Why Ukrainian-Language Dubbing Rubs the Authorities the Wrong Way

18 April 2012, 16:10

On 6 April 2012, the Ukrainian tax police carried out a brutal attack on Le Doyen Studio, one of Ukraine’s best film dubbing studios which accounts for about 60 per cent of the Ukrainian-language dubbing market. All of its audio recording equipment was destroyed with abandon: the tax officers crushed equipment and took away computers and disks with films.

There is no doubt in my mind that the reason for this incident, which looked more like an operation against dangerous criminals, had nothing to do with the officially declared pretext – tax evasion. The main purpose was to destroy Ukrainian-language film dubbing. The first step was Cabinet of Ministers Regulation No. 168 “On Making Amendments to the Regulation on the State Certificate Granting the Right to Distribute and Show Films” dated 1 February 2012. It not only permits Russian-language dubbing and voiceover in Ukraine, as has been the case before, but also opens the way for films dubbed in Russia to be brought into Ukraine. But the pogrom in the studio should be viewed not only as lobbying the interests of Russian film distributing companies. It fits with the overall context of the current government launching attacks on all things Ukrainian.

It would seem that there is nothing in Ukrainian-language Pirates of the Caribbean or Cars that could irk the authorities. These are foreign films that have nothing to do with Ukrainian reality, and even such an indefatigable fighter against “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism” as Vadym Kolesnichenko would have no ground to make any accusations. But it is clear that what rubs the authorities the wrong way is not the films themselves but their Ukrainian-language dubbing – high-quality translation is the reason why these films attract larger audiences across the country than do their Russian-language counterparts.

The danger perceived by the current government in Ukrainian-dubbed foreign films and TV programmes lies in the fact that live Ukrainian that comes from the screen coupled with vivid and diverse visual images largely compensates for the absence of Ukrainian-speaking environments in large cities. It can be argued that such films and series as A.L.F. have done much more to Ukrainise young people than didactic admonitions and patriotic admonitions to love the beautiful Ukrainian language. Residents of Russified megalopolises began to view Ukrainian as a full-fledged language that can function equally well in urban sociocultural space as in the countryside, which has aroused their interest in our culture and helped them return to the Ukrainian world.

It is this kind of growth, when groups of nationally conscious, dignified citizens who respect Ukraine’s history and culture rapidly increase in number (a process that was especially intensive during the Orange Revolution) that can stop the corrupting inertial denationalisation which started back in Soviet times and continues now in Ukraine.

Outstanding Ukrainian linguist Oleksandr Potebnia wrote that mass denationalisation severs connections between generations, disrupts the continuity of national life and thus denationalises society and leads to amorality and meanness.

The people that now wield power in Ukraine come from just this kind of denationalised environment estranged from Ukrainian and, in fact, any other culture. In order to establish themselves at the helm of the country for a long time to come, they need easily manipulable voters culturally akin to themselves. This explains their hatred for the Orange Revolution and fear before the growth of conscious citizens who want to live in a free country and control the government they elect.

Sociological surveys show that the number of opponents to Ukraine’s independence remains stable, but the group of those indifferent has greatly increased. A poll carried out by the Institute of Sociology in April 2011 asked respondents to indicate how they would vote if a referendum on Ukraine’s independence were held immediately; 46.6 per cent supported independence, 27.8 per cent were against, 11.5 per cent said they did not care, while 12.5 per cent were hesitant. Taken together, the last two groups account for 24 per cent.

The upcoming election will be won by those who obtain a majority of votes, so it is extremely important for the Party of Regions to increase the part of the electorate that is indifferent to Ukraine’s independence. This explains the party’s current brutal onslaught against all things Ukrainian.

Russian nationalist Pyotr Stolypin, whom Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov holds in such high regard, said this memorable line: “A people that does not have national consciousness is simply manure on which other peoples grow.” Ukrainian oligarchs badly need to have exactly this kind of electoral biomass, because this is the only way they can continue to rob the country with impunity. The entire powerful network of mass media outlets, with few exceptions, is now working to speed up the denationalisation of Ukraine. How successful they are in fulfilling their task will become clear when elections come.

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