International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually in February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. This year, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko, The Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) and The World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations (WFUWO) have organized a program to bring attention to the importance of the efforts of Taras Shevchenko to defend his mother language, Ukrainian, as well as champion human rights for the Ukrainian people.
Both the UWC (since 2003) and the WFUWO (since 1991) have representatives registered with the United Nations. Dr. Martha Kebalo, WFUWO Main Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as one of the key organizers, noted the importance of support for Ukraine through participation in the commemorative event at the United Nations on February 27, from 3-6pm. Dr. Kebalo explained that “While the reason for the recognition of Mother Language Day is close to our hearts, this is the first year that Ukrainians are the organizers of such an event at the United Nations. We know that there is much interest in our program and that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is keenly aware of events in Ukraine, as is the United Nations press corps. This event will be an excellent opportunity to place in context the long history of the Ukrainian struggle for democracy and the dignity of the Ukrainian language. It is, after all, Taras Shevchenko who wrote ‘When will we greet our own George Washington at last, with the new law of righteousness?’ His words are very relevant today.”
The program titled “Taras Shevchenko: Champion of the Ukrainian Language, Self-Determination of Peoples, Human Rights and Social Justice” includes remarks from UN officials, greetings by UWC President Eugene Czolij and WFUWO President Orysia Sushko, a keynote by Dr. Maxim Tarnawsky of the University of Toronto, performances by the Prometheus Ukrainian Male Chorus of Philadelphia, the Dobriansky Brothers, Ludmyla Hrabovsky and bandurist Alla Kutsevych, readings of Shevchenko’s poetry, as well as media presentation, art and publications exhibit. The event’s master of ceremonies is Mr. Peter Fedynsky, translator of Shevchenko’s Kobzar, and a former correspondent with the Ukrainian Service of The Voice of America.
The event will be held February 27, 2014 from 3-6 pm in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber of the United Nations Building. There is no charge for admission, however, please RSVP by February 16, 2014 to email: firstname.lastname@example.org to be included on the list of attendees. Guests are asked to please arrive by 2:30 pm to allow time for UN security procedures at the First Avenue entrance (either the 43rd or the 47th Street access will be designated on the day of the event).
Besides the UWC and several members of the WFUWO UN representation (Sofika Zielyk and Natalia Sonevytsky), the event planning committee also includes Marianna Zajac, President of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, Inc., Marta Kokolskyj, the Advisor for Diaspora Affairs at the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations, and Iryna Forostyan, CEO of the Fund for Research of Ancient Civilizations. Many Ukrainian-American community organizations will participate in the event and several, including the various Ukrainian cultural centers and Ukrainian credit unions, have offered support.
International Mother Language Day was established at the 30th Session of UNESCO on November 17, 1999, and the date represents an event on February 21, 1952, when students, who were demonstrating for recognition of Bengali as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in the capital of present-day Bangladesh.
According to information available on the United Nations International Mother Language Day website, “Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education, but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.”
WFUWO Representative to UN/DPI