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World Association of International Studies

Post Language and National Identity in Ukraine
Created by John Eipper on 11/23/22 2:16 PM

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Language and National Identity in Ukraine (Cameron Sawyer, USA, 11/23/22 2:16 pm)

Istvan Simon wrote on November 23rd: "At present I am in daily communication with a Russian-speaking person who lives in Estonia. As Eugenio Battaglia probably knows, the language in Estonia is not Russian, yet this person is perfectly happy to live there."

That's sort of like saying, "I know English-speaking people in China, where the language is Chinese, and those people are perfectly happy to live there." Such a statement reveals very little.

First of all, Estonia and Ukraine are two completely different cases. Estonia was created as a nation by Baltic Germans, was then Swedish for centuries, and only in the 18th century became part of the Russian empire. There was no large population of Russian speakers in Estonia until Soviet times, no cities founded by Russians, with the exception of the one city of Narva on the border, and the distinct Baltic German/Estonian culture was preserved throughout. There are no historically Russian-speaking regions in Estonia. The Estonian language always had official status in Estonia, and before the Bol'sheviks, the main university of Estonia, the University of Tartu, gave instruction only in German.

Large parts of the territory of present-day Ukraine, on the other hand, were not ever Ukrainian--they were conquered by Catherine the Great from the Ottoman Empire and were part of Russia proper as Novaya Rossiya (New Russia) and Crimea. Cities like Kherson, Sevastopol, Donetsk, and others were founded by Russians* and were always Russian speaking. Kiev itself was almost entirely Russian-speaking right up until 2014. Before 2014, 80% to 90% of television in Ukraine was in the Russian language, and even now some 80% of Ukrainian Internet resources in Ukraine are in Russian. What was not oppressive in Estonia was distinctly oppressive in Ukraine, a bilingual and multicultural country with large regions with millions of people where almost no one spoke Ukrainian. And this fact has been recognized by international human rights organizations; see e.g. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/19/new-language-requirement-raises-concerns-ukraine . The language policy also provoked outrage among the Hungarian minority in Ukraine; see: https://hungarytoday.hu/ukraine-rules-language-law-discriminating-hungarian-minorities/ "As the law makes it almost impossible for minorities to use their mother tongue, many ethnic organizations have raised their voices against it, including many Hungarian organizations in Transcarpathia.

"As a result of the adoption of the language law, bilateral relations between Hungary and Ukraine have been drastically deteriorating in recent years. Despite severe criticism from Hungary and others in the international community, Kyiv continues to refuse the prospect of changing the regulation. In response, Hungary has been blocking the country's NATO accession ever since."

The much-criticized language policy in Ukraine (harshly criticized not only by Hungary and Russia but at the level of international human rights organizations), imposed by US-sponsored West-Ukrainian nationalist governments on a multicultural and multilingual country, created divisions in the country which were wholly unnecessary. Prior to this, Ukrainian and Russian speakers lived in great harmony and with a shared sense of Ukrainian nationhood based not on language, but on shared love of the new country created in 1991. Russian speakers, for their part, were happy for Ukrainian to be the main official language of the country, and up to 2014, were learning Ukrainian in considerable numbers (the current president of Ukraine is one of these). Ukrainian speakers, for their part, were nearly as pro-Russian as the Russian speakers--Ukraine before 2014 was the most pro-Russian former Soviet Republic, with successive opinion polls showing that Ukrainians East and West trusted and liked Russia, more than the US, by large margins. There was practically no animosity between these groups, considerable intermarriage, and to the extent that many Ukrainians, before 2014, could not even say what their ethnicity was.

This picture was destroyed in the 2014 coup when billions of dollars worth of US meddling finally brought to power West Ukrainian anti-Russian nationalists of the type almost no one in Ukraine supported up to then, including even open neo-Nazis in government (including the deputy prime minister--equivalent to the US vice president), in a country where the percentage of people sympathetic to neo-Nazism has always been in the low single digits. Through a violent coup overthrowing a democratically elected government, in the name of democracy! Your tax dollars at work! The Russians answered this with their own meddling and their own violence, annexing Crimea, arming and organizing separatists in the Donbas, where before 2014 almost no one had any interest in separating or breaking up Ukraine. Thus this tragic situation in Ukraine was created almost entirely by the evil meddling of two outside powers pursuing their own geopolitical agendas through Ukraine used as a proxy, without the slightest regard for the real interest of Ukrainians, and certainly not for the internal harmony of Ukrainian society.

This is also an oblique answer to Bruce Acker's excellent question of a few days ago: "Is language the only marker of what it means to be Russian or Ukrainian? It seems like the language/nationality/citizenship nexus should be problematized and explored. (Maybe WAIS has discussed this and I've missed it?)." The answer is that there are two different conceptions of Ukrainian nationhood. The inclusive one which prevailed before the first US sponsored "color revolution" in Ukraine, based on an inclusive conception of the new nation within its 1991 borders and including different ethnic and linguistic groups in the country, and the exclusive, chauvinistic one based on the heritage of Khmelnitsky, Petliura and Bandera, ethnically chauvinistic, closely associated historically with fascism, Nazism, and lately, white supremacism, and tainted by a long history of repeated, horrific genocides against Poles and Jews throughout the centuries, brought to prominence with our tax dollars later, which made native Russian speakers, who predominate in large areas of the country, second-class citizens. Without outside meddling by the US, this flavor of nationalism would never have become predominant in the formerly remarkably tolerant Ukraine, but without outside meddling by Russia, even this would not have been a sufficient cause for separatism and war. Curses on the acts of both of these outside powers, who have destroyed Ukraine--literally--for the sake of their own cynical geopolitical games.

