OSW Studies

The language issue in Ukraine. An attempt at a new perspective

Ukraine has been an independent state for only 20 years and the consequence of the long-term incorporation of Ukrainian lands into the Russian/Soviet state is  an  ethnically  mixed  society.  In  Ukraine,  alongside  Ukrainians,  there  are very many Russians and members of other nationalities of the former Soviet Union as well as a still large group of people who identify themselves as Soviets (in terms of their nationality). A significant part of Ukrainians use Russian in their everyday life (particularly professional) while knowing Ukrainian to only a small degree or not at all. Due to this Kyiv has to implement a language policy (which does not have to be pursued in e.g. Poland or Hungary) in search of solutions to ensure the stable functioning of a modern state for a multilingual society. The language issue is therefore an important challenge for the Ukrainian state and one of the more significant issues in Ukraine’s internal politics.

In this text I eschew a detailed analysis of the question of Crimea as its social dynamics (also in the language area) is clearly distinct from the remaining part of Ukraine for four reasons: the short-term character of the region’s links with Ukraine, its relative geographic isolation (Crimea is almost an island), the formal autonomy of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the presence of the Crimean Tatar community which is demanding the recognition of its language rights.



Full text in pdf - 0.8 MB