Lin­guis­tic con­ces­sions as a guar­an­tee of oc­cu­pa­tion

Could Ukrainiza­tion have pre­vented the cur­rent oc­cu­pa­tion of the East of Ukraine?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Ye­lyza­veta Hon­charova, Bakhmut

Could Ukrainiza­tion have pre­vented the cur­rent oc­cu­pa­tion of the East of Ukraine?

The pro­cesses that took place in the Donetsk Re­gion dur­ing the col­lapse of the Soviet Union and the restora­tion of Ukraine's in­de­pen­dence were very var­ied and di­verse. In some places there were min­ers' ral­lies at­tended by thou­sands, in oth­ers the death throes of com­mu­nism con­tin­ued long af­ter the fall of the em­pire. How­ever, the specifics of the Donetsk Re­gion meant that the changes were much more so­cial than national. Even ac­tive and pro­gres­sive cit­i­zens were then con­vinced that it was not the right time for Ukrainiza­tion and that these is­sues should be solved grad­u­ally, with­out touch­ing the re­gion's sore spots.

"At that time, I was study­ing in Kyiv, and it could al­ready be felt on a phys­i­cal level that Soviet Union was no longer vi­able and doomed. Young peo­ple will­ingly joined the Peo­ple's Move­ment of Ukraine, walked the streets chant­ing slo­gans, par­tic­i­pated in events and ral­lies, and it was pos­si­ble to buy books – samiz­dat with anti-com­mu­nist ar­ti­cles – in un­der­ground pas­sage­ways," jour­nal­ist Te­tiana Chuchko from Toretsk re­mem­bers. "But when I re­turned home to my min­ing town on the cusp of 1991, this in­spi­ra­tion grad­u­ally dis­ap­peared. There was a cat­a­stroph­i­cally small num­ber of peo­ple who wanted real change. Espe­cially when it comes to national con­scious­ness, which was sup­ported here solely by the ac­tions of cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als. I re­mem­ber re­joic­ing when a Ukrainian mural ap­peared in our House of Cul­ture on the eve of the first pres­i­den­tial elec­tion – it was or­dered by the then-di­rec­tor who sup­ported national ideas. You see, this was like the first re­al­i­sa­tion that we were no longer Soviet, but Ukrainian."

Nev­er­the­less, the Donetsk Re­gion ap­par­ently ex­pected changes no less than other Ukrainian re­gions. A resident of the vil­lage of Novhorodske near Hor­livka, Aryna Ra­dionova be­lieves that from the very be­gin­ning it was nec­es­sary to present Ukrainiza­tion not as a process of bring­ing some­thing new, but as a restora­tion of the Ukrainian roots that are am­ple in that

area. "Even in the mid-1950s, more than half of the schools in the Donetsk Re­gion taught in the Ukrainian lan­guage, be­cause peo­ple spoke Ukrainian. This is espe­cially true of, for ex­am­ple, the old part of our in­dus­trial area – the Cos­sack set­tle­ment of Zal­izne or Shcher­bynivka, where peo­ple still speak the lan­guage. I know that Prosvita [so­ci­ety sup­port­ing the de­vel­op­ment of Ukrainian cul­ture] was ac­tive in the city in the 1990s, but our lo­cal au­thor­i­ties did not let its rep­re­sen­ta­tives into schools and uni­ver­si­ties to give lec­tures on the his­tory of Ukraine."

Volodymyr Berezin, one of the mem­bers of the Poshuk [Search] po­lit­i­cal club that was formed at the start of the Per­e­stroika era in Bakhmut, says that Prosvita was ac­tive across the Donetsk Re­gion. (At that time, Bakhmut was still called Artemivsk, but ac­tivists from the po­lit­i­cal club ini­ti­ated the first lo­cal ref­er­en­dum in Ukraine in or­der to re­name it, which, un­for­tu­nately, showed the un­pre­pared­ness of lo­cal res­i­dents to bid farewell to the com­mu­nist past.) He says that the club was cre­ated in 1989 as a base for the so­cial move­ment and nur­tured mem­bers of the lo­cal Prosvita and Ukrainian Lan­guage Com­mu­nity. But un­for­tu­nately, it was not pos­si­ble to com­bine forces for to­tal change: "The orig­i­na­tors were work­ers at the lo­cal Vic­tory of Labour fac­tory, Kon­s­tiantyn Chaikin, Mykola Tkachenko and Volodymyr Isayev, as well as Olek­sandr Laben­skiy and the broth­ers Ser­hiy and Olek­siy Hon­charov, who have al­ready left us. Among the ac­tivists were Vik­tor Shen­drik, now a rather well-known writer, and teacher Ser­hiy Chechui, who later moved to Canada. The Peo­ple's Move­ment and Prosvita were rep­re­sented in the po­lit­i­cal club by Ivan Bir­chak, a can­di­date for the Verkhovna Rada at the first elec­tions, and ge­ol­o­gist Va­syl Su­yarko. They had a clear goal and worked to­wards it. For ex­am­ple, when we cam­paigned to re­name the city, Prosvita made a lot of leaflets with a Cos­sack on them. The slo­gan of the time was ‘If Ukraine, then Bakhmut!’ When war broke out in our re­gion, I called Va­syl, who now teaches in Kharkiv, to tell him how right they were when they ar­gued that it was nec­es­sary to work on the Ukrainiza­tion of the re­gion from the start. But we split up: I went into ecol­ogy, some peo­ple got in­volved in re­gional stud­ies, oth­ers in cul­ture, oth­ers still in busi­ness or solv­ing the so­cial prob­lems of Ch­er­nobyl vic­tims. Had we been more ac­tive then and achieved mean­ing­ful re­sults, it is likely that this war would have been avoided."