The extent to which ethnic harmony in Ukraine has been tragically destroyed by this situation and by this war can be seen in this horrifying video posted yesterday on the Ukrainian Telegram channel "Kievsky Dvizh": https://t.me/c/1210003725/27334 . A frail, aged, foolish, Russian-speaking woman on a Kiev commuter train has said something silly to her neighbors who were talking about the war--"The Russians came here to help us!" In response, her neighbors, younger and strong men, one after the other, give the frail old woman a horrific beating, smashing her head against the window, kicking her, and finally throwing her off the train, while the other passengers laugh. This shocking social degradation is what we've done to Ukraine, with the help of the Russians! And the language in which all this is, approvingly, reported, in Kievsky Dvizh? Ironically, like most Ukrainian internet resources--well, you can guess.

*Kherson, interestingly, by a black and probably gay man--Ivan Gannibal, Catherine the Great's favorite and the great-uncle of Russia's national poet, for which Catherine showered him with medals and gifts, including a huge estate near Kherson.

JE comments:  Cameron, from your description of the events of 2014, you give the impression that Yanukovych was not hated and ridiculously corrupt.  He is now living in a $52 million villa in Russian exile.  Definitely it was not paid for with his presidential salary. I doubt the meddling Neocons in Washington could have engineered Maidan--if engineer it they did--had Yanukovych been a model of probity.

A very informative discussion of the language question, though.

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  • US Role in Overthrowing Yanukovych Was Wrong, His Corruption Notwithstanding (Cameron Sawyer, USA 11/25/22 3:47 AM)
    JE wrote: "Cameron, from your description of the events of 2014, you give the impression that Yanukovych was not hated and ridiculously corrupt. He is now living in a $52 million villa in Russian exile. Definitely it was not paid for with his presidential salary. I doubt the meddling Neocons in Washington could have engineered Maidan--if engineer it they did--had Yanukovych been a model of probity. "

    Where did you get the idea that I approve of Yanukovych? I never said any such thing. Certainly the 2014 coup could not have been carried off had Yanukovych been a "model of probity," but are you saying that it's OK to overthrow the corrupt or unpopular presidents of other countries? Would you say that Russian or Chinese interference in our 2016 elections could have never worked, if Hillary had been a "model of probity," and that therefore it's OK?

    Yanukovych was certainly a corrupt bastard, but he was no more or less so than any other president of Ukraine, and he was elected by the Ukrainian people in an election which was declared "free and fair" by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe and international observers. Yanukovych was not hated at the time of the coup any more than Zelensky himself was hated in the autumn before the war started and revived his popularity (see: https://www.npr.org/2022/01/27/1076199817/where-president-zelenskys-popularity-stands-with-people-in-ukraine ), and by general consensus inside Ukraine, Yanukovych was less corrupt than the odious Poroshenko who succeeded him under US sponsorship, and was certainly hated less than that one. We had no right to do what we did, which started Ukraine down the path to destruction, as Mearsheimer explained so well in his 2014 University of Chicago lecture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrMiSQAGOS4&t=3s ), and indeed as I predicted myself in 2015 in a WAIS conference talk.

    The US didn't engineer the coup? Why, we were caught red-handed! So many times I have linked to the infamous Nuland-Pyatt call, which has been acknowledged as authentic by the US State Department, you haven't listened to it? Here it is again; you should listen to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV9J6sxCs5k . And of course, engineering coups is what the US does.  How many governments of other countries have we brought down or attempted to bring down over the decades and centuries? For us, "regime change" by subversion or direct military attack is an everyday tool of foreign policy. Here is just one list; Ukraine is just one of scores or hundreds: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_involvement_in_regime_change

    Note that I have deplored not only US meddling in Ukraine, but equally I have deplored Russian meddling. But what Russia did--arming a fringe group of separatists to break apart a country whose regime they didn't approve of--is exactly what we do over and over and over again. The Contras in Nicaragua were exactly this case; as were the rebels in Libya, Syria, the Mujahedeen (later, Al Qaeda) in Afghanistan of the 1980s, and countless other examples of proxies we have used to destabilize governments which are clients of our adversaries. In every case, our propaganda portrays the rebels we have empowered with money and arms to destabilize a government which doesn't serve our interests, as "freedom fighters," the "moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers," etc., etc., although in practically every case, our "freedom fighters" are as nasty and brutal and antidemocratic, or usually, more so, than the government we are trying to overthrow.

    One reason (of many) I am against this tactic is that it sets a horrible precedent. We believe we can do what we want because we can, because we are too powerful for anyone to challenge us. But that's not true. Case in point--the evil business the Russians have been doing in Donbas starting in 2014 is taken straight from the US playbook. Just like we always do, they represent the Donbas separatists as "freedom fighters" and as representing the "will of the people" against an "evil regime," whereas absolutely every point here is false, just like it was false in Nicaragua or Afghanistan in the '80s when we did it, or anywhere else we carry out this nefarious policy. Neither in Nicaragua in the '80s nor in Libya in the 2000s, nor in Syria or Donbas in the 2010s, were the sponsored rebels "freedom fighters," nor did they represent any will of any people who definitely did not will to have civil war. They were all simply proxies for the cynical geopolitical games of their respective sponsors, dressed up with fake "white hats" to use in the sponsor's propaganda.

    And what if China, with that country's vast resources in money and people, whom we explicitly regard as a "strategic rival" we need to "outcompete" by all means fair and foul, starts doing the same thing? If our foreign policy is adopted by other powerful countries, we will soon have world war.

    JE comments:  I have listened to the infamous Nuland phone call, as has almost everyone.  It's surprising how it didn't end her career, as it would have done for any mid-level corporate manager or academic.

    I'd like to focus on "precedents."  Cameron, you write that Putin's intervention in Ukraine followed the same playbook as the countless US attempts at regime change.  Would you go so far as to argue that Putin would not have started the war if the US had not provided the "inspiration"?  This is a slippery slope of moral equivalency.  I am reminded of attempts to blame the Holocaust on US racial policy and eugenics of earlier in the 20th century.

