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Interview with Former Ukranian President Viktor Yushchenko; Moving an Old Dictionary into the Modern Age; Imagine a World

Aired January 30, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

As Ukraine reels from weeks of violent protests, a defiant President Yanukovych says that his government is doing all it can to end the political crisis and he blames the opposition for inflaming the situation. His online statement was issued shortly after Mr. Yanukovych left work this morning, apparently suffering from a fever and respiratory illness.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): But the president and his people have made a number of concessions to opposition demands, including passing an amnesty bill for detained protesters. But the opposition is having none of it, refusing the conditions attached, mainly to tear down their barricades and get out of government buildings that they've occupied.

Many say they won't stop until the president leaves power. The escalating crisis is ringing alarm bells, from the E.U. headquarters to the White House.


AMANPOUR: President Obama called for the right to free expression and Ukraine and there is word now the U.S. may be considering targeted sanctions against Kiev.

At home, two former Ukranian presidents are warning of the risk of civil war unless this crisis is resolved. One of them, Viktor Yushchenko, is my guest tonight. He was, of course, the leader of Ukraine's Orange Revolution in the 2004 mass protest that swept him to power after beating current president Viktor Yanukovych.

Before he joins me, it is perhaps worth remembering the vicious nature of Ukrainian politics, because when I first met him, just as he took office, he had been poisoned and his face was disfigured.


VIKTOR ANDRIYOVYCH YUSHCHENKO, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): People cry when they see my face, but my country has also been disfigured.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, do you know who did this to you specifically?

YUSHCHENKO (through translator): I have no doubt this was done by my opponents in the government. That's who would benefit the most from my death.


AMANPOUR: But very much still alive and still fighting as hard as ever for Ukraine to fulfill a European destiny. He told me today this crisis would not be resolved unless his country can escape Moscow's icy grip and join in association with Europe, which, of course, was the catalyst that sparked this revolution two months ago.


AMANPOUR: -- the program. Thank you for joining me.

From his sickbed, President Yanukovych has now sent a statement, an address to the Ukranian people, in which he says that he has done a lot. He's made a lot of concessions.

He's saying that the opposition continues to escalate the situation and he urges people to stand back and to -- and to come together and to resolve this together.

Do you agree that President Yanukovych had made enough concessions to the opposition?

YUSHCHENKO (through translator): I believe that the main question, which was formulated by the Ukranian EuroMaidan protesters, is the realization of the European political course of the country.

It is the most important. It's the formulation of a free trade zone with the European Union. It's a road map of a visa-free regime. In other words, it's a return to the policy of democracy and freedom.

AMANPOUR: And you are very concerned that there should not be a re- Sovietization of Ukraine. You've said that before.

Therefore, what message do you think President Putin is getting from this uprising, from these protests and demonstrations?

YUSHCHENKO (through translator): Well, everything that takes place on Maidan its anti-Russian messages, its messages to Europe and what happened in December when the authorities turned away from the European road, and went on signing the Asian policy pact, including $15 billion of financial aid for Ukraine, reduction of gas price and so on, it's like 300 years ago, a similar political agreement was signed, which took away sovereignty and independence for 3.5 centuries.

Ukraine is geographically the biggest country in Europe that decided. And there's a relevant Parliament decision that it wanted to integrate into Europe. Two-thirds of Ukrainian citizens confirmed their choice: European. These are the main messages that the Ukranian nation is sending. We want to go into Europe, it's our home. We want to return back to our home.

AMANPOUR: I see you framing this entire thing in the association with Europe.

Therefore, do you think the E.U. is at all to blame for any of this?

In other words, did they play their cards correctly as well when this idea of the association came up?

YUSHCHENKO (through translator): I would simply like Europe to feel that it's its responsibility, that the European policies have to be active, that the European missions today must work in Ukraine, not just one day or two, a week. It's a crucially important matter for the peace of the continent and democracy.

AMANPOUR: The United States, President Obama, looks to be very worried about what's going on in Ukraine and Congress may be considering sanctions against Ukraine.

Do you support that move?

