Staunton, April 12 – If Kyiv were forced to introduce Russian-style federalism in Ukraine as Moscow is demanding, the consequences would be that “the sphere of use of the Russian language would not increase” as many imagine “but contract,” according to Kirill Yankov, a member of the Yabloko Party and a researcher at the Moscow Center for Strategic Planning.
In an article entitled “The Ukrainian Mirror of Russian Federalism,” Yankov says that some Russians in Ukraine and far more in Russia think that federalism would protect ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine from Ukrainianization, but such hopes are not justified.
Consequently, if the federalization of Ukraine that the Kremlin is pushing were to achieve its ends, he says, it would have to be a very different kind of federal system than the one now operating in the Russian Federation, he continues.
At present, as the expert points out, “a subject of the federation does not have the right to ban or otherwise limit the activities on its territory of organizations legally registered in another subject.” Moreover, it does not have the right to limit the influx of people from outside or to allow political parties other than those registered in Moscow to operate.
Given that, Yankov says, it is worth comparing “the possibilities for the Russian language in a Ukrainian region with the possibilities of the national language in the republics of Russia.”
Russian law says that “no one can prohibit the use of national languages in the media, book publishing and even more in everyday life.” But in fact, Russian dominates almost everything, especially in government and business. And those spheres with rare exceptions “work only in Russian.”
Yankov offers a comparison between Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast where 75 percent of the population speaks Russian at the present time and the Republic of Tyva in the Russian Federation, 79.5 percent of whose population declares that Tuvan is their native language. But in fact, 67 percent of their children are in Russian-language schools and above the 9th class, there is only Russian language instruction.
In several non-Russian languages of the Russian Federation – Tatar, Bashkir, Sakha and “three or four others”– members of the titular nation can complete secondary schools in their native languages, and the Kazan Tatars have tried to extend this to higher education as well. But non-Russians who do, he points out, nevertheless have to take entrance exams in Russian.
On the streets in these non-Russian republics, there are signs in the national languages, but in most the Russian signs are even more numerous – and that extends to goods and services and official forms as well. In the eastern portions of Ukraine, Russian dominates the educational system and all parts of the public space.
Is that what Russian speakers want in a federalized Ukraine? If Moscow succeeds in forcing the Ukrainians to adopt Russian-style federalism in the name of protecting ethnic Russians, the result will be a reduction in the use of Russian not an increase, whatever the Kremlin now says.
Indeed, Yankov suggests, “one could say that such federalization would completely correspond to the interests of Ukrainian nationalists who are concerned about the extension of Ukrainianization and the exclusion of the Russian language from day to day life” in their country.
Clearly, many Moscow advocates of federalization for Ukraine do not know how Russian federalism functions in practice. If they created real federalism in Ukraine, they would thus create more demands for the same thing in the Russian Federation, something they equally clearly do not want.
If Russians were prepared as they should be to create real federalism at home, something that would offer real possibilities for the non-Russians among them, then, Yankov says, “the Russian model of federalism perhaps would acquire characteristics that would be attractive for national and linguistic minorities abroad.”
Until they are, however, there is little or no chance of that. Instead, pushing for Russian-style federalism abroad will have just the opposite outcome that its authors are hoping for.