Two recent events. One: The Ukrainian parliament passed a law imposing the use of the Ukrainian language.1) Two: almost concurrently, Moscow introduced a law under which residents of the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics may apply for Russian citizenship.2)
The law on language makes it mandatory that Ukrainian be spoken in all public places, that 90% of TV output and at least 50% of printed publications be in this language. An observant reader – without further research – will have noticed that, at present, not even 50% of books are available in Ukrainian. To make things even funnier, the president-elect – Volodymyr Zelenskiy (pictured) – is a native speaker of Russian, and it was Russian which was used almost exclusively in the first season of the TV series in which he played the main role, the role which catapulted him to the presidency. Ukrainian national identity must be in deep trouble if it has to be propped up by such laws.
Imagine a similar law being passed in any of the European Union member states, a law imposing one language and ousting another. What a howl of indignation would be raised with the ready gamut of wild accusations of nationalism, Nazism and chauvinism. Yet, in the case of Ukraine, no one has raised an eyebrow.
On the other hand, Putin’s move making it easier for residents of the two breakaway republics has drawn criticism and condemnation. Never mind that Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s main supporter – Ihor Kolomoyskyi (pictured) – holds Ukrainian, Hungarian and Israeli citizenship or that Europeans are encouraged to hold dual citizenship (with the purpose of destroying national sentiments in their psyche): residents of the said republics should hold only one.3)
Another of the West’s moves of deepening the gap between Kiev Russia and Moscow Russia (one of its previous attempts included the engineering of the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine independent of Moscow) was counteracted by Russia’s move aiming at winning some of the Ukrainian Russian-speaking residents over to its side. That’s the present factual status. It has its roots in the past.4)
One of the misconceptions spread in Europe is that Ukraine was a conquered and then occupied part of the Russian Empire, later the Soviet Union, where Ukrainian national identity was suppressed. Truth be told, both Russia and Ukraine began in Kiev, which is known as the cradle of Russian statehood. As was common in the Middle Ages, the Principality of Kiev split into many others and then they were one by one conquered by the Mongols, known at that time as Tartars. The conquerors levied taxes and controlled the particular principalities politically, leaving a lot of autonomy to them. Of the many princes, one ingratiated himself with the Tartars by paying the tribute regularly and in excess, so the conquerors made him a prince above other princes, entrusting him with levying the taxes from other Russian provinces. His name was Ivan and he ruled over Moscow. He used his privileged position to subordinate other principalities. The Tartar yoke grew weaker over time, the Western parts of what we name today as Russia – including Kiev – went under the control of Lithuania’s rulers, and when one of them was elected Polish king, they belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian crown. The eastern parts were gradually united by Moscow’s princes, successors of the mentioned Ivan who after the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople began styling themselves as emperors, which is Russian for the tsar.
A strong Polish-Lithuanian condominium was a thorn in the flesh of the powers that be of the then Europe (and Moscow), and so they engineered and supported uprisings in the Kievan part of Russia that was under Polish-Lithuanian rule and which with time began to be known as Ukraine, which means borderland (compare the name linguistically with Krajina in southern Croatia, a Serb-inhabited region along the border with Bosnia). One of the said uprisings was successful in that much of the Polish-ruled Kiev Russia (Ukraine) seceded and willingly joined Russia (1654). Bohdan Khmelnytsky, was the man who subjugated Kievan Russia to Moscovian Russia, and he is today Ukraine’s top national hero.
Over time, other Polish parts of Ukraine were also taken over by Moscow, with a small piece being taken over by the Hapsburg Empire, where it remained for over a century. No national uprisings of Ukrainians against Russians were recorded at that time. The Ukrainian national identity was only born in that part of Kievan Russia which belonged to Austria and where Kievan orthodox Russians rivalled with Catholic Poles, a division which was adroitly exploited by the German-Austrian overlords. It was here that the Ukrainian language was recognized by Austrian authorities. Also, the Polish intellectuals of that time regarded Russians of this region as a branch of the Polish people, composing lots of poetry to praise their past real and imaginary heroes.
A full-blown Ukrainian or West Russian national identity emerged or was created concurrently with the Bolshevik revolution, and was fuelled by the independent Polish state plus the Western powers, which looked for tools with which to quench the Red Army. The attempts proved futile, also because the Soviet government carved out a large portion from Russian territory with Kiev and Kharkov and created the Soviet Ukrainian Socialist Republic, whose residents spoke mainly Russian.
Again it was the small piece of Ukraine that was controlled by Poland after the Hapsburg Monarchy disintegrated where Ukrainian national identity was doused by Russians and Germans alike to spite the Warsaw government. One of the Ukrainian political activists of the interwar time participated in the successful assassination of the minister of the interior in broad daylight in Warsaw. His name was Stepan Bandera (pictured), who was then apprehended and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted and so Bandera survived in a Polish prison till the outbreak of the Second World War, to be used later on by the same German puppet masters to organize anti-Russian and anti-Polish massacres – in today’s vernacular, ethnic cleansing – in what is today known as Western Ukraine. Stepan Bandera – executed by Soviet intelligence in West Germany a few years after the war – remains an epitome of unspeakable evil in the consciousness of the Polish and Russian nations, although he is elevated to the status of Ukraine’s national hero – second only to the mentioned Bohdan Khmelnytsky – by today’s Ukrainians.
During the time of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was as important as Russia itself: it was the second most populous republic, one of the centres of heavy industry and it had its own representative in the United Nations. Some of the first secretaries of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – i.e. for all practical purposes presidents of the Soviet Union – were Ukrainians with Nikita Khrushchev (pictured) as the best known example (the one who arbitrarily cut the Crimea off from Russia and awarded it to Ukraine), but also Leonid Brezhnev. That succinctly sums up the occupation of Kievan Russia by Moscow Russia. in much the same way Catalonia, Burgundy or Bavaria might be regarded as occupied territories of respectively Spain, France and Germany and the same “national” movements might commence fights for independence, manifesting itself in ousting the Spanish, French and German languages in favour of Catalan, Burgundian and Bavarian. In politics, something like that is called the creation of nations, nations in inverted commas, of course.
|1.||↑||Ukraine passes law against Russian language in official settings, The Telegraph 2019-04-35.|
|2.||↑||Russia eases citizenship rules for residents of eastern Ukraine, The Telegraph 2019-04-24.|
|3.||↑||U.S. Condemns Putin’s Move To Ease Russian Citizenship For Those In Ukraine’s Separatist-Held Areas, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 2019-04-24.|
|4.||↑||Ukraine Orthodox Church granted independence from Russian Church, BBC 2019-01-05.|