1. Ukraine. Defining the «Other»
National identity is never fixed but always in the process of changing and evolving. Its construction differs over time, requires difference, and is never a finished process or complete. Debates about identity occur in every country and not only in newly independent states, such as Ukraine.
The revival and evolution of identity among Ukrainians after the disintegration of the former USSR is helping to make this identity more self-confident visa-vis the outside world. Ukraine is likely to forge its new national identity in the short term through reintegration with Europe by emphasizing itself as part of central-eastern Europe.
This is being undertaken by contrasting itself to the Russian, former Soviet and Eurasian ‘Other’. Competing political groups in the Ukrainian elites relate to ‘Europe’ and Russia in different
ways because no consensus exists. This article focuses upon the role of Ukrainian elites in nation- and statebuilding because they are playing the key role in the construction of national identity in post-Soviet states via a top-down process.
It therefore does not discuss the views of the population at large, which have been dealt withelsewhere (see Arel and Khmelko, 1996). The theoretical framework is therefore consistent with a constructivist view of elite manipulation of public opinion during the nation-building process. The formation of a Ukrainian collective identity different to Russia’s is still in the process of formation but this article agrees with William Zimmerman (1998) that a ‘process of differentiation’ is already taking place. Nevssertheless, this process of differentiation ‘constitutes a core element in state and politicalcommunity formation’.
‘OTHERNESS’ AND IDENTITY: A THREE-POINT THEORETICAL SURVEY
The first area this article investigates is whether the construction of a national identity requires the use of a constituting ‘Other’ to create external difference. Often though, this tells us more about ourselves than about the ‘Other’ against whom we are constituting ourselves. As Iver Neumann (1993) points out, ‘Identity is inconceivable without difference’ and in constructing new identities nationalists and new ruling elites are forced ‘to contrast that identity to something different’ (p. 350).
John A. Armstrong (1982) also argues that ‘groups tend to define themselves not by reference to their own characteristics but by exclusion, that is, by comparison to “strangers” ’ (p. 5). Therefore, when discussing ‘our culture’ a distinction has to be made between ‘us’ (the ‘Self’) which is contrasted to the ‘Other’ (Gupta and Ferguson, 1992). The relationship between the ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ is fluid, particularly in postcolonial settings such as the former USSR (Penrose, 1995: 402).
Otherness and national identity are closely related as they define who the ‘We’ and ‘They’ are (Connor, 1993: 386; Eriksen, 1993: 11–18, 35, 62, 111; Parekh, 1994: 503, Pieterse, 1997: 371; Schopflin, 1991: 193; Taras, 1998: 84).
‘They’ are the ‘Others’ who are not regarded as a part of the political community, nation, or as citizens of the state. Civic nation-building therefore involves two processes – exclusion of ‘Others’ and inclusion of citizens as the ‘We’ (Nieguth, 1999). Identity cannot be understood except in relation to ‘Others’ because without ‘Otherness’ a bounded in-group will be difficult to construct.
Nation- and state-building projects generate the self and ‘Others’ in the course of the formation of the polity (Alonso, 1994). Jan Penrose (1995) believes that ‘as individuals liken themselves to some people and distinguish themselves from others, bonds are formed between people who see themselves as similar’ (p. 402). It is the task of state and nation-builders to ensure that inclusion and exclusion are codified and maintained (James, 1996: 33).
Without such markers a new national identity will not be created because it is through confrontation with the ‘Other’ that the community sees what it is not, and what it lacks by recognizing its ‘constitutive outside’ (Hall, 1996a: 4–5).
In the early years of independence, postcolonial states, such as Ukraine, have to assert their identity and sovereignty vis-a-vis the former metropolis, now defined as the ‘Other’. Where identities are threatened, as in the Ukrainian case, the codification of borders becomes doubly important (Eriksen, 1993: 68; Smith, 1998: 182).
Sometimes these differences are based upon stereotypes which exist in all societies and define the boundaries of groups (Eriksen, 1993: 23). Alan Finlayson (1998) believes that ‘to be itself the nation must always produce that antagonistic other which prevents it from being itself’ (p. 116). ‘Moscow’ is perceived as having stunted and harmed the development of the national organism by the ruling elites of the majority of the post-Soviet states. But how are ‘Russia’ and ‘Moscow’ defined when there is no elite consensus?
