By Ilya Khineyko
We’ve written before about a recent linguistic controversy in Ukraine. The man at the center of this scandal, Mykola, or Nikolay, the name he evidently prefers to go by, Levchenko, was interviewed by the prominent Ukrainian news agency, UNIAN. The remarkable thing about the interview is not Levchenko’s views on the language issue per se but an opportunity to get a glimpse into his Weltanschauung. Levchenko is a young man. Born in 1979, he was only 12 years old when Ukraine became independent and so he arguably belongs to the first post-Soviet generation of Ukrainians to whom the USSR was just a childhood memory. It is still debatable whether his views are just his idiosyncratic opinions or, using the title of a book familiar to any Russian-speaker, Levchenko is indeed a “Hero of our time”.
with Mykola Levchenko (excerpts):
[text in large bold font added by I.Kh.]
Levchenko spoke in the Donetsk dialect [of Russian] with a strong Ukrainian accent. He refused to provide answers in literary Ukrainian.
On the superiority of Russian
-90% of information, of the world’s heritage, is contained in four languages: English, German, French, and Russian.
-What about the most spoken language on Earth?
– What is this?
-Let’s not talk about it now. We’re talking about Europe. The Russian language is associated with science, culture, and history. It’s Lomonosov, Mendeleev, Pushkin, Dostoyevskii. That is why I don’t think we should turn away from a world, a UN language in favor of a language that is being invented. I don’t think that would be right.
So, beside the language you’re speaking now, what other languages do you speak?
I can converse in English while I’m abroad. I’d like to learn Italian because it is a beautiful language.
Russian as Ukraine’s lingua-franca
There are an infinite number of dialects in Ukraine and people don’t understand each other. Making Russian a state language is the most convenient solution to this problem. No one in Donetsk I have talked to has anything against it.
On identity and empire
Are you yourself, Ukrainian?
I’m Ukrainian. I have a Ukrainian name. However, until Russian is made a state language, I will be defending it everywhere. When one speaks of ‘independence’, I don’t understand, [independence] from what? Brezhnev was a Ukrainian, Khrushchev wore an embroidered shirt, Chernenko is clearly a Ukrainian surname. All those people were in the Kremlin and governed a vast empire, and we have retreated from it. At the time of the secession [in 1991], there were 52 million of us, now they’re saying it’s 47, and by 2010 the population will have shrunk to 42 million.
What’s the solution then?
There are several civilizations in the world: European, Buddhist, African, North American. We’ve got an Eastern Slavic one, thus all Eastern Slavic countries should re-unite.
The views expressed in the interview, I would say publicly as well [za stolom]. In Donetsk, no one would argue with this. In general, I didn’t expect that my words would make such a big impact. It’s just my party parlance [zastil’na tema].
What about your business?
Ok, let’s talk about your personal finances? Do you own a business?
Why talk about my business? I don’t have time right now… I’m neither a wealthy nor a poor person. I’ve got enough to live on. Let’s talk about the language again…