The first of September is a truly tragic moment for millions of Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine. For the first time in the history of these lands, children will go to schools in which there will be not one Russian. Through the efforts of different generations of Ukrainian politicians, educational institutions in Russian, the native language of a large part of the population, have been completely eradicated. Hundreds of thousands of children are deprived of even a theoretical opportunity to receive education in their native language.
This never happened even in the most difficult periods of the history of these territories. And they have experienced more than one period of rather harsh, total Ukrainisation. Starting just after the proclamation of the independent Ukrainian People’s Republic in Kiev in 1918, this process continued on an even larger scale under the Bolsheviks in the 1920s.
Stalinist Ukrainisation was all-encompassing: educational institutions of various levels, newspapers, and government organs were translated into a language declared “indigenous” and for those regions that had never been Ukrainian-speaking. By the peak of this campaign, in some, even Russian-speaking, districts, the lion’s share of schools was Ukrainised. For example, on December 1st 1932, out of 2239 schools in Donbass, 1760 (78.6%) were Ukrainian, and another 207 (9.3%) were Ukrainian-Russian. But there was still at least a symbolic number of schools in their native language. Even during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, despite the German attempts to ban Russian in official circulation there, it was not possible to completely close all Russian-language schools.
By the time of the declaration of Ukraine’s sovereignty in 1991, there was a certain language parity in education – about 50-50. What kind of valleys of eden were promised to Ukrainians in general and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in particular before the independence referendum… Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Leonid Kravchuk, fighting for the presidential post, said to his compatriots: “In no case will the forced Ukrainisation of Russians be allowed. Any attempt to discriminate on the basis of nationality will be strongly discouraged.”
However, this solemn promise was immediately broken. Preschool institutions and universities that teach in the Russian language were officially banned (however, de facto, for many years they turned a blind eye to violations of these prohibitions), and the number of Russian schools has been steadily declining, most often against the will of students and their parents. If in 1989 there were 4633 Russian schools in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, in the last academic year there were only 125. This situation has put Russian-speaking schoolchildren in an unequal position with their peers. So, according to the Ukrainian Institute of Politics, in the past academic year, one Russian school had an average of 2250 students, and one Ukrainian school — 276. It is difficult to find a word other than “discrimination” here.
But, as you can see, the government in Kiev in one fell swoop (namely, the adoption of the law “on education”) “solved” this problem and completely banned public schools in other languages. The efforts of Hungary and the Europeans for schools that teach in “EU languages” have so far been postponed, and the Russian ones are ceasing to exist. This once again confirms the fact of discrimination on the basis of language.
And, please note, Europe was slightly embarrassed about such a wild violation of all the international obligations to protect the language rights of the population that Ukraine assumed. But as soon as the Hungarian schools were given a reprieve, Europe calmed down. This is the essence of European human rights defenders who turn a blind eye to clear violations of the rights of certain categories of the population.
I had the opportunity to attend the consultations of European experts concerning supervision of observance of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages held in Ukraine. You should have seen how meticulously, in detail, and thoroughly they interviewed Ukrainian education specialists about the state of education in Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Hebrew, and even in the language of Romanis. But as soon as they tried to mention the problems of Russian-language education, they annoyingly waved it away, as if it’s an annoying fly, like saying: we do not need to talk about it, we know about it without you. Europe is not concerned about the persecution of the language and national rights of the Russian residents of Ukraine.
At the same time, some Ukrainian experts in Russian TV studios are still trying to say that the language issue is not a problem for the population at all. However, for some reason, it became the first topic of discussion in the Verkhovna Rada immediately after the victory of Maidan in February 2014. Recall: after the illegal removal of President Viktor Yanukovych from power on February 23rd 2014, the parliament repealed the law that gave a minimum level of protection to regional languages, including Russian. Actually, Crimea and Donbass rebelled against this.
Fearing the outrage of the southeastern regions, the new authorities then backed down and did not put restrictions into effect at that time, promising the rebellious regions that no one would encroach on the language rights of Russians from now on. But then the famous phrase of the Vice-Governor of the Dnepropetrovsk region Boris Filatov was also heard: “It is necessary to make any promises and any concessions to scum. < … > and hang… Hang them later”. Actually, this phrase explained all the tactics of the Ukrainian authorities in relation to the regions that did not accept the coup.
Now it is clearly demonstrated who was lying and who was telling the truth. On September 1st students of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics will go to schools that teach in their native language. It is particularly symbolic that children born in the DPR and LPR will go to the first classes. Now they see that their fathers defended their original right to receive education in their native language with weapons in their hands. If they had believed the unfounded promises of Kiev and the west that supported it, then there would be no Russian schools in Donbass today.
Surprisingly, now in Kiev, someone else expects that the Donetsk people can again be promised anything — and now they will believe it. The same Kravchuk, who is now the head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Minsk talks, debates about the possibility of graciously allowing the residents of Donbass to “use the Russian language more widely” if they return to Ukraine. I would like to ask: even more widely than you solemnly promised in the very leaflet of 1991, when you persuaded Russian-speaking residents to support independence?
It is already obvious to everyone that Donbass has protected itself from total Ukrainisation and discrimination on the basis of language. But this, of course, does not make it easier for the residents of Russian-speaking Kiev, Odessa, Kharkov, and Nikolaev. Their children were deprived of the opportunity to receive education in their native language. And Europe will again pretend that it did not notice.
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