UN Mother Language Day and Taras Shevchenko
Roma M. Hayda
New York. — Taras Shevchenko, the champion of the Ukrainian language, self-determination of people, human rights and social justice was honored at the United Nations March 27, 2014. The observance coincided with two additional events. The first was the International Mother Language Day, proclaimed by UNESCO in 1999 and now 14 years in observance, aims to guard the dignity and richness of each language. And the second was the condemnation of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea by a large majority of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Weaving very capably the genius of Taras Shevchenko from the art of the word and language politics to the two dimensional art of canvas and aquatints was Peter Fedynsky, the most recent translator of Shevchenko’s poems. A slide show of the poet’s art ended with the last of the four paintings on the theme of the Prodigal Son. There the young man sits with hands bound behind his back whose ability to speak is rendered powerless. His opened mouth is gagged by a horizontally placed wooden bar tied around the neck made a powerful statement on the theme of the day. Dr. Maxim Tarnawsky from the University of Toronto gave the keynote address on “Taras Shevchenko: Champion of Mother Language”. To counteract the politics of language by colonial powers Shevchenko elevated Ukrainian literary language to new heights and crystallized national consciousness. Excerpts from the “Naymychka” (Hireling), “Plach Yaroslavny” (Yarsolavna’s Lament) and “Meni Odnakovo” (It’s All the Same to Me) were read in Ukrainian by Sofika Zielyk and also in English translation by Xenia Ferencevych. Choral rendition of the poet’s “Reve ta Stohne Dnipr Shyrokyi” (the Mighty Dnipro Roars and Moans) and the Dobriansky brothers’ trio were among musical interludes.
With the complete support of the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations the event was organized by the Ukrainian World Congress and the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organization. Despite tremendous pressure of the Putin regime, 100 ambassadors voted to declare invalid Crimea’s referendum on seceding from Ukraine with only 11 votes against it. Additional words were heard from Mr. Maher Nasser on behalf of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Ukraine’s acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia and organizing entities. Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N. Mr. Yuriy Sergeyev thanked all ambassadors for their support whose participation in the event was notable. He also thanked the organizers and guests. Aside from the celebration of the Shevchenko’s genius the program was also a reflection on issues that remain in today’s headlines that are relevant to mother languages and imposed referenda by the reinvention of colonial playbook on subjugation.
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