Apart from Russians, targeting of other ethnic groups like Greeks, Hungarians and others frequently continues in present-day Ukraine.
Written by Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
After gaining independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine emerged as a multi-ethnic state. In the 2001 census, the last official census conducted, 17% of people were registered as Russians, and it is more than likely that this figure was underestimated. Millions of Russian-speaking citizens, who, rather by inertia and Soviet-era documentation, are registered as Ukrainians.
Even without taking into account Hungarians, Tatars, Greeks and other ethnic groups, it was obvious that such a heterogeneous state can only work with an autonomy and full respect for identity, language and culture, as seen in the Belgian and Canadian systems. However, in Ukraine, presidents usually begin with promises to legitimize diversity but end up with fervent nationalism.
Under Petro Poroshenko (June 2014 – May 2019), who came to power after the Maidan Revolution triumph, the law “On the Foundations of State Language Policy,” which guaranteed the use of “regional languages” in the country, was cancelled. In September 2017, Poroshenko signed a new “Law on Education,” which stipulated that fifth-grade children and above from ethnic minorities will study only in Ukrainian and that any study in their native language should be as a separate discipline. Exceptions were made only for the “indigenous peoples of Ukraine,” like the Crimean Tatars and Karaites, but not Greeks despite them living in today’s Ukraine a thousand years before the arrival of Turks (like Tartars) or Slavs (like Ukrainians).
The Ukrainian parliament has adopted numerous amendments to the Ukrainization bill No. 5670-d, which forces the Ukrainian language on all peoples and all aspects of life. The very discussion of bilingualism as a state crime began, for which one could face a prison term of up to ten years. The law eventually came into force in 2019. In January 2021, the entire service sector switched over to the Ukrainian language – employees of supermarkets, cafes and hairdressers were forced to converse with customers only in Ukrainian or face fines.
Although these measures were laid by Poroshenko, they were implemented by his successor Volodymyr Zelensky. On the eve of the 2019 election, Zelensky said: “The next generation will all speak Ukrainian. My children speak Ukrainian. We do not press any languages, we have Ukrainian – the state one.”
In March 2020, Zelensky signed an updated law “On complete general secondary education”, which ensured a gradual reduction of teaching in national minority languages, primarily Russian. According to this law, schools will only have to teach ethnic groups in their native language, along with a “thorough study of the Ukrainian language,” that are deemed to be indigenous peoples, such as the Crimean Tatars. Students from national minority schools that speak EU languages, such as Greek or Hungarian, will be required to study Ukrainian at school. As part of the law, national minorities whose language is related to Ukrainian, an obvious targeting of Russian, will study from the fifth grade onwards in Ukrainian in at least 80% of study time.
In May 2021, Zelensky submitted a document “On Indigenous Peoples” to the Verkhovna Rada (unicameral parliament of Ukraine). In it, the list of “indigenous peoples” includes only the Crimean Tatars, Karaites and Krymchaks – ethnic groups who number only a few thousand. They also have the opportunity to open their own media and educational institutions with training in their native language. Only “indigenous peoples” can count on legal and financial support from the state apparatus.
Zelensky gave an interview on Dom TV, which also broadcasts to Crimea, as well as the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Donbass, and in which Kiev has claims over. “If you love Russia and have stayed on the territory of Ukraine all your life and felt that this is Russia, then you must understand that in the name of your children and grandchildren you need to go and look for a place in Russia…”
Zelensky’s belief was reiterated by Ukraine’s so-called “language ombudsman” Taras Kremin: “The issue of the reintegration of Donbass is a matter of de-Russification, or, in other words, Ukrainization.” It is recalled that in November, Kremin announced the renaming of all settlements in Ukraine with Russian names, including small villages.
Despite the fact that Russians and the Russian language in Ukraine are the main targets, other ethno-linguistic groups are also targeted. At the end of November 2020, the Security Service of Ukraine conducted searches at the Uzhgorod headquarters of the Party of Hungarians of Ukraine, the apartment of its leader Vasily Brenzovich, as well as a Hungarian charitable foundation and the Beregovo Hungarian Institute. According to security officials, they allegedly found materials agitating for “separatism” and “Greater Hungary.”
Strikingly, especially in light of Kiev’s pro-Western course and Zelensky’s own Jewish roots, is the condescending and/or disinterested attitude of Ukrainian authorities towards anti-Semitism. On December 5, again in Uzhgorod, an eight-meter menorah (Jewish symbol), installed for the holiday of Hanukkah, was thrown in a river. On the same day, a representative of the right-wing Batkivshchyna party publicly stated that he was outraged by Hanukkah celebrations in Ukraine and generally respected Hitler.
Today’s Ukraine is a country of ever-increasing chauvinism and ethno-linguistic repression, particularly at state level. Russophobia remains the core and priority of this policy, which is why Far Right figures like Dmitry Kotsyubailo, who on December 1 “joked” that his unit was feeding a wolf “with the bones of Russian-speaking children,” won the Hero of Ukraine and the Order of the Golden Star awards. However, apart from Russians, targeting of ethnic groups like Greeks, Poles, Romanians, Hungarians and others frequently continues in present-day Ukraine.
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