Pondering Ukraine”s Identity Construct

Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VI:
“Ukraine’s Transition to an Established National Identity”

“Surviving Stalin and Hitler”:
Pondering Ukraine”s Identity Construct in the 20th Century

Myroslav Popovych

Remarks by Myroslav Popovych, Director of the Hryhoriy Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy of the Shevchenko National Academy of Sciences delivered during Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood, Roundtable VI: “Ukraine’s Transition to an Established National Identity” Washington DC, Tue-Wed, September 27-28, 2005

The national self-identification, which coincides with definitions of the citizenship, is something new in the political and cultural life of Ukraine. “Nationality” and “citizenship” were clearly distinguished in Soviet times. The notion “political nation” was absent, and in mass consciousness “nation” means the same as “ethnical origin”. Sometimes it was a source of confusion.

In the rhetoric of Yushchenko during the first stage of his presidential campaign he often used the words “nation”, “my nation”, “Ukrainians” and so on without restrictions, and it was a cause of some misunderstandings, since in a mass-consciousness “the nation” means “the ethnical group”.

Here the usage returned to the European tradition (it was underlined many times by president Yushchenko), and in political dictionary “to be a Ukrainian” means “to be a citizen of Ukraine”, but not something associated with the Ukrainian “blood and earth”.

In official documents the references to the ethnical birth of the person are absent, but the origin and self-identification is taken into account in the national census and sociological investigations. It is a more or less significant factor in everyday life and in political activity of Ukrainians, especially in a definition of Ukrainian-Russian relations (and, respectively, the attitude to the West).

We’ll discuss factors pertaining to national self-identification in our political life and must define the influence of ethnical birth of a Ukrainian citizen on his political choices.

Professor V. Khmelko in his report “Presidential elections 2004 in Ukraine: Sociological Aspects” showed the dependence of the ratings of voters during the last presidential campaign from their actions in national and ethno-linguistic politics.

For example, the declaration of Yanukovich in September about his support of a new official status of the Russian language, the double citizenship and neutral international status of Ukraine immediately added him 10% of potential voters, first of all in eastern and southern parts of Ukraine.

The aggravation of the political situation in Ukraine during the presidential elections is to some degree connected with Russian-Ukrainian interrelations inside Ukraine, while there were not any ethnic conflicts between Russians and Ukrainians like the conflicts between Serbs and Croats in Yugoslavia.

What were the real influences of ethnical factors on the development of the political situation in Ukraine?

According to official statistics the Ukrainians constitute 77.8% of the population of Ukraine, or 37.5 million from the 48.5 million of the whole population (2001). The Russians constitute – 17.3% or 8.3 million. The population of Ukraine between the censuses of 1989 and 2001 was reduced by 3.3 million; in particular, the Russian population decreased by 26%, or about 2.4 million.

We don’t know how many Russians emigrated to Russia and how many people simply changed their national self-identification, but we can suppose, the emigration of Russians to their historical homeland is a demographically significant fact and at the same time it never assumed mass flight proportions.

The regions with the greatest part of Russian population are the industrial South and East of Ukraine; especially in these regions the reduction of the Russian population was large (from 20 to 33%). (1) But even in these industrial regions, where the Russian language prevails absolutely, ethnic Russians constitute a minority (20%).

Usually the problem of the connection between political orientations and national self-identification of Ukrainians was examined on the basis of socio-linguistic data. The investigations of Ukrainian sociologists from the common Ukrainian-American enterprise “Kyiv international institute of sociology” discovered new sides to the problem.

Statistics do not doubt that every citizen belongs to one and only one national (ethnic) community. But is it really so?

Sociologists in Kyiv assumed that people’s identity was the result of a determined consciousness of belonging to any nationality and a vague one. The earlier mentioned case used three constructs – Ukrainians, Russians and a new identity, which we call “biethnors.”

Biethnors are people who attribute themselves membership at to both nationalities at the same time. The choice of a language for everyday communication doesn’t immediately depend upon this national self-identification.

The results of the investigations were sensational: according to results of 13 surveys of adults during a period from 1994 to 2003, only 60-63% of the population identified themselves as Ukrainians, 11-10% – as Russians and 24.4% in the 1990s, 22.5% in our century – as biethnors.

Naturally, the part of biethnors in West and South of Ukraine were higher than in East and Central Ukraine: in the western region of Ukraine, ethnic Ukrainians made up 92.6% of the population while Russians consisted of only 1.4%. The Ukrainian-Russian biethnors comprised 6%. In the East ethnic Ukrainians constitute 34% of the population, Russians made up 20.8% and biethnors comprised 45% of the population! (2)

Historically, the fact of “biethnority” corresponds to the politics of the old Russian empire with respect to Ukrainians. The predominant ideology of Russian power didn’t deny that Ukrainians constitute some peculiar ethnical group, but Russian power insisted that the Ukrainian cultural and political characteristics remain local and provincial.