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    • It is Perfectly Legitimate to Depose Corrupt Leaders (Istvan Simon, USA 11/27/22 4:32 AM)
      Once again I wish to start by acknowledging that Cameron Sawyer and I are personal friends. Once again, however, I wish to state that I couldn't disagree more strongly with Cameron's take on Maidan.

      It is undisputed that the US interfered in Ukraine in ways that would be considered unacceptable if other countries interfered in our affairs the same way. So this much, Cameron and I agree on. But thereafter we part views.

      Maidan was not a coup. It was not engineered by the United States, and it was the best thing that happened in Ukraine. Maidan was a revolution, not a coup.

      Victoria Nuland is guilty of interfering in Ukraine's affairs. The proper course would be her being expelled as persona non grata from Ukraine.

      But Victoria Nuland did not create the millions who went to Maidan to bring down a profoundly corrupt Russian toady, at the expense of the people of Ukraine.

      Yes Cameron, it is perfectly OK to depose corrupt Russian ass-lickers like Yanukovych from power. It is pretty much the same as deposing the Shah of Iran by the Iranian revolution.

      The problem of the Iranian revolution was not the deposing of the Shah, but replacing him with Khomeini, who was 100 times worse than the Shah.

      The second Iranian revolution is happening right now and hopefully will result in the deposing of Khamenei, and the fall of the Islamic Republic. May it happen fast.

      Likewise, Maidan appropriately deposed Yanukovych and did not replace him by somebody worse. Further, later elections brought even better leaders to the Presidency, like President Zelensky.

      The problem of Yanukovych was not only that he was corrupt. But worse, he was a traitor to Ukraine, and a puppet of Russia.

      And frankly, to compare Hillary Clinton to Yanukovych is outrageous.

      I also disagree with Cameron's take on Poroshenko. He was not more hated than Yanukovych. There were no Maidan-like demonstrations during Poroshenko's government. And Poroshenko was not a traitor like Yanukovych was. Unlike Yanukovych, he remains in Ukraine.

      It is perfectly legitimate to depose corrupt leaders and put them in prison. It would have been perfectly legitimate to depose Lula in Brazil and put him in prison. He was (is) deeply corrupt, and indeed spent time in prison for corruption not too long ago.

      JE comments:  It is an accepted belief that it's legitimate to overthrow a tyrant.  The rub is who gets to decide between tyranny and run-of-the-mill corruption.  The best laboratory for this process is today's Iran.  I hope our friend and Istvan's colleague Massoud Malek will send an update.

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  • Is Ukraine's "One Language" Policy Repressive or Unique? Parallels with Brazil (Istvan Simon, USA 11/25/22 4:41 AM)
    I much appreciate Cameron Sawyer's insights. Further, it is true that the situation in each country is different.

    Nonetheless, I resent a little Cameron's dismissive tone towards what I had said about the Russian-speaking person who lives in Estonia but speaks Russian. Why does Cameron say that I have very little information? I gave very relevant information.

    Let me turn this away from Russia and Ukraine and Estonia, and let me turn it into something that I know a lot about: Brazil.

    Brazil is a country of immigrants, much like the United States. There are German ethic groups in Santa Catarina. Famous supermodel Gisele Bündchen is of German ancestry and clearly Germanic features. There are green-eyed people of African ancestry in Northeastern Brazil, remnants of the two invasions from Holland in Brazil's history. There are Hungarians in São Paulo, like my own family. There are German-speaking ethnic groups, Japanese-speaking ethnic groups, Danish-speaking ethic groups, Italian-speaking ethnic groups, French-speaking ethnic groups, and so on.

    Yet Brazil has exactly one official language. It is Portuguese, and by law all schools in Brazil must do their teaching in Portuguese. Kids cannot be taught in Hungarian, or German, or Japanese, or French, they must be taught in Portuguese. In Americana, in the state of São Paulo, the population is overwhelmingly of United States ancestry, the descendants of Southern US Brazilian immigrants who immigrated to Brazil, because in Brazil they could still have black slaves at the time they arrived in Brazil. They cannot be taught in English--they must be taught in Portuguese.

    I ask, why is this any different from the case in the Ukraine? There is no difference. I'm sorry Cameron and Eugenio, but your pro-Russian propaganda is just that: Propaganda.

    JE comments:  The difference would be immigrant language groups vs. ethnicities that were "always" there.  This is especially problematized by shifting national borders, such as the regions of Ukraine that were historically Hungarian, Polish, or even Russian as in the case of Crimea.

    In Brazil, the stronger parallel would be with that nation's 160 indigenous languages.

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    • Donbas, Crimea, and Wilson's 14 Points (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 11/26/22 3:19 AM)
      Istvan Simon wrote on November 25th:

      "I ask, why is there any difference between the situation of official language in Brazil and the case in Ukraine? ... There is no difference. I'm sorry Cameron [Sawyer] and Eugenio [Battaglia], but your pro-Russian propaganda is just that: Propaganda."

      I have just one response: "Dear friend (if you allow me to call you friend) Istvan, You were born in proud Hungary and should know the problems of the Hungarian ethnic groups, compelled to live in foreign countries against their will in contempt of the 'sacred' 14 points of Wilson and the Atlantic Charter and defending the language of their forefathers."

      About "pro-Russia propaganda," both Cameron and I certainly believe we are posting the truth. It is possible to contest my wording and I will take good note of this, but stating that it is only "propaganda" does not cancel my arguments; it only makes them stronger.

      Oh, by the way, that the people of Donbas and Crimea claim their "sacred" rights aligns with the 14 Points of Wilson and the Atlantic Charter.  Why does the new president of the Empire go against the great Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt? Does Putin have more respect for the two presidents than Biden?

      JE comments:  Wilson was a champion of self-determination, not the enlargement of existing nation-states.  (Wilson limited his generosity to white peoples, but that is a discussion for another day.)