I also heard from my fa­ther that the chil­dren of these ac­tivists now have to pay for what their par­ents did not fin­ish in the 1990s by liv­ing through war. Once we at­tended a city demon­stra­tion to­gether in Bakhmut, when the Ukrainian flag was car­ried through the streets for the first time in re­cent his­tory. In re­cent years, as a vol­un­teer, he sin­cerely apol­o­gised to the lads from the army, think­ing that he did not do his best to neu­tralise the con­di­tions for the dec­la­ra­tion of the "Rus­sian world" here. One of his friends also told me about the causes and con­se­quences of the "un­fin­ished" Ukrainiza­tion of the Donetsk Re­gion. That friend was the afore­men­tioned pro­fes­sor at Karazin Kharkiv National Uni­ver­sity, Va­syl Su­yarko, a pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal fig­ure in the Donetsk Re­gion and one of the sig­na­to­ries of the Man­i­festo of the Demo­cratic Party of Ukraine. He says that at the time he tried to con­vey the mes­sage about the need for the Ukrainiza­tion of Rus­si­fied re­gions as a guar­an­tee of the ex­is­tence of Ukraine. But even those who were elected to Par­lia­ment did not un­der­stand the im­por­tance and ur­gency of this.

Su­yarko be­lieves that Ukraine missed its chance to im­ple­ment a national idea with an "iron fist": "His­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence shows that re­born states start with na­tion­al­is­tic au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. Do not for­get that our coun­try is not an or­di­nary piece of the Soviet em­pire, but a de­scen­dant of the Ukrainian Peo­ple's Repub­lic. I was present when Mykola Plav­iuk, the last pres­i­dent of Ukraine in ex­ile, handed his man­date, pres­i­den­tial at­tributes, doc­u­ments and flag to Leonid Kravchuk, which con­firms direct suc­ces­sion – that is the heart of the mat­ter. The na­tion­al­ist ap­proach has pos­i­tive ef­fects: Gen­eral Man­ner­heim in Fin­land and Pił­sud­ski in Poland clearly demon­strated that this was the only way to not only form a national idea, but also suc­cess­fully coun­ter­act mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion by the former me­trop­o­lis. Peo­ple wanted a strong­man, but the un­formed post-to­tal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety was of­fered a par­ody of democ­racy in­stead. What we have now is a direct con­se­quence of this. In 1991-1993, I wrote an ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled The Don­bas Will Be the Vendéeof Ukraine, in which even then I pre­dicted the events in the East that ended in war."

Va­syl re­counts the steps that were not taken by the au­thor­i­ties when con­struc­tion of the re­stored Ukraine be­gan, which cre­ated the right con­di­tions for the in­va­sion and im­po­si­tion of the "Rus­sian world" by the ag­gres­sor coun­try. Firstly, ig­nor­ing the cre­ation of a Ukrainian church at the lo­cal level, be­cause the Moscow Pa­tri­ar­chate has be­come a pow­er­ful weapon in the Donetsk Re­gion dur­ing this war. Se­condly, at the be­gin­ning of our in­de­pen­dence, there were no fa­cil­i­ties for learn­ing the lan­guage, al­though peo­ple needed them. Only later did they re­alise this was not a nec­es­sary con­di­tion for ex­is­tence in the coun­try. It is even worse that the is­sue of lan­guage has be­come a source of hos­til­ity for var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal pur­poses. "I of­ten spoke at the min­ers' ral­lies that pre­ceded the col­lapse of the em­pire. Anti-com­mu­nist slo­gans were heard at the ral­lies in Donetsk and Makiyivka that were at­tended by tens of thou­sands – peo­ple pulled down the Soviet flags from the mines and raised Ukrainian ones. They would of­ten ask where they could learn the lan­guage. But un­like the Baltic coun­tries, we did not im­me­di­ately cre­ate a sys­tem for pro­tect­ing the national lan­guage. It was im­pos­si­ble for con­scious cit­i­zens to do this with­out state sup­port. Now his­tory shows us that con­scious­ness is linked to words. This is your ter­ri­tory, land and lan­guage. Even those who do not speak Ukrainian should un­der­stand that it is the main national lan­guage. This iden­ti­fi­ca­tion has been bro­ken in­side us. Another cul­ture, his­tory and lan­guage mean another men­tal­ity. You know, even when some­one in their daily life gives a price in "rou­bles" [in­stead of hryv­nias] it means they live within a dif­fer­ent, for­eign men­tal­ity, be­cause they do not re­spect the sym­bols of the state. And it is very easy to make them into a traitor."

Su­yarko re­gards another fac­tor be­hind the fail­ure of real Ukrainiza­tion to be su­per­fi­cial de­com­mu­ni­sa­tion, espe­cially in the eastern re­gions of the coun­try, which ba­si­cally made it im­pos­si­ble to build a new state. Com­mu­nist ide­ol­ogy is un­doubt­edly a tool for the de­struc­tion of the Ukrainian na­tion, cul­ture and his­tory. There­fore, with­out de­stroy­ing it, it was naive to try to build a coun­try: all its sym­bols, ide­o­log­i­cal pos­tu­lates and even fig­ures were against Ukraine as an in­de­pen­dent state. "Com­pro­mises are pos­si­ble, but there can­not be con­ces­sions. In this case, the aban­don­ment of gen­uine, high-qual­ity and ide­o­log­i­cal Ukrainiza­tion was a fatal con­ces­sion. This can only lead to de­feat. There­fore, we un­for­tu­nately lost the bat­tle at that time, and now we have to do it un­der com­pletely dif­fer­ent con­di­tions," Va­syl Su­yarko ad­mits.


Af­ter the Shock. Large vol­un­tary pa­tri­otic events only be­came the norm in Don­bas cities in re­cent years

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