2. Ukraine. Defining the «Other»
The role of the ‘Other’
National collective self-consciousness requires, at the very least, a minimum perception of ‘Others’ beyond one’s recognized borders. Foreign policy plays an important role in nation- and state-building by defining the state internationally and domestically as different to other states. For any country of the former USSR committed to nation- and state-building, the definition of its sovereignty is a central question that would inevitably bring it into dispute with a Russia that, due to its size and power, is likely to be, or strives to become, a regional hegemon (Barner-Barry and Hody, 1995: 344).
Since 2000, Russia under President Vladimir Putin has returned to many of these ideological tenets, as seen by the re-institution of the Soviet national anthem with new lyrics. The new Russian anthem was supported by a crossparty consensus, including the majority of Russian democratic parties. Ukraine’s growing national self-identification is closely tied to differentiating itself from ‘Others’. Russia is the closest in historical, cultural, linguistic and ethnic terms and therefore there is a need to distance Ukraine even more from it than is the case for central Europeans.
Language plays a crucial role in self-identification as it is potentially a symbol of one’s distinctiveness, and language is often (although, as we have seen, not always) an important factor in differentiating ethnic communities.
‘The different function of language becomes particularly relevant when, as in the case of the Ukrainians who are culturally and religiously relatively close to the Russians, there are few other unambiguous symbols of differences available’ (Farmer, 1980: 123, 211).
The fact that an independent Eire largely speaks English made little difference because Eire was predominantly Gaelic in culture and separated by sea from Anglo-Saxon England. Language becomes more important when cultures are in conflict, as in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein insisted on the use of Gaelic in the Northern Irish Assembly to prove its commitment to Irish culture and to show its authenticity as an Irish nationalist movement.
The debate within Ireland after it achieved home rule after 1922 was strikingly similar to that in Ukraine after 1992. In both countries, knowledge of the Gaelic and Ukrainian languages was perceived as a test of patriotism. This led to fears on the part of the English-speaking Irish and Russianspeaking Ukrainians of forced assimilation. Both countries debated to what extent the negative aspects of the colonial past should be discarded, particularly in the language sphere. Should Russification and Anglicization be completely or partially reversed? Indeed, is it feasible to completely turn back the clock to a mythical precolonial era?
Domestic divisions in the use of Russia as the ‘Other’
Those on the radical left (communists and progressive socialists) in Ukraine remain committed to a ‘Russia’ and Eurasia that they perceive as the stepping stone to the revival of the former USSR. The radical left, who commanded 30 percent of the popular vote in the 1990s, see both the West andthe new post-Soviet and anti-communist Russia as the ‘Other’. To the left, the West represents many of the old Soviet negative stereotypes of NATO, the IMF and World Bank that are reducing Ukraine to a ‘colonial’ state.
The leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Petro Symonenko, argues: ‘It is no longer possible for Ukraine to resolve any type of big question of its internal and external policies without agreement with its overseas lords.’ Government programmes and presidential decrees are therefore allegedly Ukrainian-language translations of documents produced by institutions such as the IMF. ‘The main outcome of all of this is that the colonization of Ukraine continues’ (Holos Ukraiiny, 21 November 1997)
- Ukraine’s communists ardently believe that when Ukraine was part of the former USSR it had far greater sovereignty than that which it enjoys today. Because Ukraine’s communists are also pan-eastern Slavic in their ideology they do not see wide differences between Russians and Ukrainians (a view similar to Belarusian President Lukashenka). Hence, they support Russian as a second state language and Russians, constitutionally defined, as a second titular nation (and not, as in the June 1996 constitution, as a ‘national minority’).
- The radical left face a difficult challenge domestically and abroad (Haran and Majboroda, 2000). Unless they are allied to the moderate left Socialist and Peasant Parties the radical left will never be able to command enough votes to obtain a large presence in parliament or in presidential
Although the socioeconomic crisis has made large numbers of people understandably nostalgic for the Soviet past, they also remember the negative political and human rights record of the Soviet regime. A party calling for the revival of the USSR, such as the communists, will never therefore succeed in gaining either a majority in parliament or the presidency, a factor reflected in the defeat of the Ukrainian communist leader in the second round of the 1999 presidential elections.
- The Soviet past therefore conjures up mixed feelings for the Ukrainian population – it is a positive ‘Other’ socioeconomically and a negative ‘Other’ politically. The latter aspect is likely to grow as more people will become socialized into the new Ukrainian historiography that discusses
negative aspects of the Soviet regime, such as the 1933 artificial famine that claimed seven million lives. The year 2000 was also the first year of Ukrainian economic growth and, if the economy continues to improve, nostalgia for the Soviet past will narrow to hard-core communist supporters
RUSSIA AS UKRAINE’S CONSTITUTING ‘OTHER’
The national consensus achieved during the declaration of independence by Ukraine on 24 August 1991, and its subsequent endorsement by 92 percent of the population in a referendum on 1 December 1991, cannot be understood without reference to the role of the ‘Party of Power’ (i.e. deideologized former national communists).
They jumped the Soviet ship, refused to sign Mikhail Gorbachev’s Union Treaty, and went into alliance with the pro-independence Rukh. While some motive may be ascribed to territorial patriotism (Ukraine has a tradition of national communism going back to 1917–1921) a pre-eminent factor must have also been a negation of developments then taking place in Russia. Russia, under President Borys Yeltsin, was then riding a victorious anti-communist, pro-free market philosophy that felt threatening to these former national communists in Ukraine.
- Ukraine did not inherit a uniform national identity. Its post-Soviet nation- and state-building project is therefore bound up with a debate over how this identity will be constituted and in what manner its neighbours will be ‘Others’.
- Tension with neighbours shapes this national identity because all identities require ‘Others’ that are constantly evolving over time (Prizel, 1998: 18). This is particularly the case in newly independent countries (such as Ukraine) which harbour a cultural and political resentment against the former imperial power that manifests itself in feelings of political and social injustice, culture defensiveness, a fascination with the past, and resentment at being marginalized in European integration and internationally (Prizel, 1998: 23–4).
- William Zimmerman (1998) believes that Ukrainian and Russian identities are diverging and that this is most evident in how they perceive the outside world. As he argues: ‘it seems clear that Ukrainians across all three regions operate with cognitions of their political world that are different inimportant ways from those of respondents in the three regions of European Russia’ (p. 52).
- Russians were far more likely to uphold an assertive foreign policy towards the outside world (e.g. on NATO enlargement). Therefore, the Russian and Ukrainian foreign policy dialogues are different and ‘Ukrainians tend to define their answers in ways which imply underlying parameters that set the terms of the foreign policy dialogue in ways that Russians do not’ (Zimmerman, 1998: 53). This was clearly seen in 1999 when both the Ukrainian ruling elites and population reacted in a far more constrained manner to NATO’s bombing of Kosovo and Serbia.
- Ukraine never, for example, halted its cooperation with NATO, unlike Russia. The NATO Information Centre was only closed in Moscow, not Kyiv.
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