      Those of us in the Empire or the mainstream West have a hard time seeing Putin in Wilsonian terms, but the 14 Points provide a "language" to justify almost any type of regime-change intervention.

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    • Ukraine's Language Policy Contrasted with Finland, Spain and Kazakhstan (Cameron Sawyer, USA 11/30/22 3:06 AM)
      Istvan Simon wrote on November 25th "I ask, why is there any difference between Brazil's language policy and that of Ukraine? There is no difference. I'm sorry Cameron and Eugenio, but your pro-Russian propaganda is just that: Propaganda."

      First of all, calling the argument of a fellow WAISer "propaganda" is an intellectual failure. If you can't respond to an argument with your own arguments, then dismiss it as propaganda. I know Istvan is smarter than this, so I'm disappointed. It's also an argumentum ad hominem--does Istvan believe these arguments are made in bad faith? Of course this is consistent with the polarized culture of today, where anything we disagree with is presumed to be propaganda and/or disinformation, so we just brush it off as such, and we don't have to engage it or think about it, don't have to dig deeper into the facts.

      And my friend Istvan has here indeed not dug into the facts sufficiently, to understand what this argument is about. He assumes that the problem is the single official language in Ukraine. Since Brazil and other countries have a single official language policy and don't have internal problems, ergo there is no problem with the language policy in Ukraine. Ergo anything anyone says different is propaganda.

      This is all false and illogical. The single official language policy in Ukraine is not indeed the problem per se, and is not what we are talking about, nor is the situation with languages in Ukraine in any way comparable to that in Brazil. Most Ukrainians have been in favor of a single official language for some time; most Russophone Ukrainians had no problem with a single official language, at least before 2014. That was not the problem.

      Now in a deeply bilingual country like Ukraine--which is very different from Brazil, Estonia, the US, etc.--a dual state language policy might have been better. Finland chose that path in 1917 upon achieving independence from the Russian Empire, making Swedish and Finnish co-equal languages in order to promote harmony between the Finnish-speaking working class and peasantry, on the one hand, and the Russian-Swedish aristocracy and urban dwellers, on the other hand. This worked very well indeed, despite a terrible civil war fought in Finland between Russian-Swedish landowners allied with conservative Northern Finnish peasants under the banner of the Finnish Whites, against the Southern Finland Finnish-speaking workers and peasants as the Reds. Under the brilliant leadership of Gustav Mannerheim, the father of the Finnish nation (who grew up speaking Swedish, and spoke Russian at home), the Whites beat the Reds, and the new Finnish state worked hard to reconcile these groups, and a reconciliatory language policy was an important part of this wise effort. Finnish citizens were allowed to send their children to school in their own language, and Swedish continued to dominate in finance, business and culture for a while (exactly as Russian dominates in those areas in Ukraine today), but all Finnish citizens, whatever their native language, were required to learn both Swedish and Finnish. Within a generation or two, everyone could speak Finnish and the country had become practically monolingual, and today the Finnish language is an important element of Finnish national identity. Finland, incidentally, is today ranked as the happiest country in the world. For further reading, this is a particularly good Wiki article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finland%27s_language_strife .

      This is highly relevant to the present situation in Ukraine and the question of language and national identity. Note that the situation in Finland concerned Swedish, not Russian, and Finnish. Finnish was first elevated to the status of a co-equal national language with Swedish, the historical language of culture, government, literature, and urban life in Finland up until that time, in 1863 by Tsar Alexander II.

      Another relevant precedent for language policy in Ukraine is the situation with the Catalan language in Spain. Unlike the case in the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine, where Ukrainian was never widely spoken, Spanish has been for a long time and is still the predominantly spoken language in Catalonia. Nevertheless, Catalonian is protected as a "co-official language" in Catalonia, so that citizens of the region are guaranteed the right to interact with local and national government in their own language, whether it's Spanish or Catalan, and education in Catalan is supported by the state. This constitutes Catalan as a kind of "regional language"--the status which Russophones in Ukraine wanted for Russian in Russian-speaking regions, and the status which Zelensky supported (see: https://www.unian.info/politics/10611387-zelensky-sees-no-problem-with-special-status-of-russian-language-in-donbas-video.html ).  This is nonetheless considerably less than what Swedish-speakers got in Finland. So not equal to Ukrainian, which is the national language and official everywhere, but with a regional official status allowing people to function in their regional language, in their own regions.

      But a single state language can also work OK in a situation like Ukraine's. Ukraine's situation, it must be said, is entirely different from Brazil's, where there has been a single predominant and official language since the founding of the state. Ukrainian has never been the predominant language in the geography contained within Ukraine's present borders, not even today (for example, 80% of Ukrainian Internet resources are in Russian even now). Ukraine's situation is more like that of Kazakhstan, where the national language, Kazakh, was predominant only in the South of the country, and where the North and East have been Russian-speaking for centuries. Upon independence in 1991, Kazakhstan, unlike Finland, decided on a single state language, but went to great lengths to promote harmony between the Kazakh- and Russian-speaking elements of society, something which was not only good policy, but is a fundamental element of how the Kazakhs think of themselves--as models of ethnic and, especially, religious harmony. I have written about this on WAIS in the past. They don't quite live up to these ideals (naturally), but the aspiration itself already speaks volumes about the character of Kazakh society.

      Accordingly, the policy in Kazakhstan was and is that any citizen has the right to deal with the local and national governments in either language, and to be educated in either language. The Kazakh language was required for certain (but far from all) public sector employees, which led to Kazakh speakers from the South taking a great number of jobs away from Russian-speaking ethnic Kazakhs from the North--a point of controversy.

