Ukraine is divided on the issue of Russian
March 28, 2006 8:41 PM   Subscribe

Ukraine is divided on the issue of Russian: The Russian speaking population from the eastern part of the country has increasingly attempted to make Russian into an official language only, provoking bitter opposition from the Ukranian speaking majority in the western part. [More inside]
posted by gregb1007 (13 comments total)
[more inside] indeed!
posted by wilful at 8:48 PM on March 28, 2006

On February 22nd, The Crimean Parliament voted to hold a referendum to make Russian an official language of the Crimean oblast or district. The referendum was prohibited as March 8 by the Central Election Commission, whose decision was also seconded by the Justice Ministry and a district court in Simfepol.

Crimea is an eastern peninsula of the Ukraine that previously belonged to the Russian Federation before USSR General Secretary Khruchev transferred it to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954. The region is populated with a two-thirds majority of Russian speakers mostly because the native Crimean Tartars were deported since Russia conquered the region from the Turkish empire in 1855

Although not located in Crimea, the city of Kharkiv is another Russian speaking stronghold that decided to declare Russian an official language. Its City Council voted ffor a resolution to make Russian the city's official language alongside Ukrainian on March 8.

Ukrainian Speaker of the House, Volodymir Lytvyn officially opposed both the referendum and Kharkiv City Council's declaration, citing the Russian language's threat to displace Ukrainian, if it were to become an official language.

As might be expected, Russia supports Kharkiv's decision and hopes that other cities and regions will follow in declaring Russian an official language.
posted by gregb1007 at 8:49 PM on March 28, 2006

wilful, yes there's indeed more inside. Hopefully, you find that there's enough there to keep you interested ;-)
posted by gregb1007 at 8:51 PM on March 28, 2006

Interesting stuff. I have a feeling that this issue won't be resolved anytime soon.
posted by bardic at 9:33 PM on March 28, 2006

This "controversy" is pretty funny given that the western Ukraine is Polish. The issue wasn't settled till after WW2: Stalin decided that Poland would get eastern Germany (e.g. Prussia) and Ukraine would get eastern Poland.

I've got to go caulk my bathtub and then I hope to get some sleep, but I perhaps another history buff could flesh out this comment.
posted by davy at 9:56 PM on March 28, 2006

Well I know that some Western Ukrainian territory was once Polish and even Austro-Hungarian (Lviv, formerly Austro-Hungarian Lemberg, had a mix of Polish, Ukrainian, and a smaller number of Germans.) However, it seems to me most of the Poles that used to live in Western Ukraine either moved to Poland or acculturated themselves to Ukrainian and or Russian.
posted by gregb1007 at 10:09 PM on March 28, 2006

It's an especially touchy subject given the relationship between Russia and the Ukraine. Linguistically speaking, Russian and Ukrainian aren't all that different, and most European countries have more than one official language. Here's more on the history of the Ukraine - which was, at one time, the center of Russian culture.
posted by somethingotherthan at 10:44 PM on March 28, 2006

Crimea isn't east of Ukraine so much as south. There are also sizable Russian-speaking minorities in places like Sebastopol, which is in the southwest (because of it was a major Russian-Soviet port). Map

The way I've heard it, there are Ukies and Russkies. But some of the Ukies are russophones, and some of the Russkies speak Ukrainian. The dividing lines aren't cut and dried. There's also a minority of Great Russian nationalists, who just liked being part of something bigger I guess, and lots of Communists who still long for the USSR.

Anyway, the 2005 and 2006 elections were strongly along ethnic lines, with Russian-identifying groups in the south and east supporting Yanukovich rather than the Orange Revolution blocs.

Another sensitive issue is the proposal for a bridge across teh Kerch Strait, which would connect Crimea directly to the Caucasus region of Russia. Aside from the expense, there's the possibility that it's back-burnered because Kiev really doesn't want to help sustain those ethnic ties by giving Crimea stronger economic links to Russia.
posted by dhartung at 10:50 PM on March 28, 2006

However, it seems to me most of the Poles that used to live in Western Ukraine either moved to Poland or acculturated themselves to Ukrainian and or Russian.

What else could they do?

A lot of Poles from the lost (to Ukraine) places to the east (Lwow Lviv, etc.) moved to the newly acquired (from Germany) places to the west (Breslau Wroclaw, etc.) or north to Danzig Gdansk, which was a German-speaking "Free City" until all surviving Germans were chased out at the end of the war.
posted by pracowity at 11:45 PM on March 28, 2006

pracowity, I recently read about how a group of Ukrainian Nationalists called Nachtigall helped the Nazis conduct a massacre of Lwów professors. It's fascinating how Ukraine had to defend the viability of it's own culture and language in face of Russian domination, yet practiced a policy of oppression and expulsion towards Polish elements.
posted by gregb1007 at 3:30 AM on March 29, 2006

Acculturation is not as easy as it might seem. One of the dividing lines between Polish and Ukranian culturs is religion (Roman Catholic = Poles; Eastern Rite = Ukranian). So to acculturate, you have to switch religions. I would guess that the more Poles chose to move west if that option was available to them.

During the 19th Century, the religion and the Polish language were to the two traits that distinguished Polish national identity for the 123 years that Poland was occupied by other nations (ending after WWI).

And has been mentioned, the German/Polsih/Ukranian frontiers have shifted east and west. After WWI, much of present-day Poland was further east into the Urkraine.

My (Polish) family name is derived from the name of a town that was in Poland after WWI but is in the Ukraine now.
posted by Doohickie at 6:18 AM on March 29, 2006

Poland is one of very few nations ever to invade, successfully defeat Russia, and occupy Moscow. Thanks to that, Russia has been paranoid about Poland ever since.

Ukrainians are also VERY touchy about being called Russian. We had an exchange student from the Ukraine once, and if you wanted an instand rise out of him, you called him a Russian. It was quite fun.

The great irony, as someone pointed out, is that much of Russian culture and civilization is believed to have originated out of the city-state of Kiev. Kiev was propsering well enough to marry its nobility with other European nations...until the Mongols came. Boo.

For more fun, read about Olga, who within a period of time, buried people alive in a boat, burned them alive inside a barn, poisoned some at a dinner, and finally, asked for a gift of a dove from each house hould of a city, promptly attached burning papers to each bird, which then flew rapidly back to their nests at each house...thus setting the entire city aflame. Yay!
posted by Atreides at 6:31 AM on March 29, 2006

My favourite example of moving borders: Adam Mickiewicz, Poland's great Romantic poet (see statue in the main square in Kraków). Great Polish hero, wrote in Polish. Born in Grodno (Belarus). First words of Pan Tadeusz:

O Lithuania, my homeland, you are like health. No-one knows your value, who has not lost you.

My own father was born in Petersburg (when Poland was still partitioned - just) then moved to Wilno/Vilnius in the early 20s. But longer-time our family come from a village near Ostrów Wlkp. which was - IIRC - German between the wars, and is now Polish again.

Of course, western Ukraine is no more Polish now than Vilnius is, which is perhaps a shame for the historically-minded, but a boon for ethnic neatniks like Stalin.
posted by athenian at 8:44 AM on March 29, 2006

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