YUSHCHENKO (through translator): Without a doubt, it's a very important question. But it's not enough, for one reason. If we don't have joint plan of our integration, the questions of the type you mentioned, they might not have the final intention of the resolution of the crisis as we would like to see it.

AMANPOUR: So do you believe that the current opposition leaders, Arseniy and Vitaly Klitschko, do they have a strategic plan?

Are they capable of taking the leadership of Ukraine or at least, you know, taking the leadership of the opposition? Because some people in Ukraine are very concerned that they may not be prepared for leadership.

YUSHCHENKO (through translator): As I see it, it looks to me that from the political opposition side, a comprehensive pact has not been formed, which would provide the answer to the people of Maidan regarding the plan of action as to the European integration. That's for one.

It's related to the fight for power, but relates less to the fight for the strategic course of the country.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that these protests should go on?

And do you believe that Mr. Klitschko and Mr. Arseniy have control of the streets?

YUSHCHENKO (through translator): I don't think that the political opposition of Ukraine has control of the entire situation on Maidan. And that's true. And it looks like those expectations and hopes that are held on Ukranian Maidan need to be expressed stronger in political tactics, including the Ukrainian parliament.

Synchronization must take place of those political statements, those political goals which Maidan formed. I will remind you that the Maidan on the 29th of November last year formulated the question of changing the political course. This agenda should not change.

AMANPOUR: Former President Yushchenko, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

YUSHCHENKO (through translator): Thank you. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Now amidst the burning barricades, some citizens of Kiev are determined to maintain a civil society and a much needed touch of humanity by creating a library in a building near the embattled Independence Square on Maidan, as Yushchenko was referring to.

Can books stand up to bullets?

Do words still matter?

Can the venerable Oxford English Dictionary survive our digital age?

We'll speak to the new editor-in-chief who's on the front lines of language when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. In this digital age, it's easy to think the printed word is out of fashion. Easy to think that, but you'd be wrong for thinking it, especially in the world's largest democracy. The biggest book fair in the world is happening right now in Calcutta, India, and millions are flocking to buy books in English, Hindi, Bengali and many, many other languages, presumably some of them may need to consult a dictionary as they read. And my next guest is the world's foremost authority on the English language as he is the new editor-in-chief of the Oxford English Dictionary. And his job is to keep this massive 20- volume tome relevant and up-to-date. No easy task, as Michael Proffitt explained when he joined me here earlier.


AMANPOUR: Michael Proffitt, welcome.


AMANPOUR: Incredibly, you are the first new chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary in 20 years.

PROFFITT: That's true.

AMANPOUR: You've been there, though, way longer. Before, you know, all of our business has started with computers, are you surprised that this tome of written words has survived?

PROFFITT: Well, I think that my predecessor, John Simpson, and his colleague, Edmund Weiner, were very quick to pick up on the tension of the OED in an electronic context.

And they -- so they converted the OED into digital form in the late 1980s. And by the time we published the second edition then, it was already available on the CD-ROMs, one of the first reference works available on CD-ROM.

And then it was also one of the first reference works online in 2000. So it was -- we saw an opportunity to publish in a different way. And I think we grabbed it with both hands.

AMANPOUR: So you have more than kept up with the times?

PROFFITT: I hope so. And I think we have to think now about how we can change the dictionary so that it brings it to a new audience. We often, I think, expect their content to be in situ, you know, when they need it, where they need it, rather than having to go to a separate reference work.

AMANPOUR: So what is your mission? How will you do that?

PROFFITT: I think it's -- the challenge is to continue to satisfy the current readership, which is quite broad. And also to bring in a new generation of users, who perhaps expect it to be more dynamic content, that merges with their needs own day-to-day, I think.

AMANPOUR: You know, a lot of people will say, hang on a second. You know, and maybe I'm -- maybe I'm reflecting the sort of traditional generation, that people like to see this great big weighty book that they know they can flip through and find the words and peruse them.

Do you sometimes feel you're being forced into this new -- brave new world?

Or is it absolutely vital?

PROFFITT: Well, one of the interesting things about the OED is every form in which it's been published until now is still surviving. It's still in print. It's still in CD-ROM form, which surprises a lot of people. And it's online.