      The latest version of language policy in Ukraine, reflected in the latest legislation (the 2019 Law on the Support of Functioning of the Ukrainian Language, and the 2017 Law on Education), is entirely different from any of these precedents--Finland, Spain, or Kazakhstan. In regions where hardly anyone speaks Ukrainian--like Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kherson oblasts--in cities founded and built by Russians and where Russian has been the predominant language for centuries, citizens suddenly cannot fill out forms or get official information in their native language. Local officials who can't speak Ukrainian are supposed to be fired and replaced by Ukrainian-speakers from the West of the country. Suddenly local people cannot educate their children in their native language. Teachers, doctors, and other public sector employees cannot keep their jobs if they don't speak Ukrainian--in a country where less than half of the population speaks Ukrainian at home. In the legendary restaurant "Caesar Autonne" in Odessa, where Pushkin and Gogol used to hang out, mentioned in Eugene Onegin, in a city where to this day Ukrainian is not widely spoken, the waiters are now required to speak Ukrainian, and can be fined if they fail to address customers in Ukrainian. Some 90% of movies shown in Ukraine, including in the Russian-speaking regions, must be dubbed into Ukrainian (subtitles are not enough), making them unintelligible to most of the residents of these regions. Exceptions to some of these rules--such as the ban on education conducted in languages other than Ukrainian--apply to English and the official languages of the EU. But not to the most widely spoken language in the country, Russian. As the Ukrainian MP who complained about this to the Supreme Court wrote, concerning the 2019 law: "The Russian language legally is completely excluded from labor relations, education, science, culture, television and radio, print media, publishing and distribution of books, interfaces of computer users... computer programs and websites, public events, consumer services, sports, telecommunications and postal services, office work, document management, correspondence and all other areas of citizens' lives . . . the law contradicts the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages." https://tyzhden.ua/do-ksu-nadijshlo-podannia-shchodo-skasuvannia-zakonu-pro-movu/

      Imagine what would happen in Catalonia if Madrid passed a law banning the exhibition of films in Catalan, forbidding waiters in restaurants from addressing their customers in Catalan, banning education in the Catalan language, or banning the Catalan language from all interactions with local government? So why for heaven's sake does anyone think that this is appropriate in the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, where such a policy would be even much worse than in Catalonia, since almost all Catalonians speak Spanish, and few residents of the Eastern regions of Ukraine speak Ukrainian. And indeed the Ukrainian language policy has drawn condemnation from international human rights groups; see for example: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/19/new-language-requirement-raises-concerns-ukraine and https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2019)032-e .

      Does Istvan think that Human Rights Watch, and the Council of Europe, are Russian propagandists?

      But whether this policy is just or not is one question. Whether it is wise or not is quite another. Ukraine is a new nation, which needs more than anything to be united--to pull all of its ethnically and linguistically and historically diverse population together behind some common idea of Ukrainian nationhood. Chauvinistic policies which elevate the language of one region over that of another, and make large parts of Ukrainian society into second class citizens, is the worst thing one could imagine for Ukraine at such a time. As Zelensky himself recognized; he has on many occasions expressed support for Russian having the status of a regional language which is allowed to be used in government and education in the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine--not a co-equal official language, but a regional language.  That's the Spanish/Catalan model, and that would have been a perfectly sound approach to the problem.

      JE asked, in response to some other post, whether the language policy in Ukraine caused the Russian invasion. The answer is of course not, at least not by itself. But the unnecessarily aggressive and divisive language policy certainly sowed the seeds of division and conflict between different parts of Ukrainian society, and fed the fires of separatism in Donbas (which up until then hardly anyone supported), giving the Russians a great opportunity to stick their noses in, giving Russian propaganda a field day, and greatly exacerbating the current conflict.

      And a minor point: JE wrote: "The difference would be immigrant language groups vs. ethnicities that were ‘always' there. This is especially problematized by shifting national borders, such as the regions of Ukraine that were historically Hungarian, Polish, or even Russian as in the case of Crimea." Almost all of present-day Ukraine, and not just Crimea, was part of Russia for centuries, and large parts of the South and East of Ukraine were "wild fields" conquered by Catherine the Great from the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century and were developed as part of Russia proper--not just the Russian empire--as "Novo-Rossiya." Cities like Odessa, Kherson, Donetsk, Mariupol (named for the Empress Maria Feodorovna, despite the Greek name), and others were founded by Catherine and have been predominantly Russian-speaking from their foundation up to the present day. It should not surprise anyone that trying to eliminate the Russian language in public life in cities like these would be found to be unacceptable to a large part of the populations.

      JE comments:  Ukraine certainly had good models to follow with its language policy--especially that of Kazakhstan in recent times.  The Kazakhs also had the similar situation (with Ukraine) of a former minority language becoming the national hegemon.  Here the situation with Catalan is not quite analogous.

      There is no surer way to spark unrest among a population than to forbid the use of its language.  How did the zealous Ukrainian nationalists not understand this?

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      • Spain's Language Policy Does NOT Contribute to National Integration (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/01/22 1:03 PM)
        In Cameron Sawyer's November 30th post about the linguistic conflict conflict in Ukraine, he suggests that the use of "co-official" languages has been a means of peacemaking and integration in other nations.  Cameron cites Finland and Kazakhstan, as well as Catalonia in Spain, as examples to confirm his proposal.

        I am not familiar with the cases of Finland or Kazakhstan, and it is difficult for me to comment on them. On the other hand, as John affirms, the case of Catalonia is different and it seems to me that it contradicts Cameron's thesis. Although Spanish and Catalan have been co-official languages ​​in Catalonia since the constitution of the modern democratic state in 1978, Catalan has been used by regional political parties as a pro-independence, sectarian and supremacist political instrument, and not as a tool of territorial and national integration of the Spanish state.

        Of course there are multiple other political-social causes that contribute to this situation, which we have widely discussed on this Forum, but the controversial fact is that the coexistence of both languages ​​has not contributed to political coexistence. Rather, Catalan separatists have turned their language into an exclusive nationalist instrument, using the constitutional rights and privileges of autonomy in education, public administration, the media, etc., to persecute and displace Spanish and the integrating symbols of the nation.

