I saw this piece by analyst Irina Alksnis, which I use as my starting point. Today we just be talking about the breaking news (=Ukrainian-language channel goes kaput), and some backstory about the Euronews media network, and so on. In the following installment I want to get down into some Scientific Linguistics and discuss the issue objectively, without political veneer: Is Ukrainian an actual language, or not?
Euronews was created in 1993 as an alternative to CNN. Reason being, lots of European people didn’t like the way that Wolf Blitzer was covering the Iraq War, and they wanted their very own 24-hour propaganda saturation. Euronews is currently majority-owned by an Egyptian media tycoon named Naguib Sawiris. He’s sort of like the Arab version of Citizen Kane. The venture has been wildly popular; according to wiki: “The channel is available in 428 million households in 156 countries worldwide. It reaches more than 170 million European households by cable, satellite and terrestrial.”
Euronews, like CNN, has its own editorial standards and political slant. The individual language channels have to follow the party line, on the whole. When it came to key Ukrainian issues like Crimea, the Donbass, etc., both the Ukrainian filial and their Euronews Overlords were in complete agreement with the policies of the Ukrainian government; and completely hostile to the Russian point of view. Nonetheless, the Ukrainian government claimed to be unenthralled with its channel, on the grounds that the editorial staff (hired back in Yanukovych times) were too independent of (Ukrainian) government influence. But the real reason they withdrew their support, according to Alksnis, was a more mundane one: They couldn’t and wouldn’t pay the license fees which Mr. Sawiris was demanding from them.
Hence, today’s breaking news (and the lede) is that the Euronews Media Service (radio and TV) closed its Ukrainian channel just yesterday, on May 21. The Ukrainian journalists sighed “Goodbye Cruel World!” on their Facebook: “Ukrainian Euronews service is saying goodbye… We will cease broadcasting in Ukrainian after almost 6 years of work, on Sunday, May 21. Thank you for watching and reading us. All the best! Glory to Ukraine!” the message reads. To which the world responds canonically, mechanically, “Glory to …. yeah, whatever.”
The license to operate the Ukrainian-language channel was purchased by the government-run National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (NPBCU) back in October 2010. Broadcasts in the Ukrainian language started almost a year later, in August 2011. Everything was great, except that, over the years, the NPBCU was not able to pay its bills for the annual licensing fee. By January 2015 it owed Euronews 11 million Euros.
Ukrainians being Ukrainians, instead of just shrugging their shoulders and murmuring modestly, apologetically, “Sorry, folks, we can’t pay our bill, so we’ll just leave quietly….” No, they get belligerent, they get on their high horse, they declare that it is their MORAL DUTY to not pay, and the moral duty of the other side to give them a free ride. Why? Because they’re Ukrainians, that’s why. Glory to the Ukraine!
By December of 2016 the Ukrainian journalist staff of Euronews were becoming desperate – they didn’t want to leave their cushy jobs and their terrific lives in beautiful Lyon, France. Which is where Euronews is headquartered. So they went on strike. When nobody seemed to notice, they actually approached their equivalent colleagues working down the hall in the Russian-language channel at Euronews (yeah, Russia has a channel too, and they always pay their bills). With resumes in hand. And the Russians might have actually taken them in. Unfortunately, this potential act of mercy was vetoed by old meany Christophe des Arcis, Head of Human Resources for Euronews. Des Arcis twisted the knife in, telling the striking Ukrainians that they didn’t possess the educational qualifications, and that their Russian was just not good enough for TV work. (I’m sure their Russian was perfectly fine, he was just being cruel.)
These media moguls are not sentimental people, that’s for sure. But, just as it takes months and sometimes even years for a landlord to evict a deadbeat tenant, so too it took Euronews quite a long time to get rid of these Ukrainian loafers. Just last month, in April, the NPBCU was still disputing the bill in court; and the Ukrainian journalists were engaged in still another ineffectual sit-down strike. When ordered to pack their bags and leave, they responded, like Bartleby the Scrivener: “We prefer not to. Glory to Ukraine!”
But anyhow, yesterday the Ukrainian staff did finally pack their bags and leave the premises. “You don’t fire us!” they shot back, over their shoulders. “We quit! Glory to Ukraine!”
Next: I ask the controversial question: “Why a Ukrainian news channel? Is Ukrainian an actual language?” You might be surprised to hear the answer!
[to be continued]