Mykola Riabchuk - Ambiguous 'Borderland': Ukrainian Identity on the Crossroads of West and East


This paper aims to explore the Ukrainian identity-in-the-making as an important factor of

European both geopolitical and cultural self-identification. The author argues that, since 19th century, there have always been and still are two different options for Ukrainian national and territorial elites: to embark on a 'Central-East European' project of nation-building or to further benefit from some regional role in a more general project of 'Greater Russian', or Soviet, or East Slavonic empire-building. The first option would inevitably mean the full integration of Ukraine into Euro-Atlantic structures and, probably, a gradual transformation of neighboring Russia into a 'normal' and basically European nation-state. The second option would certainly mean the revival of some sort of 'Eurasian' empire that has always been strongly biased if not completely hostile against the West. Thus, Ukrainian path and pace of development would largely determine where the Europe's eastern border is set and, even more importantly, what kind of a border it might be.


"Our Western Orientation"

As early as 1918, a prominent Ukrainian historian Mykhaylo Hrushevsky who happened at the time to head the short-lived Ukrainian People's Republic, published a cycle of political pamphlets under the characteristic title: "On the Threshold of the New Ukraine". There, he tried to outline the basic principles and parameters for the nascent Ukrainian state to be built upon. He talked on the army, and culture, and state apparatus, and certainly on the various aspects of Ukraine's international politics, quintessentially defined in the title of one of his essays - "Our Western Orientation".

As a professional historian, he had plenty of facts at hand to prove that, for centuries, "Ukraine had been living the same life with the West, experiencing the same ideas and borrowing cultural models and resources for its own culture building". Yet, he knew also that since the end of the 18th century Ukrainian contacts with the West "had weakened and declined under the pressure of forceful Russification of Ukrainian life; and the whole Ukrainian life and culture had been drawn into a Russian, Greater Russian, period". As a result,

"the 19th-century Ukraine was torn off from the West, from Europe, and turned to the North, pushed forcefully into the deadlock of the Greater Russian [imperial] culture and life. The entire Ukrainian life was uprooted from its natural environment, from the historically and geographically determined way of developement, and thrown away onto the Russian soil, for destruction and pillage."[1]

"Return to Europe" therefore was seen by a leading Ukrainian nation-builder as a return to the norm, a fixing of some historical injustice and perversion, a healing of certain developmental pathology. Such a romantic approach eventuated quite naturally from the entire history of the modern Ukrainian nationalism which, from its very emergence in the first half of the 19th century, had to emphasize the Ukrainian "otherness" vis-ŕ-vis Russia.[2] This meant, in particular, that Ukrainain activists not just praised the alleged Ukrainian "Europeanness" as opposed to the devilish Russian "Asiaticness"; they had had to accept the whole set of the Western liberal-democratic values as presumably "natural" and "organic" for Ukrainians (yet, of course, absolutely "unnatural" for Russians).

Characteristically yet, that all these emphatic statements of Ukrainian "Europeanness" have been built upon the facts from the early rather than late Ukrainian history.

"The Kievan State [argued a leading Ukrainian intellectual Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky] combined a predominantly Eastern, Greek, Byzantine religious and cultural tradition with a predominantly Western social and political structure... Political Byzantinism remained totally alien to Kievan Rus'... In pre-Mongol Rus, as in the medieval West - and in contrast to Byzantium and Moscow - political and ecclesiastical authority were not fused, but remained distinct, with each of the two autonomous in its own sphere. A social system characterized by contractual relations, a strong regard for the rights and the dignity of the individual, limitation of the power of the prince by a council of boyars and a popular assembly, autonomous communal city life, territorial decentralization of a quasi-federative nature - all this gave the Kiev polity a distinct libertarian imprint. And this libertarian, essentially European spirit also characterizes Ukrainian state organizations of later epochs. The Galician-Volhynian state of the 13th and 14th centuries evolved toward a feudal structure, and full-fledged feudalism, including feudal parliamentarism, may be found in the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state of the 14th through 16th centuries. The Cossack State of 17th and 18th centuries possessed a system of estates (Ständestaat). It was not a coincidence that in the 19th century, during the epoch when Ukraine was politically assimilated to the Russian Empire, all-Russian liberalism and constitutionalism found its strongest support in the Ukrainian provinces of the Empire."[3]

Another Ukrainian intellectual, a prominent Byzantologist Ihor Sevcenko, in the essay under the same title ("Ukraine between East and West") has also argued that "the West's influence on parts of Ukrainian territory began before 1349, acquired considerable intensity after 1569, and continued over the vast expanse of the Ukrainian lands until 1793. When we take into account the impact of Polish elites in the western Ukrainian lands and on the right bank of the Dnieper, this influence can be seen to have continued until 1918 or even 1939." He admitted, however, that "this West was, for the most part, clad in the Polish kontusz... and its principal cultural message in the decisive turning point between the 16th and 17th centuries was carried by the Polish variant of the Counter-Reformation." Moreover, as a professional Byzantologist he had to differentiate "the primary influence of the Byzantine 'East' [that] came to Ukraine from the South, both from the Byzantine capital itself and through the Byzantinized Balkans," and "the secondary influence" that "came from the North, to some extent from Muscovite tsardom, but, mainly later, also from the Russian Empire."[4]