        This situation reminds me of what happened in France in 1513 when Catalan and Basque were officially prohibited as regional languages, in French Roussillon and the so-called French Basque Country respectively, to impose French as the only official language. It can hardly be said that there is currently a secessionist movement in these regions, and it can be assumed that the fact of imposing a single language must have contributed to their national and territorial integration with France.

        The debate on whether the official coexistence of Russian and Ukrainian would have contributed or prevented this absurd war, to me does not seem clear at all. On the contrary, it seems evident that decreeing a single language as official would rather have contributed to consolidating a nation-state as required at the historical moment of disassociating itself from Soviet rule.

        JE comments:  I thought it was Louis XIV who imposed French as the sole language on that nation, in 1700.  The Sun King even went so far as to declare Catalan a "disgusting" language.  Nacho, what is the 1513 event you are referring to?

        Regardless, you are correct that Ukraine had several examples in history to choose from when it enacted a language policy.  Some of the monolingual, draconian approaches "worked" and some didn't.  Franco opted for the French model by banning the use of Spain's minority languages in the public sphere.  That certainly didn't work out for him in the long run.  One also likes to think we've become a more tolerant planet since the 18th century, or even since 1939, but...

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        • Official Languages Can Be Useful and Pragmatic (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/03/22 11:48 AM)
          Regarding John E's comments on my post about nations imposing official languages, here are my answers.

          First John asked about the imposition of French as the sole language of that Kingdom. I was referring to the Villers-Cotterêts Ordinance, a document drafted by Chancellor Guillaume Poyet and which King Francis I enacted in Villers-Cotterêts in 1539. This edict made the use of Old French mandatory for the first time in public documents, making French the only official language of law and administration in France. It was to the detriment of Latin and also other languages ​​spoken in the Kingdom such as Occitan, Franco-Provençal and Breton. However, this ancient language was only spoken by a minority of the educated people in France.

          John is correct in stating that Louis XIV declared Catalan a disgusting language, but Catalan in the 16th century was a language derived from Occitan, a regional language in France, and marginal in the Kingdom of Spain, to which Catalonia belonged. I understand that the language at that time was spoken by only 20% of the total population of the country.

          Finally, John is right that Ukraine had many potential models on language policy, and that "some of the monolingual, draconian approaches worked and some did not." However in the context of our discussion, the point I was trying to make is that the attempt to impose Ukrainian over Russian in Ukraine was not a cause of the war. The reality is that it was just one more excuse for the invasion instead of a real cause.

          However, I still think that imposing an official language, even only spoken by a minority, in a country that tries to affirm its national institutions and consolidate its own identity, can be useful and pragmatic. That is why independence movements anywhere have understood and use this pragmatic premise as a political weapon.

          JE comments:  Another distinction to be made is between stateless minority languages (Catalan, Kurdish), and those who have an existing, neighboring "fatherland," such as the Russian speakers in Ukraine, or the German speakers in 1938 Czechoslovakia.  This latter situation can be a threat, as it provides all sorts of excuses for shenanigans from next door--especially when the neighbor is bigger and stronger.

          Wasn't the "oppression" of Czechoslovakia's three million German speakers one of the justifications for Hitler's occupation of the Sudetenland?

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        • Language Policy in a Linguistically Diverse Country is Tricky (Cameron Sawyer, USA 12/03/22 3:04 PM)
          I agree with much of José Ignacio Soler's post about language policy (December 2nd). Yes, a single official language can be a way to unify a country, and importantly, give everyone a way to understand each other--if properly implemented. I think I wrote that in fact.

          And yes, multiple official languages can be part of a dynamic of separatism and local nationalism, as in Catalonia.

          So certainly, language policy in a linguistically and culture diverse country is tricky.

          My own opinion concerning Ukrainian language policy corresponds to Zelensky's position, in fact--a single official language, as José Ignacio advocates, therefore no Finnish-style bilingualism for Ukraine, but Russian recognized as a regional language where people are able to get educated and deal with government services in their own language in the historically Russian regions, and have unlimited access to culture and media in their own language, none of which is possible under the current policy. Gently and with kindness push all people towards learning Ukrainian--make Ukrainian obligatory in schools. Make also Russian obligatory in schools, like what they've done in Latvia--you want your citizens to be able to understand each other, including old people who won't manage to learn Ukrainian, which includes large numbers of ethnic Ukrainians too.  This is really important for any kind of unity, and anyway it's good for you to know many languages.

          I don't see why José Ignacio thinks Catalonia is so different from the case of Ukraine.  I'm comparing Catalonian as a regional language to Russian, not to Ukrainian. It's not an exact analogy since Catalonian has never been the predominant language all over Spain, as Russian is even today in Ukraine. And yes, I'm conscious of the problems Spain has with Catalonian separatism. But imagine if Spain, rather than allowing Catalan as a regional language, had attempted to stamp it out in the manner of the Ukrainian language policy, forbidding education in Catalan, forbidding even the exhibition of movies in Catalan above a 10% quota? There would, of course, be an explosion. I think it's a directly relevant example.

          José Ignacio cites the French example, where regional languages were forcibly exterminated, where as late as the end of the 19th century children in French schools were beaten and forced to wear dunce caps if they were heard to speak any language other than French in school. This model of language policy is widely condemned today; see for example: https://trinitycollegelawreview.org/french-language-law-the-attempted-ruination-of-frances-linguistic-diversity/ . And indeed France began to reverse this policy in the 1950s, and today this kind of policy is positively forbidden by European law; see the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, CETS 148 1992, which requires:

          --Recognition of regional or minority languages as an expression of cultural wealth.

          --Respect for the geographical area of each regional or minority language.

          --The need for resolute action to promote such languages.

          --The facilitation and/or encouragement of the use of such languages, in speech and writing, in public and private life.

