Tongue-tied

Kyiv Post - - Opinion -

Oh the irony! Af­ter nearly 23 years of speak­ing up for Ukraine, the Kyiv Post could be si­lenced by leg­is­la­tion that seeks to boost Ukrainian iden­tity.

The new lan­guage bill that par­lia­ment passed at first read­ing on Oct. 4 seemed at first glance to be a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment.

Bill No. 5670-d aims to strengthen and pro­mote the use of Ukrainian over other lan­guages, in all spheres of pub­lic life. But it also threat­ens the ex­is­tence of the Kyiv Post. That’s be­cause one of the bill’s ar­ti­cles stip­u­lates that all me­dia in Ukraine — print, on­line, or tele­vi­sion — have to be in Ukrainian.

News­pa­pers and mag­a­zines can be pub­lished in other lan­guages only if they also pro­duce a Ukrainian ver­sion of the same size and con­tent, the ar­ti­cle reads. They must be pub­lished si­mul­ta­ne­ously and dis­trib­uted through the same chan­nels as their ver­sions in other lan­guages.

The same goes for news web­sites: they can have mul­ti­ple lan­guage ver­sions, but the Ukrainian one needs to be the de­fault. And all TV must be in Ukrainian, with pro­grams in other lan­guages dubbed.

If this bill be­comes law, the Kyiv Post will thus be le­gally obliged to pro­duce a Ukrainian ver­sion of its news­pa­per and web­site.

We have nei­ther re­sources nor the means to do that. We would have to close, or dras­ti­cally re­duce our pub­li­ca­tion in size.

The Rus­sian-lan­guage pub­li­ca­tions that are the bill’s pri­mary tar­get can au­to­mat­i­cally trans­late their web­sites into Ukrainian and get away with it. This won’t work for the English-lan­guage me­dia.

More­over, we shouldn’t have to do it. There are plenty of lo­cal me­dia de­liv­er­ing news in Ukrainian al­ready, but there’s only one English­language news­pa­per in Ukraine — and it’s us since 1995. Our job is to be a win­dow into Ukraine for the English-speak­ing world. This is needed now more than ever.

The Kyiv Post has cham­pi­oned Ukraine, its in­de­pen­dence and de­vel­op­ment of democ­racy, in­clud­ing pro­mot­ing the Ukrainian lan­guage. Our role has been cru­cial in coun­ter­ing Krem­lin pro­pa­ganda and ac­cu­rately cov­er­ing Rus­sia’s war against Ukraine, in­clud­ing from the front lines. Un­like some Western me­dia, we don’t par­rot Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda. We are a multi­na­tional team of mainly Ukraini­ans who live here and un­der­stand the na­tion well.

While Rus­sian lan­guage is the tar­get, even that is mis­guided. There are plenty of pro­gres­sive, pro-Ukrainian me­dia pub­lished in Rus­sian. Pa­tri­ots speak Rus­sian too. The bill is a gift to the Krem­lin pro­pa­ganda ma­chine, which will ac­cuse Ukraine of op­press­ing Rus­sian speak­ers. Pro-Rus­sian politi­cians in Ukraine will reap the fruits in the pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in 2019. And the Kyiv Post may not be there to doc­u­ment it.

So we call on the law­mak­ers who spon­sored the lan­guage bill — there were sev­eral dozen — to amend the bill be­fore it goes to fi­nal read­ing: ei­ther make an ex­emp­tion for the English-lan­guage me­dia or soften the lan­guage de­mands made of the me­dia in gen­eral.

Oth­er­wise Ukraine could lose its only con­sis­tently pro-Ukrainian voice in the English lan­guage.

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