Nationalism of Soviet methods: How does total Ukrainization look like?

Author : Lilia Brudnytska

Source :

After the adoption of new law, disrespect of Ukrainian language may be punished with deprivation of president's post and even imprisonment
21:40, 23 January 2017

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Two draft laws on the state language have been registered in the Verkhovna Rada, and these documents can be either a major breakthrough, or a serious problem.

Both patriotic projects appeared to the date of Unity Day in our country. Obviously, the political forces chose to prepare for the debates in Parliament thoroughly. However, as always in Ukrainian politics, draft law of huge writing team (more than 30 deputies, and no linguists among them –Hopko, Semenchenko, Berezyuk, Teteruk, Levus, Dobrodomov, Syroid and others) has managed to become a sensation, even against the background of such significant events as the Baptism of Christ and the inauguration of the 45th US president. Opinions were divided: some people strongly support this; others compare innovations nearly to the Gestapo. Where is the truth?

Language chekists

Resonant bill "On state language" was registered in Verkhovna Rada on January 19, 2017. The basic principle of the document, as stated in the Explanatory Note is the fact that Ukrainian language as the state language is mandatory for communicating on the territory of Ukraine regarding the implementation of powers by state authority bodies, and local self-government, as well as in other public areas of social life.

It is also stated that the Ukrainian language, along with the flag, national emblem and national anthem, is one of the state symbols.

Based on this are listed all innovations of the bill, which is focused solely on the implementation of the Constitution of Ukraine in terms of languages. There is seems to be nothing new.

What is alarming, it does not refer to the essence of the document, but to the methods by which it is proposed to achieve a result.

The bill introduces a rich arsenal of methods of supervision, control, and a wide range of punitive sanctions - from fines to imprisonment. Its authors want to create a powerful apparatus of the National Commission on State Language standards, the staff of authorized inspectors for the protection of the state language.

All these people will monitor not only the use of the Ukrainian language, where it is required by law, but also the attitude to the state language. Disrespect will be punished.

The failure of officials to comply with legitimate demands of language inspectors would be also punishable (penalty). The rate of penalty starts from 200 non-taxable minimum incomes of citizens. There is a risk and go to jail for up to three years and obtain the status of "criminal" for disrespect to Ukrainian language.

Total ukrainization
The main innovation of the bill can be considered a significant expansion of the areas where the national language is required.

Earlier the use of Ukrainian language was generally provided in the work of the bodies of state power and local self-government, in the court proceedings. In the media, telecommunications, trade, advertising, as well as in the film industry legislation on languages was sufficiently liberal to create texts even in Swahili in Ukraine. If only the content does not contain unconstitutional appeals.

The authors of a resonant bill offer to change the situation.

Ukrainian language will start at the Ukrainian border. In a literal sense: we crossed the cordon - all the questions in official language. For the transliteration of names of people, geographic names we should use the rules established by the National Commission on state language standards.

The postal services - exclusively in Ukrainian. University, school, pre-school education - in Ukrainian.

However, there is proviso, that the language of secondary and pre-school education is determined not only by the law (so far - the bill), but also the law on the rights of persons belonging to national minorities. It is obvious that they should have an opportunity to develop their own languages, as it is prescribed by the Constitution of Ukraine.

The language rules regarding TV and film industry also attract attention. For example, MPs propose amendments to the bill, according to which the language of television and radio broadcasting must be Ukrainian, and it is not allowed "the humiliation and disrespect for the state language (including neglect of its mandatory application, association of it exclusively or largely with negative or ridiculed heroes of the film). "

National Council on TV and Radio Broadcasting is empowered of supervision and control over observance of the language legislation. For violation of the law the penalty is 10% of the license fee.

The same requirements are imposed to the film production, demonstration of which is permitted only in compliance with the language norms.

Separately, it stipulates that the language of sports competitions, services, transport, and advertising is Ukrainian. For the advertising there is an indulgence for the representatives of national minorities. But in the scientific and technical activities people can use only Ukrainian language.

In all spheres of justice applies the official language, although sometimes it is allowed to use other, if the participant of the process is a citizen of another country.

Why this draft law shouldn’t be approved?

On closer inspection, the controversial language project looks not so much frightening as eclectic, where common sense is so strongly mixed with chimeras of too distant past, that it can’t largely contribute to the progress.

The document is conditionally divided into three parts. One of them consolidates and reminds facts which are already present in the Ukrainian legislation. For example, documents and legal proceedings in Ukrainian language, and also meetings, official communication, other actions with regard to presentation or implementation of state functions. Following the logic of the legislation of Ukraine can be seen in the provision of a list of national minorities’ language rights (education, cultural activities, etc.). Also there are positive changes regarding consumer protection.

The second part - prescribing. Here lies the main shortcoming of the project. If the public official communication is grounded on the state language of communication, in the field of book publishing, media, commerce and advertising rules are usually dictated by the market. Cutting off the Russian-language publications, TV programs, etc. will promote the Ukrainian language, but at the same time deal a blow to the economy of Ukraine, which comes out of the dive.

Nevertheless, it is possible somehow to accept even these measures, particularly with regard to the media. (Although it is unclear why for the print media it is forbidden to use other languages, but for information agencies it is possible).

The third part – punitive – also causes suspicion. The country has created a new structure - the National Commission on state language standards - with the broadest powers, on which labor inspectors had never dreamed about, and with the broadest prerequisites for corruption. The more terrible is, that corruption will be absolutely legitimate, because the labor inspectors are limited with the frameworks of legislation, and their work is concerned with the business relationship. Language inspectors are dealing with emotional relationships.

For example, the bill prescribes to all applicants for state posts, including the prime minister, president and deputies have a certificate of knowledge of the Ukrainian language, issued by the National Commission. Without this certificate you can’t become the state official. And this is too similar to the indigenization policy of the totalitarian Soviet Union of 20-30-ies of the last century, aiming to promote development of the democratic state and civil society. Not because it is not necessary to know the language, but because the level of knowledge of the language will be determined not by computers but by people, and for them nothing human is alien, including self-interest.

Playing with language, however, in addition to the achieving of some state goals can be lethal for other goals. For example, if the punitive law would be adopted by how it will be accepted by the very residents of Donbas, who the official Kyiv wishes to return? I would venture to suggest that not everyone will be happy with such innovations. The prospect of the return of Crimea with this law turns into a fiction, not to mention the direct impact on the Crimean Tatars.

If the law is adopted we will have language inspectors, many of the unemployed philologists will receive jobs, Ukrainian taxpayers will fund a new structure for the pleasure of hearing everywhere distorted beyond recognition, but the native Ukrainian language.

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