Destruction of language

I feel a deep ethical obligation to bring into consciousness one final dimension of colonialism: the destruction of indigenous languages. It seems that an inadequate amount of academic attention is given to this matter. Perhaps this is the result of academia’s Eurocentrism and the dominant image of education remaining in the controlling hands of the English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian linguistic elite. The lack of representation of the “mother tongues” of the Irish, Scots, Welsh, and Basque peoples in academic, political, and media discourses confirms the marginalization of the “Other,” the lesser, and the conquered. This is not to mention the suppression of the countless languages of native peoples all over the globe.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1986) wonders when the fatal acceptance of the English language as the sole language of discourse and education for African peoples happened. There were, no doubt, many tragic moments, many edicts and political treaties that parceled the African continent to a host of imperial aggressors. Whereas the bullet was the means of physical subjugation and destruction, it was language that was the means of spiritual subjugation.

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The same holds true for the Ukrainian language that was declared as nonexistent in 1863 by the Russian imperial minister of internal affairs Count Valuev, and once again in 1876 by Tsar Alexander II when he was vacationing in the German town of Ems. Known as the Ems Ukaz (Declaration), the usage of the Ukrainian language in education and the school system was prohibited, and all Ukrainian language books were removed from libraries (Subtelny, 2000).  Anecdotal evidence of the second-class status of the Ukrainian language has been pointed out to me by numerous colleagues who lament the fact that although Ukrainian is considered to be the official language of the country, Russian is the language of business, academia, and political discourse in many large urban centers. Ukrainian is viewed as the language of the countryside, of farmers, lower class citizens, of folk music, and folklore.

In May of 2012, at the World Psychoanalytic Conference in Kyiv, I was the only person to present a paper in the Ukrainian language, and only after being granted permission by the participants of the fledgling Ukrainian group of Jungian analysts in attendance. Ironically, I also utilized an English language powerpoint during the presentation and did respond to some questions in Russian afterward; an unconscious reflexive affirmation of the hegemony of two imperial languages on my part. For the sake of clarity, in other academic disciplines, Ukrainian is widely utilized, but in the area of depth psychology and the study of Freud, Jung, and Lacan, Russian predominates.

This is especially ironic since Freud’s parents were both born and lived in two current day Western Ukrainian towns (at that time a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). His mother was from Brody, and his father from Tysmenytsya (Zaretsky, 2005). Although Freud was born in Moravia after his parents moved there due to economic hardship, he was in contact with many of his relatives who resided close to Kyiv, and the majority of his patients were not Germans or Austrians but were Slavic peoples (Etkind, 1997). His most notable case was Serge Pankejeff, known as the Wolf-Man, who was born in Kherson and grew up in Odessa.

Gayatri Spivak’s (2002) image of the “resident alien,” a person who lives in at least two communities and cultures, is a fitting description for all colonized “subjects” of empire.  This is not only true of Ukrainians today who are hard-pressed to advocate for the recognition of their language, culture, and identity as worthy of a dignified status, but was also the case in Freud’s time when he himself must have experienced the social complexities of being a Jewish subject in the German-speaking capitol of Austro-Hungary, Vienna.  Freud, countless others, and as Spivak makes note of his own life live in two worlds, “deeply, without being quite of them…this Resident Alien is a vestigial postcolonial figure” (p. 48). One can be assured of the pathological aspects of this strange reality simply because the status of being alien, whether in one’s own country or not, has been assigned by those who are in power.

The request for church autocephaly addresses the need for recognition and representation. Ukrainians want to prayer in Ukrainian and not a Russified version of Church Slavonic. They want to listen to sermons preached in Ukrainian and not Russian.

Internet trolls have spewed the Russian lie that the Ukrainian language does not exist; that it is an Austro-Hungarian creation. Why don’t these purveyors of fake news read Russian history and learn about Count Valuev?

Supporting the Russian Orthodox Church is an act of complicity in Genocide and the destruction of the Ukrainian people. How can conscientious Orthodox Christians accept this? Love your neighbor as yourself?

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