An impartial academic analysis had led him to a rather unpleasant, for many Ukrainians, conclusion that as soon as "neo-Byzantinism, the cultural mainstay of the tsardom of Moscow, lost out [and] the new Russian Empire began to import its culture from the West on a large scale... it was that empire that soon provided its Ukrainian dominions with Western values." In sum, "an important general characteristic of Ukrainian cultural contacts both with the 'East' and with the West [was] the lack of direct access to original sources during long stretches of Ukrainian history. Ukrainians received cultural values from abroad through intermediaries... The Ukrainian secondarity carried a certain weakness with it."[5]

This was, perhaps, a good explanation for Hrushevsky's words on the "deadlock of the Great Russian culture," wherein Ukraine had been arguably pushed since the 18th century. It was not a matter of Russian culture per se, which had eventually become rather vibrant, attractive and hospitable for many Ukrainian newcomers. It was a problem of "secondarity" that, since then, became unavoidable, inescapable fate of the stateless nation disposed of its upper classes. Since then till present, Ukraine has been ruled by rather a territorial than the national elite, and this very fact has largely determined and still determines Ukraine's (under)development.

In 1918, however, neither Hrushevsky nor anyone else could predict that the Russian empire, in 10-15 years, would appear for many Ukarinians as a lost paradise, and the "entire Ukrainian life" would be exposed to further, much more cruel, destruction and pillage. It was only 1991, when the independent Ukraine recollected Hrushevsky's idea of the "return to Europe", and Hrushevsky himself returned into the national pantheon of the founding fathers of the new-old nation.

Still, the "return to Europe", although proclaimed officially as Ukraine's major strategic goal, has not been completed within the decade that followed, nor even any significant steps into the chosen direction have really been made. Somebody blames the West for being not interested in Ukraine's "return"; somebody blames Russia for the effective obstruction of Ukraine's efforts; somebody blames the Ukrainian leadership for paying lip-service to the idea and doing virtually nothing to accomplish it; and somebody blames the Ukrainian people who, by and large, prove to be not so "European" as many Ukrainian intellectuals have wishfully suggested.

Each argument is serious enough to be considered separately, although the national identity of the people (if broadly understood) seems to be the major factor that largely determines the various trends of current Ukrainian (under)development.


Multiple identities

Since the results of the recent (December 2001) national census in Ukraine have not yet been published, we must rely on the data of the last (1989) Soviet census that defined Ukrainian population as consisting of ethnic Ukrainians (73%), Russians (22%) and other nationalities (5%). It proved also that 88% of Ukrainians (i.e., 64% of the entire population) cited Ukrainian as their "native tongue" while 12% (i.e., 8% of the whole population) cited their "native tongue" to be Russian. As to the Russians, nearly 100% of them cited Russian as their "native tongue" - quite a natural move in the country where the russification policy reigned supreme.

Any observer, however, could easily notice in a great majority of Ukrainian cities that neither "ethnicity" was really important for many people nor Ukrainian language (which was qualified as a "native tongue" for two thirds of the population) could be heard anywhere in streets, stores, and other public premises. This made sociologists to question the dubious data and to embark on more elaborated research.

First, in their surveys, they provided more options for people with dual or situational identity. Thus, only 56% of the respondents defined their identity as "Ukrainian only", even less (11%) as "Russian only", while nearly 27% claimed they are both Ukrainian and Russian, including 7.4% "more Ukrainian than Russian", 14.3% "equally Ukrainian and Russian", and 4.9% "more Russian than Ukrainian".[6]

Second, the sociologists abandoned the notion of "native tongue" as emotionally charged and methodologically incorrect. Instead, they applied the notion of "language of preference", that is of a language in which the respondents prefer to communicate. Thus, they found out that only 40-45% of the ethnic Ukrainians would prefer to communicate in Ukrainian while 30-33% prefer Russian as the language of convenience. They also discovered that 60% of Ukrainians were fluent in Russian and 33% of Russians were fluent in Ukrainian. It means that, in terms of language fluency, Ukrainian population consists of Ukrainian monolinguals (20%), Ukrainian bilinguals (52%), Russian bilinguals (8%), and Russian monolinguals (14%). Furthermore, in terms of language quality, Ukrainian population proved to speak more or less equally in standard Ukrainian (40%), and standard Russian (42%), while the rest (18%) speak the so called "surzhyk" - a weird mixture of both languages.[7]

