Ukraine vows not to repeat Ireland's language 'mistake'
The former Soviet state will not be promoting Russian to official language status, writes DEAGLÁN DE BRÉADÚN
IRELAND MADE a “mistake” in recognising English as the second official language and this would not be repeated in his country, said Volodymyr Lytvyn, speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, in Dublin yesterday at the end of a two-day official visit.
Language rights are a major political issue in Ukraine where Russian is denied official language status despite the large proportion of the population for whom it is a mother-tongue.
Recently elected Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych came in for criticism in Moscow this month after announcing he would not promote Russian as a second state language.
Mr Lytvyn said: “We must not repeat the Irish mistake. Nowadays, the English language is dominant in Ireland. So if the Russian language would be recognised as a second state language in Ukraine, in such circumstances the Ukrainian language will be moved to the periphery.
“That is why I am convinced that Ukraine should have only one state language. At the same time, the rights of the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine should not be violated.”
Ukraine has a population of 46 million: “The majority would consider Ukrainian as the mother-tongue but a great amount of the population speak Russian. The Russian language dominates on the TV programmes and in the mass media in general. A certain psychological barrier exists when the Russian language is considered to be the most prestigious one.”
When it was pointed out to him that native Irish-speakers were a small minority in Ireland and therefore recognition had to be given to English, he replied: “There were not many French-language speakers in France in the 19th century but they [the population] were forced to speak French at that time.”
A history lecturer before he went into politics, this was Mr Lytvyn’s first time in Ireland. His visit included meetings with his Leinster House counterparts, Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil Seamus Kirk and Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Pat Moylan.
He also met Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and Minister of State Dick Roche, Opposition leader Enda Kenny and Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman Michael D Higgins.
Despite reported tensions in the ruling coalition, Mr Lytvyn insists Ukraine is politically stable. Asked if he hoped to see Ukraine joining the European Union at some stage, he replied: “For this, we need about 10 years and the approval of the EU.”
Ukraine and Russia went through a period of high tension some years back but Mr Lytvyn says relations are better now: “They are normalising. The dialogue is renewed on the highest level.”
Ukraine halted the transit of natural gas supplies from Russia through pipelines across its territory to the rest of Europe a number of times in recent years. Mr Lytvyn was asked if supplies could be blocked again. “I have an optimistic attitude to the solving of this problem and I think all parties to this conflict, including Russia, Ukraine and Europe drew their own lessons from this blockage,” he said.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has withheld a portion of a loan to Ukraine following a review of the situation. Mr Lytvyn said Ukraine has “resumed negotiations with the IMF”. He added: “We understand that we must implement rather unpopular steps and not because the IMF demands it but because the situation requires such steps.”
Asked if Ukraine would be joining Nato in the near future, Mr Lytvyn said: “It’s not a question on today’s agenda.”