(Kyiv Post) Ever since Ukraine became an independent state in 1991, its leaders have been careful with the so-called language issue, and Western advisers have urged them to apply even more care. Latest survey data indicate that the time has come for a more resolute language policy.
After the Soviet rule, the country’s population included 22 percent of ethnic Russians, and even more people who retained their Ukrainian ethnicity but came to speak Russian as their main language. While amounting to just above a half of all Ukrainian citizens, this combined population of Russian-speakers constituted a large majority in the eastern and southern regions. Any resolute imposition of the titular language could be expected to provoke mass discontent on the part of Russian-speakers who were accustomed to using Russian for all purposes and often lacked proficiency in the previously marginalized Ukrainian.
Therefore, the Ukrainian state’s policy in the language domain has been cautious, inconsistent, and heterogeneous in terms of both region and domain. Although Ukrainian was proclaimed the sole state (official) language, Russian continued to be widely used in virtually all social interactions. While Ukrainian prevailed in the west and was increasingly used in the center, Russian remained predominant in the east and south. While Ukrainian became the main language of public administration and education, Russian stood its ground in business, media and many other prestigious domains. Although most people valued Ukrainian as their national language, this symbolic valorization did not necessarily affect their communicative preferences. […]
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