          --The provision of appropriate forms and means for the teaching and study of such languages at all appropriate stages.

          --The promotion of relevant transnational exchanges.

          --The prohibition of all forms of unjustified distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference relating to the use of a regional or minority language and intended to discourage or endanger its maintenance or development.

          --The promotion by states of mutual understanding between all the country's linguistic groups.

          And requires that the use of minority languages be facilitated in:


          --Judicial authorities

          --Administrative authorities and public services


          --Cultural activities and facilities

          --Economic and social life

          --Transfrontier exchanges

          See: https://rm.coe.int/1680695175

          Does José Ignacio advocate a pre-1951 French-style forcible extermination of Basque and Catalan in Spain? I believe the Basque and Catalans might have something to say about that, and you might get even a civil war in Spain if you tried that, and it would be a violation of European law.

          Ukrainian language policy is also a blatant violation of European law, as was held by the European Commission. This policy didn't cause the war with Russia, of course, but it has clearly contributed to alienation of a large part of the population, which has helped the Russian war effort.

          JE comments:  The Trinity College Law Review article above claims that France is the most linguistically diverse country in Western Europe.  One statistic stands out for me--that 51% of the population speaks another language in addition to their native one.  This contrasts (I think) with Wikipedia, which cites French as the "mother tongue" of 86% of the population.  The Germanic languages (Alsatian and Franconian) are second, followed closely by Arabic.  Each are spoken by 2% of the population.  Possibly the first source refers to bilingual people of all types, including even those who know English? To be sure, over 400 languages are spoken in France, of both the immigrant and regional "native" types.

          Languages of France - Wikipedia

          Ukraine's error was to legislate against its linguistic diversity, when the expectation these days is to celebrate it.  In time everyone will learn a "hegemonic" language, but impose it (as Cameron says) "gently and with kindness."

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          • Language and Nation, Revisited (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/04/22 4:39 AM)

            A brief response to Cameron Sawyer's latest post, where he asks me if I support the extermination of the Catalan and Basque languages in Spain. That Cameron would ask such a question suggests that I have not explained myself well, or that Cameron has not understood my arguments.

            In no way do I support the suppression of any regional language or dialect anywhere in the world. My own cultural experience has taught me to be respectful of multiculturalism and, consequently, multilingualism. Rather, I wanted to say that the official imposition of a language must be a political measure for a country in formation to consolidate as a nation, as in Ukraine, and that history has shown that this is the path taken by all modern nations that have consolidated in the past, as in Spain, France, Italy, and Germany, to mention a few.

            In other words, it could be said that the nation-state shapes the language, and not that the language shapes the nation, as the independence movements currently claim. That is the case of Catalonia in Spain, for example. Furthermore, the real causes of the Catalonian independence movement transcend the language question. They are more deeply rooted in history.

            On the other hand, it is very doubtful that the Catalans or the Basques would have caused a civil war in the past, as Cameron claims, if their regional language had been eliminated from public administration or education, as was the case for a long time, without such a civil war occurring. On the contrary, the independence movements were strengthened when Basque and Catalan became co-official languages ​​a little over forty years ago.

            JE comments:  Nobody was in a position to renew the civil war at the time Franco was suppressing Basque and Catalan.  Regardless, the language question in Ukraine has sparked an interesting discussion on the Forum.  Is there any more visible sign of "identity" than language?  Religion might be a close second.

            The central paradox:  does imposing a national language help, or hinder, the formation of a nation-state?  One case study we've not addressed is the United States, which to this day has no official language.  This arrangement has worked rather well.

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            • Minority Languages in the Adriatic (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/05/22 10:29 AM)
              The exchange of posts between Cameron Sawyer and José Ignacio Soler about regional languages has been very instructive. In reality many of these "regional" languages are national languages connected to the language of a bordering country.

              Of course, an official language in a state is necessary, as the inhabitants of one valley may speak a dialect with some difference from the dialect of the inhabitants in the next valley. The case is different when the inhabitants of the two valleys speak a completely different language, for example one Germanic and the other Latin. In such a case, respect for the other language is necessary to solve the situation to everyone's satisfaction.

              After WWI all the states of Europe tried to impose within their new borders a single official language to unite all. But this also created serious problems.

              More than 50 years earlier, Franz Joseph as emperor ordered the Germanization of the region of Trento and the Slavization of Istria and Dalmatia. He considered the Slavs more loyal to the Empire than the Italians. This was an early case of ethnic cleansing.

              Liberal Italy and then Fascist Italy, victors in WWI, took different approaches to the language question. Liberal Italy was more assertive and less efficient, while Fascist Italy tried to impose the Italian language through a progression of benefits. Things changed toward the late 1930s, with an agreement with Hitler. All ethnic Germans who felt German were allowed to move voluntarily to the Third Reich, while the Ciano-Stojadinovic accord of 25 March 1937 granted guarantees to the Italians in Dalmatia and the Slavs in the interior of Istria. Ciano said: Some publications in Slavic for sure will not cause any damage to Italy.

              Stojadinovic was also favorable to Albania being under Italian influence. Unfortunately, in 1939 Stojadinovic was sacked by the Regent Paul Karadordevic. This event changed history, including that of WWII.

              In any case, the political borders in Europe should align as much as possible with ethnic borders. In 1918 Italy should have requested more of Dalmatia, while giving up the interior of Istria, the Italian islands of Veglia (Krk) and Arbe (Rab), etc. In 1918 the intention (Wilson permitting) was to reconcile the historical and geographical borders. In Veglia, despite continuous ethnic cleansing and massacres, an Italian community of 70 people still exists and asserts its identity. For many centuries, Ragusa (Dubrovnik) spoke Latin, then Dalmatico, then Venetian and Italian, and now Croatian.

              If the suppression of an ethnic language means the suppression also of the soul of its speakers, then resistance to such action is justified, no matter if a piece of paper says that the borders cannot be changed.

