Sunday, July 8, 2012


The more things change.....   This was published in my column "The Things We Do" in The Ukrainian Weekly August 19, 2007.  Five years ago, and what has changed?

They taught them well. Over the centuries of the Russian tsarist empire, and especially during the 70 years of the Soviet empire, they taught them very well, indeed. Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics for the musical “South Pacific” (music by Richard Rodgers) in 1949. In the musical, this song is about an inter-racial romance, with Lt. Cable expressing his frustration at being uncomfortable over loving a Polynesian girl: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late – before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

In the case of present-day Ukraine, it is not hating another group or race that is the problem. 
It is self-hate – hating yourself and all your own – your nation, your culture, your language. For patriotic Ukrainians, such people are “yanychary” – or “yanuchary” (supporters of Yanukovych and others). These are the contemporary equivalent of the Janissaries (yanychary in Ukrainian). The young boys captured during the Tatar and Turkish raids and invasions of Ukraine in the 15th-17th centuries were brought up to forget their past and to become loyal Turkish soldiers. They were indoctrinated to forget and to turn against their own, because later, as soldiers, they returned to Ukraine as raiders, repeating the cycle.  The yanychary today are those Ukrainians raised or educated to think that anything Ukrainian is second-class, and not as “prestigious” as Russian. They are the ones who speak Russian rather than Ukrainian, who pull for closer ties with Russia and consider Ukrainian as just not cool. To them, even though they are home in their own land, they are enemies to everything Ukrainian. Ukraine is a convenient place, not a homeland.

My sister Nusia and I had a “yanychar” (singular of yanychary) experience in Kyiv on the Khreschatyk last summer. We were in line at the Dva Husia cafeteria, talking to each other in Ukrainian and beginning to give our order. The young man behind the counter smirked at us. “Poliaky?” (Poles), he asked. Somehow, to him our Ukrainian sounded Polish.  He was speaking Russian with his coworkers.  And yet his name-tag read  “Oleksa Mykhailiuk,” certainly not a Russian name. Maybe he was trying to impress the Ukrainian girls with how
“with-it” he was, or was just a wise guy. I suppose putting down customers was not covered in the training manual. And then – putting them down for speaking Ukrainian – in the capital of the country!  I cannot believe that our Ukrainian was so outdated as to be mistaken for another language. Our meal was spoiled. We felt disgust, anger, revulsion and sadness at what he was and how he got to be that way.  Maybe this young man really thought he was doing something right, or maybe he was just a rude punk. But his smirking publicly at his own language tells a lot about the legacy of tsarist - and Soviet-era Russification. The indoctrination of being taught to hate your own identity has been passed down through several generations. I pray that this is the last Ukrainian generation of yanychary, and that there are no more children being carefully taught to hate and fear their own.

Thanks to Marika Dubyk for this link on how the Ukrainian language has been persecuted in its own homeland. 

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