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Can Ukraine Watch Its Mouth For A Day?

Deputies scuffle during a session of parliament in Kyiv in 2010, one of the many instances of political discourse that have lowered the bar for language in Ukraine.
"Sorry, I can't go against my nature," said famed artist and playwright Les Podervyanskiy as he backed out of a campaign to make Ukrainians go a whole day without swearing. Podervyanskiy, known for his earthy texts and bold theater performances, had initially supported a proposal by authors Vitaliy and Dmitriy Kapranov to declare April 5 as No Cussing Day in the whole of Ukraine, but later withdrew his support.

The Kapranov brothers claim they do not use foul language in their everyday life, unlike their literary characters, who, according to Vitaliy Kapranov, should speak naturally:

"In our latest book we write about businessmen and politicians. Would you believe these characters speak with each other without ever saying 'f***'? This just doesn't happen. So we have to equip them with their real vocabulary," Kapranov tells RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "But if in reality they start using different kinds of words, we'll gladly write differently -- we are realists, not science fiction writers."

The Kapranovs have been collecting signatures for a petition to Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada, government, and presidential administration, hoping to make No Cussing Day official.

Ukrainian legislators, however, are skeptical. Pavlo Movchan, a member of the Rada's Committee for Culture, doesn't believe swearing is the nation's biggest language issue. Swearing or not, he says, people should at least speak Ukrainian.

"Language is not isolated, it exists in the public space," Movchan insists. "And the public space sometimes resorts to all kinds of emotionally colored forms. This isn't a new problem, it's been there forever, and languages do not disappear because of that."

For better or worse, society's attitude to swearing has become more relaxed in Ukraine and other former Soviet countries over the past two decades. The easing of censorship has made profanity more acceptable in film, pop music, literature, and on the Internet. The much less restrained vocabulary used by government leaders has also lowered the stylistic bar for political discourse as well as day-to-day interactions.

'Every Day Should Be No Swearing Day'

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service asked Kyiv residents if they supported the idea of instituting a swearing-free day.

"I support it because our society is in decline, especially our youth. You can hear swearing everywhere on the street," one woman said.

A man interviewed by RFE/RL said: "I try not to swear at work, in the presence of women. Sure, you can declare a day without swearing, but that won't do any good."

Another woman said: "I think every day should be without swear words. We need to elevate our culture and respect each other."

A family man told RFE/RL he thought punishing foul mouths would be the right thing to do. He said: "When I walk down the street with my kid and we see people swearing, I think they should be fined. I think we should have such days, just as we have days free of smoking or free of cars."

A young woman said one day free of swearing wouldn't change much. "Perhaps more attention should be paid to the culture of the people, who shouldn't use foul words -- whether it is April 5 or April 21."

-- Pavel Butorin, based on reporting by Anastasia Moskvichova of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service (see original report here, in Ukrainian)

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