The advantage of going online is that we can update it much faster. It was quite slow to compile print, which is a very complex thing, often involved complex typography and --


AMANPOUR: How long do they take, by the way? I heard it takes, I mean, decades.


AMANPOUR: -- of one volume, one edition.

PROFFITT: -- we think that we'll finish this current new edition, which is originally the whole 20-volume dictionary, within the next 20 years. So it's a long-term project. The original dictionary took 50 years.


PROFFITT: More -- I mean, it was conceived, actually from conception to publication, it was about 70.

AMANPOUR: And how many new words for 50 years?

PROFFITT: Well, there were about 400,000; we're now up to about 800,000, which is a lot, if you consider that the average person's vocabulary is roughly between 25,000 and 40,000.

You can see why they need a dictionary, because even people who are doing 40,000, at the highest end, it's about 5 percent of what we've got in the OED -- and that's not all the words in their language.

AMANPOUR: OK. So this started ages and ages ago. And we're going to use our modern mappy (ph) here, to bring up some of the words from -- we'll pull up love, for instance.


AMANPOUR: Now love, apparently if I touch this, will show a huge history of different spellings throughout the ages.

PROFFITT: These are all the early spellings; spelling in English fixed around the 18th century. So it's -- in terms of the English language, it's relatively recent. All these spellings are -- date from before then. And most of them didn't survive later than that.

But if you want to know the way Shakespeare spelled love, for example, you need to know about these.

AMANPOUR: Do you know which one it was?

PROFFITT: More than one.

AMANPOUR: More than one?

PROFFITT: That's the thing. Because there wasn't fixed spelling -- and one of the things that we -- this is a good example of what we might do in terms of using, realizing the potential the OED as data, if you like, rather than just in the dictionary here.

If you're using a search engine, it's very literal minded. So in theory, you can include all those spellings, to retrieve all the examples in Shakespeare. So I've put them into a search engine and we'll all have them working behind the scenes, as it were, to allow you to just put in the cult current spelling, and retrieve all the relative examples from that period.

AMANPOUR: Can you pronounce those different -- ?


PROFFITT: I wouldn't even --

AMANPOUR: -- spellings?

PROFFITT: -- try to, no.


AMANPOUR: And then there are new words, as we've been saying; we had this year the selfie that was heard around the world, obviously President Obama, with the prime minister of Denmark and indeed the prime minister of Great Britain.

This -- everybody's made a huge big deal about it, the fact that it is in the Oxford English Dictionary. Should it really be there?

PROFFITT: Well, it's not actually in the dictionary.

AMANPOUR: It's not.

PROFFITT: It's in our current dictionary, which is -- I call it the Oxford Dictionary, so slightly confusing.

AMANPOUR: Well, tell us, what does that mean?

PROFFITT: Online, we have Oxford editions online.

Well, that's the current dictionary. So it's really for practical, you know, look up all contemporary words. It contains short definitions. OED is about giving you the whole history.

We looked at some of those variant spellings, the other spellings, telling you about the biography of a word, if you like. So you see the whole life story. And a lot of our most common words are -- go back centuries and centuries, right back to Old English.

AMANPOUR: So let's go to new English, selfie is a new English word.

PROFFITT: Yes, it's --

AMANPOUR: What are the others that you have? I know there's defriend --


AMANPOUR: -- for instance.

PROFFITT: Defriend's in the OED --

AMANPOUR: Because I used to use unfriend, by the way.

PROFFITT: Ah, well, both, in fact. And what's interesting about unfriend is -- this is often the case when we research words. We find an example of unfriend from 1594.



PROFFITT: A slightly difference sense. It was somebody saying I hope this event hasn't unfriended us, meaning, you know --

AMANPOUR: Not to have to lost a friend.

PROFFITT: Yes, exactly. No, lost their -- they would have lost the friendship between them.

It's I hope it hasn't, you know, estranged us; whereas all the late use is about, you know, unfriending somebody deliberately as an act. Defriend means the same when you put that cluster of words in. But unfriend is an anger goes back even further. So an unfriend is an enemy, going right back to Old English.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me bring you some new English back to Old English, some of these things that some people can't stand, other people use just -- OMG, for instance. Where was that first turn up?