              Any comparison with the Americas and especially to the US is not possible.

              The immigrants to the US speaking languages other than English only wanted to integrate and become "American," although this could change as some states may become Hispanicized. Yet the Hispanic communities are divided and cannot create a "nacionalismo hispano," but if the US is declining some may no longer like to be citizens of the "United" States. It is better therefore to spend money on internal policies rather than overseas in difficult wars or foreign military bases.

              The latest post from Cameron Sawyer, 4 December, is excellent. I am convinced that from the very beginning, the Ukraine war has been a civil war within a normal war. Unfortunately I witnessed the same thing in Italy.

              JE comments: Click below to learn about Tuone Udaina, the last speaker of Dalmatian. His death in 1898 marked the extinction of the language, which was not his "native" tongue but rather that of his parents. The disappearance of any language is a loss for humanity, but there is some consolation that Udaina's knowledge was extensively documented prior to his death.


              The Adriatic island of Veglia is now known as Krk, all but unpronounceable by its remaining Italian residents. They must be a hardy bunch.

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              • US Immigration and Language: My Ancestors' Stories (Patrick Mears, -Germany 12/06/22 2:03 AM)
                I really enjoyed reading Eugenio Battaglia's post of December 5th. I was struck by his statement that the "immigrants to the US speaking languages other than English only wanted to... become ‘American.'"

                I suspect that that Eugenio's claim is true with respect to my ethnic Polish grandparents, who spoke Polish and likely had a difficult time learning English, if they even attempted to do that in a classroom setting or otherwise. Unlike me, they didn't have the financial wherewithal to pay for classes in the English language and were likely stuck for the most part in what I will call the "Eastern European Ghetto" in Flint, Michigan's First Ward. This area contained emigrants from Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Poland, Russia, Galicia and other similarly situated, European states/areas. These grandparents of mine had, as far as I can tell, little if any formal education. I suspect that the Polish that they spoke was elementary and probably was not grammatically correct. Yet, that "Sprache" was probably enough to get them by when obtaining the necessities of life in Flint's Eastern European Ghetto, but was not enough to have them enter the work force in a business that relied upon English as the sole means of communication. So my grandfather worked in a Flint auto factory (probably Buick Motors) as a teamster, an occupation which likely resulted in the loss of one of his legs in an industrial accident within three years of the family's move from Taunton, Massachusetts to Flint, Michigan in 1914-15. My grandmother, Karolina Budyanowska Mislik, did not fare as well as her husband--it seems as if the only employment in Flint that she held during her lifetime was as a washerwoman for neighbors and businesses in her neighborhood. Undoubtedly, my grandparents were able to absorb enough English in Flint to permit them to function relatively well in the outside world, but they were not destined to be personal assistants to Charles Stewart Mott in Flint.

                As far as my Irish great-grandparents are concerned, I suspect that they were fairly conversant in English at the time they arrived in New York City in 1850. At least, this would have been true for my Cronin/O'Leary great-grandparents, who appear from my research to have been relatively well-to-do in mid-century Ireland. I am not so sure that this was the case for my Mears/Purtill great-grandparents. I have not been able to locate anything written by them, other than the signature of my namesake, Patrick Mears, on his

                naturalization documentation from 1856. So all bets are off with respect to my Limerick forebears. These Limerick-originating great-grandparents had purchased a farm very near to four other farms owned by Irish immigrant families. I suspect that these families all worked in tandem to accomplish tasks and fulfill official requirements that were imposed on them in Michigan. They were also aided by Father Haire of St. Michael Parish based in downtown Flint to help them with the more complicated tasks of citizenship and residence.

                It is interesting but not surprising to note that, of these immigrant families, the only one that enjoyed substantial economic success after disembarking on American shores was the family of my Cronin/O'Leary great-grandparents. My great-grandfather, John Philip Cronin, entered into a partnership with two of his wife's brothers, Dennis O'Leary and John Charles O'Leary, to deal in timber that had been cut in the Flint and Saginaw River Valleys just at the right time, in the 1860s after the Civil War ended and when there was great demand for lumber in states such as Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. Both of these families also owned substantial farmland in Southeast Michigan, which turned great profits during the Civil War and afterwards. Undoubtedly the Cronins and the O'Learys, with their command of English obtained in West Cork, Ireland, fared much better than my Limerick and Galician ancestors.

                JE comments:  Pat, your forebears' immigrant stories are probably representative of millions of us, but due to your diligent genealogical research, you have the advantage of knowing them.  I wish I knew more about my Eipper great-grandparents, beyond their coming to the US from somewhere in Germany at the close of the 19th century and their deaths, apparently in the pandemic of 1918-'19.  My grandfather became an orphan at the age of about 10.

                Despite the deep prejudice against Irish immigrants, they had the big advantage of knowing English.  It took a century or so, but now the Irish are celebrated as the most "American" ingredient in the Melting Pot.  (Look no further than St Patrick's Day.)

                The long-lived Charles Stewart Mott (1875-1973) was a titan of General Motors and Flint's #1 oligarch and philanthropist.  He served on the GM Board of Directors for 60 years--a record that will never be matched.

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                • Manx Language Revival: Irish Times (Patrick Mears, -Germany 12/07/22 3:16 AM)

                  Apropos of our discussion of native languages, an interesting article from yesterday's Irish Times addresses the recent resurgence of the Manx language on the Isle of Man.

                  How a nearby island’s almost extinct Gaelic language has been brought back to life – The Irish Times

                  JE comments:  The revivers of a moribund language are true cultural heroes.  Not long ago, Manx was pronounced extinct.  Now it is spoken by 2200 on the island, with the goal of doubling that number in ten years.  The secret is no secret:  education and a public commitment.

                  I was curious if Manx and Irish are mutually intelligible.  The Googled consensus:  they are, albeit after some "tuning of the ear."

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