Ukraine: a brand-new country / News / News agency Inforos
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Ukraine: a brand-new country

The people of Kiev will no longer have the option of writing the name of their own city in their own native-language

Ukraine: a brand-new country

The place-name “Kiev” is due to disappear from all American maps. The United States Council of Geographic Names Authorities (COGNA) has accepted an appeal made by the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, to change the transliteration of the place-name in all future American maps from “Kiev” to “Kyiv.”

On October 2nd 2018, the Ukrainian foreign ministry and Centre for Strategic Communication (StratCom) began the campaign “#CorrectUA,” which involved sending appeals to foreign media to change their standard spelling of the place-name “Kiev.” In February, the Guardian decided to oblige them.  Last month, the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, also approved a name-change for Kiev.

The COGNA decision regarding the name-change will have a knock-on effect for the naming-conventions of many organizations worldwide. For example, the International Aviation Transport Association uses the same place-names determined by COGNA. This will immediately trigger a name-change in airports worldwide. The changes will be entered into COGNA’s database on June 17th.

US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement "The United States Council on Geographical Names does not participate in the country's foreign policy issues, and its decisions are not political." He said that the decision had been made to match the English transliteration to the name which was used by Ukrainians themselves.

One point which Tom Casey omitted was that Kiev is, in itself, an overwhelmingly Russian-speaking city, and has been for as long as anybody can remember. The citizens of Kiev itself spell the place-name with the standard Russian “Киев.” In future, they will quite probably no longer have that option.

Following COGNA’s announcement, the Ukrainian embassy in Washington said in a statement “This decision is extremely important and gives impetus to correct the official name of the capital of Ukraine outside the United States, in particular, on international flights and foreign airports around the world, as international organizations, including the International Air Transport Association (IATA), refer specifically to the official names from the database of the Council on geographical names of the USA.”

We might also recall that, in December, the Verkhovna Rada passed a new law mandating the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) to change its name, despite the fact that the Ukrainian state, being constitutionally secular, claims to have no competence in religious matters.

It seems that Ukraine, not for the first time, is becoming “a brand-new country.”

Comparisons may be drawn between Ukraine’s current experiments in linguistic nationalism and the Indian BJP government’s equally fanatical campaign to excise words of Persian origin from the Hindi language. In the case of India this campaign, if carried to its logical conclusion, would result in the elimination of somewhere between 30% and 40% of the Hindi-language’s entire word-stock. A similar situation would result from the “cleansing” of the Ukrainian language, particularly regarding its technical lexicon, which is predominantly derived from Russian (with a few older Polish terms).

I have argued this point with my own country’s cultural nationalists many times – any language which does not have its own indigenous technical lexicon is just a tourist-language to start with. If you can’t do organic chemistry, engineering, medicine, metallurgy and physics through the existing word-stock of your own native language, without borrowings, then your linguistic nationalism is mere tokenism. Without an indigenous technical lexicon comprehensively covering all professional specialisms, it’s simply not a viable language.

Let’s put this Ukrainian development in context.

Both Ukraine’s current president and his immediate predecessor, and for that matter the overwhelming majority of members of Ukraine’s entire political class, speak better Russian than they do Ukrainian. Petro Poroshenko, while giving a press-conference in Ukrainian in January 2016, had to ask one of his aides in mid-sentence “What’s the Ukrainian word for wallet?” Ukrainian is his third language, after Russian and English.

As previously stated, the bulk of the Ukrainian language’s technical lexicon in almost all scientific and professional disciplines is of Russian origin (well into the 20th century, Russian remained the 3rd global language for the publication of new academic research in chemistry).

Until very recently, the bulk of Ukraine’s pop-music and print-magazines were published in Russian. New tax-laws are devised to penalize this practice.

Research from 2015 indicated that 86% of all ATM-transactions in Ukraine were sill conducted through Russian.

The overwhelming majority of the cultural, scientific and intellectual talent which Ukraine has produced over the past 2 centuries (Gogol, Bulgakov, etc) wrote in Russian, and received their patronage through the Russian world.

Ukraine has never, ever produced its own cultural, scientific or intellectual oxygen. It is a “country” which, aside from its process of cross-pollination with the Russian world, has no noteworthy scientific or intellectual history, and for that matter no history of statehood.

The population of Ukraine’s capital city – Kiev – still predominantly speaks Russian as their first language, as does the population of the most important city in Ukraine’s information-technology sector, Kharkov, the population of Ukraine’s largest industrial hub, Dniepropetrovsk, and the population of Ukraine’s largest port, Odessa.

The name “Ukraine” is derived from an old Polish term meaning “borderland.”

Indian nationalists find it equally infuriating that the name “Hindustan” is, in itself, of Persian origin.

“Ukraine” is a geo-strategic concept, not a real country.

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