PROFFITT: Well, first turned up -- and this will surprise most people -- in a letter that an admiral wrote to Winston Churchill in 1917. So it's not quite the youth speech that is decried, is it?

AMANPOUR: It is amazing to read that.

And everybody is always using it, including me, I'm sure, the word literally when they don't really mean literally.

PROFFITT: Yes, and Mark Twain is recorded as using that -- and he was the most liked really --

AMANPOUR: Why do you think we do that?

Why do we fall into that trap with literally?

PROFFITT: Well, with literally, I think it's interesting -- it's picked up as a particularly problematic word, because there's lots of words, other words like actually or really, that could be sort of prescribed in the same way. You could say that that's supposed to be used only in a very strict sense.

Literally is one where clearly a number of people use it for exaggerated effect. And it works. I guess it gets the attention.

AMANPOUR: And just let me ask you, because right now, in Calcutta, India, they're in the middle of the world's biggest book fair; millions and millions of people are expected to go there; millions of books to be sold.

What's your thought on that in this age of everybody on Kindle and iPad and everything else?

PROFFITT: I think it's great. I mean, I have a huge affection a printed book. I read printed books all the time. I have an e-reader, too. I'm glad that all the formats are surviving.

I think that's one of the lessons of studying the language as well, is that words survive, books survive. There's always people who say that the language is in decline or, you know, the book trade is in decline.

But in fact, what happens is that, you know, they find their medium. And you know, e-sales will go up. But I think print books will survive.

AMANPOUR: And the spoken word, a lot of these words that we find in the dictionary, whether it's the Oxford English or online or whatever, are also part of, you know, people's ability to communicate verbally.

PROFFITT: Yes. I think the spoken and written language are a bit closer than they used to be. And that's partly because of the Internet, it's a written medium, fundamentally, and mobile communications are.

But they reflect the spoken language much more closely than book publishing did in the past.

AMANPOUR: All right. Thank you very much indeed and congratulations on being --

PROFFITT: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: -- OED's new chief editor, the first in 20 years.

Michael Proffitt, thanks for joining me.

PROFFITT: Pleasure.


AMANPOUR: Now just remember, it took 70 years to get the first edition out. The third edition was started 20 years ago and that won't be finished until 2037. That's if it's ever published. Michael Proffitt told me they'll decide closer to the date whether there will still be the demand.

And one word that never made it into the OED is Gandhistan. Shortly after the assassination of mahatma Gandhi, which took place 66 years ago today, there was a resolution to change the name of India to Gandhistan in his honor. The measure never passed and six decades later, we remember the man not by place names and monuments. No, we remember Gandhi for his philosophy of non-violence, a form of civil disobedience that inspired other visionaries, like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.

We'll have a final word about the hellish vision in Syria when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama spoke of diplomatic pressure that's forced Syria to surrender its stockpile of chemical weapons.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American diplomacy backed by the threat of force is why Syria's chemical weapons are being eliminated.


OBAMA: And we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve, a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.


AMANPOUR: But now imagine a world where dictatorship, terror and fear and 95 percent of those chemical weapons remain in place. The United Nations-backed Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, and charged with locating and destroying those caches of sarin and mustard gas, now says, quote, "Only a small portion of the stockpile has been shipped out, perhaps only 5 percent."

As cargo ships wait to transport these weapons to their eventual destruction, the Assad regime is dragging its feet and fails to deliver, now eight weeks behind schedule. It blames the civil war it continues to wage for making it more difficult. A new definition of chutzpah for the Oxford English Dictionary, perhaps.

And all the while, even as both sides sit around the peace table in Geneva, the Syrian government conducts a scorched earth policy against its own people. These satellite images just released as part of a new Human Rights Watch report, show a neighborhood in Damascus before and after its demolition last summer. Buildings have become graveyards, and graveyards shelters for thousands of civilians left homeless and besieged, literally starved for food, water and electricity, not only in Damascus but in once- thriving cities like Aleppo and Homs.

No, it's not the Middle Ages; it is modern Syria, where diplomats keep talking and people keep dying for a crust of bread.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.