Forbidden to forbid

This week the Ternopil Oblast Сouncil has voted to ban the Russian-language cultural product in the region. This decision will officially impose a moratorium on the public use of the Russian-language cultural product of any kind on the territory of Ternopil Oblast until the complete end of the occupation of Ukrainian territory. Earlier this year the Lviv and Zhytomyr Oblast Councils have adopted the same decision.

Is it a cause for celebration? Does this news have to please Ukrainian patriots? Absolutely not. I myself wish so much that our country “from the Syan to the Don” could finally speak Ukrainian, and, as far as my modest possibilities are concerned, I do my best to make it happen. But let’s be honest: such decisions of the regional councils cannot change absolutely anything, they will only let our enemies shout to the rooftops that Ukraine is ruled by “Nazi junta”, which prohibits people from speaking their language. This decision sounds simply ridiculous.

First, from the purely legal standpoint, how is it possible to define a Russian-language cultural product? And what is a cultural product in general? And what do the deputies mean by the “public use of a cultural product”? If someone is sitting on a bench in a park and reading Mayakovsky’s book, is it a public use of the Russian-language cultural product then? And if someone is listening to a Russian-language song in a car, what is it then?

Second, such issues are absolutely beyond the competence of local councils. It is a simple populism that will have no consequences. These decisions will be either not executed or just cancelled through the court. But the deputies will show off and take credit for protecting the Ukrainian language and culture, when in fact they did nothing. This “populism in vyshyvankas” is no different from the promises to establish peace in the East of Ukraine or to reduce the price for utilities. Deputies who vote for such decisions simply take Ukrainians for idiots. It is a shame that some of the voters may go for such a cheap trick.

Third, and most important is that a ban like this restricts civil rights and liberties. A person is free to choose a cultural product for him/herself and nobody has the right to dictate or forbid him/her anything. There are a lot of Russian-speaking Ukrainians and these people have the right to choose a book, song or play in any language. Especially when they pay their own money for what they choose. In the end, Russian-speaking Ukrainians are not necessarily Putin’s supporters or traitors of Ukraine, isn’t it obvious?

Fourth, what shall we do with the Russian-language culture of Ukraine then? Are Shevchenko’s Russian-language prose and a romanсe “Dark Eyes” (“Очи черные” – translator’s note) by the Ukrainian poet Yevhen Hrebinka now banned in Lviv and Ternopil Oblasts? What shall we do now with the books of popular contemporary Ukrainian writers who write in Russian and at the same time are real and active Ukrainian patriots (such as Kurkov, Pomerantsev, Rafeyenko, Khersonsky)?

Fifth, that is enough to forbid! Such things cause only resistance and turn people against each other. Let everyone buy any kind of books, music or tickets for performances for their own money.

Instead of banning, support the Ukrainian language with a donation, provide those who want to rent a space for a bookstore in district centres with benefits or discounts, finance an interesting Ukrainian film or support scholarships for young Ukrainian musicians. It will definitely be more effective than populist prohibitions.

Andriy Lyubka

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