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As Heads Roll In Kyiv, Few Tears Shed For Divisive Education Minister

Dmytro Tabachnyk was removed from his post.
Dmytro Tabachnyk was removed from his post.
As opposition lawmakers in Ukraine continue their purge of government officials, one ouster causing particular glee is that of the minister of education and science, Dmytro Tabachnyk.

Tabachnyk's sacking, announced February 23 as part of a rapid-fire government reshuffle, sparked hundreds of virtual cheers across Ukrainian social media in what could best be summarized as a collective "good riddance."

Education ministers aren't always the first to inflame political passions. But in Ukraine, where issues of language, culture, and history are never far from the surface, Tabachnyk was seen by many as a front-line enemy of Ukrainian national identity.

Since his appointment in 2010, Tabachnyk had sought to steadily erode the role of the Ukrainian language in academic curricula, removing Ukrainian proficiency requirements for university applicants and cutting back on the hours middle-school pupils spent studying Ukrainian language and history.

Less than a year into office, Tabachnyk led a revision of fifth-grade history textbooks to scrap key events from Ukrainian history, including the 2004-05 Orange Revolution that led to the ouster of the man who appointed him, Viktor Yanukovych. He also announced plans with his Russian counterpart to pursue a joint history text that teachers in both countries could use.

Raising Hackles

Tabachnyk also worked to increase the number of Russian-language schools, particularly in the country's east, where many people traditionally speak Russian as a first language. He once referred to "absolute bilingualism" in Donetsk as one of Ukraine's brightest achievements, and has accused western Ukrainians of harboring a "historically grounded inferiority complex."

Resentment against his policies ran so strong that a female student protester struck him in the face with a bouquet of flowers during a meeting of European education ministers in Kyiv. In 2011, he was ranked one of Ukraine's five most active "Ukrainophobes" by the UNIAN news agency.

(Tweets celebrating Tabachnyk's ouster)

The 50-year-old Tabachnyk, a Party of Regions member, also touched nerves by downplaying the scope of the Holodomor, the 1932-33 famine orchestrated by Soviet agricultural planners looking to collectivize Ukrainian farms. Between 3 and 10 million people are estimated to have died as a result of the Holodomor, numbers Tabachnyk said were exaggerated.

In still another incident, Tabachnyk infuriated female students in 2012 by stating that women who pursue advanced education degrees were "less attractive" than other Ukrainian women.

The same year, he was accused of corruption following the purchase of a fleet of substandard school buses, one of which reportedly burst into flames during a visit by Tabachnyk to a school in Kyiv.

Opposition lawmakers have already sought to roll back at least one sensitive piece of legislation passed under Tabachnyk's influence -- the 2012 state language law designating Russian as an official "regional" language in Ukraine's east and south. The Verkhovna Rada has yet to name Tabachnyk's replacement.

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