Amidst the deteriorating situation in Donbass and the Azov Sea and amidst internal political tensions in Kiev, humanitarian policy issues such as education have seemingly faded into the background smoke of the failing state that is Ukraine. Yet it is in this sphere that very important events are happening – events capable of yielding tectonic shifts not only of a political significance, but of a civilizational scope and nature.
On June 26th, on Channel 5, Ukraine’s Minister of Education, Lilia Grinevich, unambiguously revealed that Kiev’s new education law, which envisions total Ukrainianization of the education system, is first and foremost targeting Russian-speaking children. In other words, Ukraine’s education minister let on to the fact that the real plan and main efforts of Ukraine’s new Ukrainianization policy will be aimed at eradicating the Russian language in education. However, Ms. Grinevich’s statement is also an open message to Ukraine’s Eastern European neighbors, especially Hungary.
To recall, in September 2017 the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a new law on education whose most scandalous point bans teaching in Russian in schools. As of 2018, Russian classes are to remain only in primary school, and by 2020 teaching in this native language of one third of Ukraine’s population will be prohibited.
It is characteristic that Grinevich is a native of Lvov, the “Piedmont of Ukrainian nationalism.” Ukraine’s humanitarian policies have since the 1990’s been led by natives of this most nationalist region of the country, including by descendants of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Ukrainian Insurgent Army. The appointment of a Lvov-native to such a post as education minister necessarily entails confrontation. However, thanks to Grinevich’s frankness, the spade has finally been called a spade. The law on language and education has now been publicly admitted to be an attack on the Russians and Russian-speaking people of Ukraine. And it aims to “reduce the space” of the Russian language in Ukraine.
When this new education language law was being drafted, Ukrainian officials attempted to evade accusations that such would persecute Russian and Russian-speaking citizens, who according to various surveys amount to anywhere from around 50% to 87% of the population of Ukraine.
I myself went to school in Ukraine and learned both Ukrainian and Russian. Thanks to the Soviet policy of Ukrainianization, we had an acute shortage of literature in Russian, so we were acquainted with world literature mainly in Ukrainian translations. I first read such authors as James Fenimore Cooper and Walter Scott in Ukrainian. However, the Ukrainian language is seriously at a disadvantage to Russian in terms of richness, linguistic stock, expressive means, and scholarly terminology. Such complex sciences as mathematics, physics, astronomy, etc. have virtually no vocabulary in the Ukrainian language. One of the consequences of the new law will be the degradation of Ukrainian science and education.
Before science, however, it is the millions of children whose native language is not Ukrainian who will suffer. This concerns not only Russians and the enormous portion of Ukrainians who speak Russian, but numerous national minorities whose ethnic and cultural rights have been violated by the Kiev regime and which will now be persecuted under this new law.
While Ukrainian authorities have been afraid to openly declare the objectives of their new education and language policy, it has become clear that the Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, and Poles of Ukraine will be targeted as well. The most organized of all of these groups are the Magyars (Hungarians) of Transcarpathia.
The Hungarian foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, once demonstratively responded to Kiev’s complaints of fighting “Russian aggression” with the remark that the “de-Russification” of Ukraine should not affect the rights of the Hungarian national minority of Transcarpathia. Budapest has not accepted Ukraine’s excuses over why persecuting the Hungarian language is justified by the “Russian threat.” The same goes for Grinevich’s “explanation”, if it can be called such.
We can be sure that these explanations will not be accepted. First of all, Hungary is the Ukrainianizers’ enemy #2 after Russia. Secondly, unlike Ukraine, Hungary has a thousand years of state development and is capable of using its enemy’s mistakes to its advantage. Ukraine’s new education law is a real gift to Hungary and other neighbors to the west and south who believe that Ukraine unjustly inherited the lands of Soviet Ukraine populated by non-Ukrainians. My friends from the Rusyn community of the Czech Republic believe Ukraine’s loss of Transcarpathia is only a matter of time. The majority of Rusyns in emigration are in favor of Hungary absorbing the region, and by some accounts the majority of the Transcarpathian population is in favor of joining the EU member state. The new law on education will only aggravate these sentiments in this multi-ethnic and culturally-tolerant region.
Budapest is not interested in seeking compromise, which is in Kiev’s interests, but in the cultural-linguistic conflict over education. Hungary is using its capabilities as an EU and NATO member to torpedo Ukrainian initiatives. The most recent demonstration of Hungarian efforts was when Hungary was the only one out of 28 EU members to vote against granting Ukraine a one billion euro macro-financial assistance package.
Thanks to the radicalism of the Lvov Ukrainianizers and their lack of strategic thinking, any attempts to Ukrainianize the population of Ukraine will fail. Ukraine is now being struck not only by the Russian Federation (the main target of “Ukrainianization”, but whose foreign ministry is traditionally indifferent to the persecution of Russians’ rights abroad), but from Hungary and other Eastern European EU members. Ukraine has let the genie out of the bottle, and through its actions is hastening the disintegration of the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s territory.