of neighboring countries can see and one that they recognize is directed against their co-ethnics in Russia itself.