After all, ‘Moscow’ can be defined in different ways – in ethnic terms as ‘Russian’, in territorial terms as the capital city of the former USSR (often used synonymously with ‘Russia’) and in ideological terms as the centre of Soviet communism.
A second point to note is that ‘Otherness’ can occur even between societies with no great cultural and ethnic differences. These societies could be territorially close and the ‘Other’ could thus be perceived as threatening to the core identity. These ‘significant Others’ can blur the distinctiveness of the group and therefore pose a threat to the very identity of the group. They are therefore more of a direct threat to the group’s survival. The public enemy:
. . . does not have to be morally evil, he [sic] does not have to be aesthetically ugly, he does not have to appear as an economic competition, and it can . . . even be advantageous to have business dealings with him. He is nevertheless the other, the stranger. (Neumann and Welsh, 1991: 332) Research into group behaviour has shown how there can be strong competition between two groups where in reality there is very little to differentiate them. In the initial phase of nation-building, identity is shaped in the struggle with the former metropolis, now the ‘Other’. According to Triandafyllidou (1998), this can be particularly severe, as in the Ukrainian– Russian case, when rival nations contest territory, history and cultural heritage ‘by asserting that specific myths, symbols and/or ancestry are part of their national past’.
This is a direct threat to the viability of the former dependency (i.e. Ukraine) because ‘They thus threaten the ingroup’s sense of uniqueness and authenticity. The ingroup may therefore be led to redefine its identity in order to assert that the contested symbols or myths are its own cultural property’ (p. 602).
This has occurred in the Ukrainian–Russian case through the contest over history because historiography, myths and legends – which are structured by culture – in order to establish who is in and who is out (Schopflin, 1997: 20). Wilson (1997), Wanner (1998) and Kuzio (1998a) have all stressed the centrality of historiography, myths and symbols to Ukraine’s redefinition of itself and the creation of a new national identity different to the ethnic or territorial Russian and former Soviet ‘Other’.
Ukraine had little choice but to reject Tsarist or Soviet historiography that denied the very existence of a Ukrainian ethnic group or defined it as a temporary historical aberration (Janmaat, 2000).
If there is no consensus on the ‘Other’, the choice of historical myths and how the past is portrayed will be inconsistent. In the Ukrainian–Russian case four examples will suffice to show this. Is the medieval Kyiv Rus’ state an embryo Ukrainian state (as Ukrainian historiography claims), the first ‘Russian’ state (as traditional Western and Tsarist historiography claims) or the joint property of all three eastern Slavs (Kuzio, 2001b)?
In the Soviet era, historical study of Kyiv Rus was only allowed to be undertaken in Russia, even though Moscow was founded 600 years later than Kyiv [Kiev], because Ukrainian history was deemed to have only begun in the 14th century. Is the 1654 Periaslav Treaty the ‘reunification’ of two ‘Russian peoples’ (as Tsarist and Soviet historiography claimed), the annexation of one country by another, or the creation of a temporary confederal alliance (as Ukrainian historiography argues)? Were the Bolshevik invasions of Ukraine in 1917–21 from communist Russia or an ideological group; in other words, should Russians as an ethnic group or a communist ideology be blamed for the loss of Ukrainian independence in 1920?
Finally, should the Soviet regime be depicted as the enemy and the misfortunes suffered by Ukraine be blamed on ‘Russia’ or communist ideology from which Russians also suffered? Did ‘Russia’ gain or lose from its leadership of the USSR?
Geopolitics Nations Parties Person Crisis Euroskeptic Society Youtube
*YOUTUBE – What Does ‘Peace Through Strength’ Mean Today? Rodger Baker Responds. Readers have asked some thoughtful questions about “Understanding America’s Global Role in the Age of Trump,” the most recent column from VP of Strategic Analysis Rodger Baker.
*YOUTUBE – Lionel Barber, editor of the FT, and Gideon Rachman discuss the major political events of 2016, including the election of Donald Trump in the US, and how they will affect the global order in 2017.
*YOUTUBE – Noam Chomsky on Trump and the decline of the American Superpower.