Thursday, May 11, 2006

2000km trek from Bern to Kyiv to raise Chornobyl awareness

I got an email this morning about a European trek to raise awareness for Chornobyl.

On July 6rd 2006, I will embark with my wife on a cross Europe bicycle trip from Bern Switzerland to Kiev in the Ukraine some 2100 kilometres away to raise awareness for the long term effects of the Chernobyl incident. This trip will last about 24 days and cover over 2100 km. This trek will be named in honour of FOCCUS a non profit organisation in order to raise awareness of the long term effects of the Chernobyl incident, which the UN describes as "the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of humanity."

The fellow tells me he is a Ukrainian Canadian originally from Vancouver and now lives in Switzerland. He is seeking support for this project. The sponsoring organization, Friends of Chernobyl Centers, U.S. Inc., is based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Quite an adventurous and commendable effort, and all the best to the bicycling duo taking this trek. It's important to continue trying to raise awareness of the awful legacy of Chornobyl. There is far too blase an attitude towards nuclear fuel, and especially towards creating safeguards to prevent similar meltdowns in the future. And there is far too callous a disregard of efforts to mitigate the consequences of the Chornobyl disaster that continues to be borne by innocent parties.

Having said all that, one thing about this organization bothers me. The old soviet-style spelling. Yes there is always the argument that saving people's lives and health is a more "important" issue than linguistic protocols.

However ... one would expect that an organization going to such lengths to produce professional-looking promotional collateral (like their website) would use the proper, i.e., official, transliterated spelling ... i.e., from Ukrainian to English, and ditch the outdated soviet-era practise of Ukrainian to Russian to English. (Which even the Canadian govt is finally doing.)

There is the simple matter of lending dignity - to the people whose lives they are ostensibly trying to make better - by respecting their native language (Ukrainian). Spelling may seem like a small, insignificant matter, but its symbolism is not.

And yes, I realize that not all Chornobyl victims are ethnic Ukrainians, and/or speak Ukrainian. But Chornobyl is in Ukraine (no "the"), where the official language is Ukrainian. It deserves that respect, not least of all in English-language publicity materials.

I wish the marathoners all the best and tip my hat to them for their initiative and dedication to this cause. For their sake, and the sake of those still suffering the Chornobyl fallout, I hope their PR people will soon get with the times and transliterate properly. Remedying that annoying distraction could only serve their cause better.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Aussiegirl said:

True enough. But a lot of these people don't seem to even know there is a difference. We've had a hard time getting the "the" dropped from Ukraine, and even getting the spelling of Kyiv changed. But there is probably some historical precedent for keeping the Anglicized versions of things the way they have come to be familiar. Kiev doesn't particularly bother me, as long as people know that it's in UKRAINE and not Russia! But, your point is well taken, and perhaps if we insist, then eventually the new spellings will become the standard.

Pawlina said...

Let's hope so. Charitable organizations that insist on using the old Russified spellings are really doing themselves a disservice. They are not only showing themselves to be outdated and outmoded, they are discouraging people who could be their greatest supporters. The former is slowly becoming self-evident in academic and media circles, but the latter is somehow still lost on many ... people who should know better (like publicists).