Officially this position was expressed in a formula “two (small) homelands, one fatherland.”

Nobody from Russian patriots insisted, that the Poles have her own fatherland; from the Russian point of view Poland simply submitted to Russia as a result of an ancient domestic struggle for the first position in the great Slavic family.

But Ukrainian movements of national liberation were qualified as betrayals, and traitors such as Hetman Mazepa were qualified as men “without fatherland” (see an example of this tradition by the great Russian poet and humanist thinker Pushkin in his patriotic poem “Poltava”). This ideology of “one common Russian-Ukrainian fatherland” survived through different historical ages.

But the historical roots of modern events doesn’t explain their modern political sources and political meaning in today’s life.

From the point of view of the Ukrainian-Russian biethnor an essential difference between Russians and Ukrainians doesn’t exist; the cultural characteristics accessible to him are the same in both cultures. For most of the population of Ukraine (for 52% of the whole population, and for about 41% of ethnical Ukrainians) (3) the Russian language is more convenient for communication than the Ukrainian one.

Some correspondence with political sympathies is evident, but the assertion, that the Ukrainian-speaking part of the population of Ukraine supported Yushchenko and Russian-speaking supported Yanukovich, would be simply wrong.

We can suppose, of course, there is a low level of culture among the populations which identifies themselves as biethnors. Notably, the biethnor deals only with the Russian and Ukrainian urban culture, where the differences are weak or don’t exist.

Of course, it means, that we must deal not only with a nation-state,
but take into account such reality, as a nation-culture (or, according to Tonnies, remembering the difference between nation as society – die Gesellschaft – and nation as community – die Gemeinschaft).

But in this case we deal with a mass political culture, and emotional valuation such as “under-developed Ukrainians” only disturbs the comprehension of the problem.

First of all it means that the difference in political positions of the regions of Ukraine can’t be explained simply by its population belonging to different ethnic communities. The fact of different national (ethnic) self-determination must be explained. The question is why the linguo-ethnic distinctions are relevant in one case (for example, in the Centre of Ukraine) and irrelevant in another (in the South or East).

We can suppose that the advancement of different regions of Ukraine to the European standard of life and European institutions and values is uneven, and that is a source of frictions between the regions.

The transition to the European world consists of the establishment of a system of institutions of (1) parliamentary democracy, (2) market economy and (3) national-state system (“nation-state”). In the Ukrainian political reality different regions were in different manners and different degrees oriented on these values.

The idea of national independence was widely distributed in Ukraine, but the centre of this activity was and remains in West of Ukraine and especially in Galicia.

The historical center of Ukraine with Kyiv is perceptible in different trends, but as a centre of culture and education it has a maximal sensibility to the ideas of political freedom.

Finally, the industrial South and East is a region with a trade-unionist consciousness. Earlier there was a “red belt” of Ukraine, now this region demonstrates some kind of solidarity – not “horizontal” solidarity (as in a case of opposition “democracy-autocracy” or “our own national State – alien national State”), but “vertical” one, immediately connected to the locality in question.

It is not without reason that the party of Yanukovych called itself “The party of regions”. The enthusiasm of “donetskye” and so on fellow-countrymen could withstand Ukrainian national-patriotic enthusiasm.

Returning to the problem of national identification, we can ask ourselves: is the enthusiasm representative of a “horizontal” solidarity, a kind of national-patriotic feeling?

If we remember the days of “Orange Revolution”, we can definitely say: no, it wasn’t simply an experience of national self-identification on ethnical ground. The fundamental values, which defined the feelings and behavior of thousands and thousands of men and woman, were values of freedom and justice.

However at the same time, it was a very high and romantic experience of a feeling of belonging to one political nation, one political and cultural community. The people were proud because they defended not simply Ukraine, but their homeland as a country of justice and democracy.

(1) See Zinych V.T., Suchasni etnodemohrafichni protsesy v Ukrayini. K., 2004., s. 15
(2) Khmelko V. Ye. Dlinhvo-etnichna struktura Ukrayiny: rehionalni osoblyvosti i tendentsiyi zminy za roky nezalezhnosty. // Natsionalnyi universitet “Kyyevo-Mohylianska Akademia”. Naukovi zapysky. Tom 32. Sotsiolohichni nauky. 2004. s. 3-15
(3) Ibidem. p.14