According to a new poll from the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, 45% of Ukrainians think that linguistic discrimination is a problem—even more than discrimination based on sexuality, gender, or disability. But you wouldn’t guess that from the attitudes expressed by some Ukrainian officials and hyper-nationalist citizens. Yet again, Kiev has continued to score own-goals by discriminating against large swathes of its population instead of trying to bring its people together.
Keep in mind that KIIS’s poll probably doesn’t include the heavily Russian-speaking Donbass, currently occupied by the Kremlin. The people being polled are in places like Kiev, Lviv, and Vinnytsia, far away from the frontline.
The English-language press hasn’t picked up on this—they’re too busy focusing on the fanatical Israeli and Palestinian nationalists instead. All the links in this post will be in Russian and Ukrainian—Google Translate will help you out if you don’t read them fluently, which I don’t.
By treating the Russian language and its speakers as synonymous with Vladimir Putin, Ukraine is merely playing into the Kremlin’s narrative about oppressed Russian-speakers who need to be saved from Kiev. And yet they do it anyway:
- Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s head of national security, said that the Russian language should disappear from Ukraine, equating its very use with Kremlin propaganda. Of those who continue to use Russian, he said, “We don’t need anything from them. Let them leave us behind; let them go to their swamps and croak in Russian.” He also said that the government would switch its “FreeДом” channel from Russian to English—even though English is not a native language of most Ukrainians. Russian, however, is. This lack of regard for his fellow Ukrainians is stunning in its callousness. Is it any wonder that there are so many Ukrainian citizens willing to work with the Russians? He’s giving talking points to Vladimir Putin, Sergei Lavrov, Margarita Simonyan, Dmitry Kiselev and Vladimir Soloviev, not encouraging national unity.
- The Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev will stop teaching Russian, Belarusian and Farsi courses. (I suspect that they’re cutting Farsi because Iran is anti-Israel—they’re mixing in Zionism with their own local ethnonationalism. I would also object if a university cut Hebrew because of Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians.)
- A taxi driver in Kiev was fired because he refused to give into his riders’ rude demands that he stop speaking Russian. He kicked his riders out for their behaviour, and from what I can pick up, they reported him to the government. Ukraine’s “language ombudsman,” Taras Kremin, promised to impose a fine on this driver.
- Taras Kremin has called for Ukrainian TV stations to stop making bilingual programming.
- The irony in all this is that, although just over half of bilingual parents in Kiev have started to speak Ukrainian more frequently to their children, 20% of Kiev preschoolers barely understand Ukrainian. Kids often pick up Ukrainian at school, but according to this survey, most of them continue to speak Russian during breaks and with their families, and the memes that teens share online are vastly more likely to be in Russian or English than they are Ukrainian.
The most disturbing aspect of Ukraine’s anti-Russian-language drive is that the authorities simply don’t care about at least one-fifth of their population, if not more. They’re throwaways, or “superfluous Ukrainians,” as the leftist activist Anatoly Ulyanov put it.
I am actually afraid of the consequences if Kiev wins. A Russian victory would be worse—everything Ukraine is doing, Russia does at least fivefold—but if Zelensky pulls out a win against the odds, it will be a Pyrrhic victory at best. Hollowed-out cities, a lowered standard of life even for the poorest country in Europe, unbearable national debts, privatisation and neoliberal policies in a country whose president has sold out its people to the highest bidder, and a class of second-class citizens based on their native language. I cannot enthusiastically support Ukraine. I have not quite reached the point where I can’t support it at all—I think Kiev can eventually be held accountable, unlike Israel and Hamas—but it is extremely difficult to do so.
Why is it so difficult? Because nationalism is heartbreaking, gutting, life-destroying poison. Unlike patriotism, it relies on a desire to eliminate anything that does not match its narratives. It is chauvinistic, narrow-minded, bigoted and short-sighted. And when there is nationalism, there is no real peace.