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Much Ado About Russian: A Fight At the Ukrainian Rada

Multiculturalism entails multilingualism, and different countries react to the issue differently. Most people in the UK whom I came across were more positive than not about the fact that they could hear all sorts of accents and languages in the street. Bengali, Indian, Polish, Russian – anything went, it seems, as long as it was not the Queen’s English.

In Russia, and certainly in Moscow, the situation is different. I live in the same apartment block where I was born and grew up; many Russian (=white) neighbours know me well. But we have other neighbours, too, who arrived in the last 5 years from the former Soviet republics or Russian subject territories. They speak Russian to a different degree, and between themselves they naturally speak their native language. My Russian neighbours attitude is not enthusiastic, to say the least. On several occasions, when I got into a lift together with such Russian (=white) neighbour they would remark, as if I was a guest: “Oh, how good it is to see a Russian face!” A variation is “How good it is to hear the Russian speech“. Nationalism is overt here, and those Caucasian and Uzbek “newcomers” are often called “black”, as opposed to pale-skinned Russians.

However, for years since the demise of the Soviet Union the survival of Russian citizens in the former Soviet republics was also a sensitive, if not altogether painful, issue. The case of the Baltic States may be better known, and now Ukraine, a country that historically, culturally and politically has for centuries had strong ties with Russia, follows the same nationalistic course. Probably being close to Russia for such a long time explains, why the Verkhovna Rada deputees couldn’t stop half-way in defending their point of view.

Basically, on his coming to power, the current president Victor Yanukovich promised to raise the status of the Russian language in the country. Russians constitute the largest ethnic minority in Ukraine, so Yanukovich’s plan paid due respect to this fact. The Ukranian nationalists are against this, arguably for fear of threatening the status of the Ukrainian language. So when the bill was about to be discussed at the Rada this week, opposition’s garni khloptsi (Ukrainian for “handsome guys”) were adamant to have their way. To avoid discussing the bill they burst into the Rada praesidium, and a fight ensued. The photos were made by the RIA Novosti correspondent.

The nationalists believe that this Russian issue hammers a wedge in the Ukrainian society and is best to not be discussed. And they are ready to kick the air – literally.

Author: Julia Shuvalova

Julia Shuvalova is the author of Los Cuadernos de Julia blog. She is an author of several books, a translator, and a Foreign Languages tutor. She lives and works in Moscow, Russia.

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