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20 Nov, 2019 09:45

#KyivNotKiev? Ukraine erasing of Russian-style names provides much-needed distraction for more serious problems at home

#KyivNotKiev? Ukraine erasing of Russian-style names provides much-needed distraction for more serious problems at home

As news organizations around the world announce their intention to switch from “Kiev” to “Kyiv”, this latest campaign of anti-Russia sentiment disguises economic and social problems in one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Let us just hope that the Ukrainians are happy now that their virtue signaling friends in the newsrooms of the western world have declared their intention to spell the name of their capital city Kyiv, not Kiev.

This latest effort comes from the United States Board on Geographic names which has decided to dump the habitual English way of spelling Kyiv/Kiev at the request of the Ukrainian ambassador, who complained that “Kiev” was based on Russian pronunciation.

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That may be so, but at least the spelling of “Kiev” makes the pronunciation relatively unambiguous. However, with “Kyiv”, where do you go? Kigh-iv? Key-iv? K-yiv?

It seems you can use whatever you like, as long as it’s not Russian, and that clearly is the problem.

If the Ukrainians are that determined to rid their country of Russian names, despite that language being the native tongue of nearly a third (more than 14 million) of its population then why not go the whole hog? Using the Ukrainian language we would switch from Chernobyl to have Chornobyl and Odessa would lose an “s” to become plain Odesa.

But would anyone actually care?

It could be suggested that the motive behind this rebranding is simply political as it serves no real practical purpose. Then you get the western mainstream media on board and you have a big win for your #KyivNotKiev campaign.

This media support for the name change began with the Associated Press in August. Since then, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Telegraph and the BBC have followed suit, throwing style guides they have used for years out the window, dare they ever be accused of outmoded thinking.

A political motive is the only explanation for a sudden interest in Ukrainian language. The Ukrainian Government actually made it policy to use the “Kyiv” spelling in the 1990s but apart from its use in diplomatic protocols it never took off because the people preferred to use “Kiev”.

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Now, however, the ambassador found he could give a new campaign a bit of anti-Russia spin, and suddenly there is a huge surge of interest. If the various ambassadors from around the world, or even in our own European backyard, decide to follow suit in building up some nationalist fervor we should soon see English map names like Deutschland, Polska, Helvetia and Suomi. Or does a ruling from the USBG only apply to countries holding a beef with Russia?

The real idea here, however, is straight out of the populist playbook. Winning support for a name change from a compliant world media dominated by a largely anti-Russian agenda becomes a triumphant Ukrainian nationalist cause that serves as a distraction from more pressing issues, like fighting endemic corruption or building a functioning economy for one of the poorest societies in Europe.

The people of Ukraine know this, and they probably also know that changing the names of their streets, towns and cities does not put bread on the table.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.