Instead of the clear Ukrainian ethnic majority and Russian minority, sociological surveys revealed two more or less equal ethno-linguistic groups that could be roughly defined as Ukrainophones and Russophones. The subsequent attempts to conceptualize Ukrainian society in rather cultural and linguistic than ethnic terms proved to be yet unsuccessful because of two reasons. First, they ignored the third, perhaps the largest "middle" group of the people who are bilingual (or, in the case of "surzhyk" - "half-lingual") and who, by and large, have a mixed, vague, and fluid identity. And second, they seem to have overestimated the language component in Ukrainian self-identification. In fact, according to a 1998 nation-wide survey, only 3.9% of the respondents supported the view that it is the Ukrainian language that makes someone a Ukrainian. 4.9% pointed out at "consciousness of Ukraine's separate history", 22.7% - at "Ukrainian ancestors", 17.3% - at "citizenship", and 40.4% - at "consciousness of oneself as a Ukrainian" (also, 10.7% gave no clear answer).[8] This does not mean, of course, that only the meager 3.9% of Ukrainians do care of their language. On the contrary, according to a recent (2000) survey, 94.7% of Ukrainian respondents and 83.4% of ethnic Russians agreed that their children/grandchildren should have definitely learned Ukrainian.[9] It rather means that the majority of Ukrainians just fully recognize that russification has gone too far and that the recovery needs much time and care. Therefore they highlight primarily the Ukrainian self-awareness (not the language) as the hallmark of national identity but implicitly they mean probably also some commitment to cultural and linguistic revival.

The same survey revealed that only 22.2% of the respondents fully agree with the view that "Ukraine should, in the main, be a state of the Ukrainian nation", and 9.3% rather agree; while 30.7% hold the view that "Ukraine should, in the main, be a state without ethnic designation", and 9.5% rather agree with this. (Also, 18.4% of the respondents took a middle ground between the two positions, and 9.8% failed to answer).[10] One may define the first view as "Ukrainophile" while the other is probably "Rusophile" or, rather, "Sovietophile". (It should not be confused with commitment to a Western-style "civic" state since there are no civic traditions in the post-soviet Ukraine but, rather, a lot of desire to preserve the post-colonial status-quo. For many people, the "state without ethnic designation" is little more than a direct, subconscious or conscious, reference to the Soviet Union).

If such a hypothesis is true, we would find many striking correlations between the number of "committed Ukrainians" (22-32%) and the numbers of people who, in March 1991, voted against the Gorbachov's "renewed federation"; who in December of the same year supported not only Ukrainian independence but also anti-communist, anti-soviet presidential candidates; who today support Ukrainian accession to NATO (23-25%) and oppose accession to the Russian-Belorussian union (23-26%);[11] who are in favor of a multi-party system in Ukraine (25-27%)[12] and who recently, in March 2002, supported national-democratic parties in the parliamentary elections (23% for Victor Yushchenko's "Our Ukraine" block and 7% for the block of Yulia Tymoshenko). And, inversely, the number of "committed Soviets" (30-40%), both "hard" and "soft", roughly coincides with the number of people who support Ukraine's putative union with Russia and Belarus (40.8% in 2000) and oppose Ukraine's accession to NATO (33.5%); who deny the need for a multiparty system (42-43%) and who insist on Russian language to become the second official language in Ukraine (44%)[13] (in practical terms, as a Belorussian experience graphically confirms, such a demand means nothing else but preservation of the post-colonial status-quo, that is further dominance of Russian and marginalization of Ukrainian).

In a recently published research on popular attitudes in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova towards "European" and/or "East Slavonic" integration of the respective nations, the authors had to recognize that "nationality as such made little difference... But language use was important in Ukraine, where the greater the use of Ukrainian at home, the lower the level of support for a closer association with Russia and other ex-Soviet republics."[14] They also confirmed that, in all four countries in question, there is a significant correlation between a "European choice" and pro-market parties as well as between a "Slavic choice" and a communist vote.[15] The same correlation exists in both Ukraine and Moldova and Belarus (but, characteristically, not in Russia) between a "European choice" and the so called "nationalists". The authors, however, explain this phenomenon rather simplistically. The pro-European position, they argue, "attracted substantial support from nationalists" because for them, presumably, "admission into the European Union was the most effective way of distancing themselves from the limited sovereignty that they had enjoyed within the USSR." The more complex truth, yet, is that the "nationalists" and pro-market liberals in all these countries (except Russia) are largely the same people, called not by chance "national democrats". Although not for all but for many of them, the "nationalistic" agenda is just a part of a more general project of political liberation and democratic reforms.

Again, in Ukraine, the sociological surveys reveal a strong correlation between the number of "committed Ukrainians" (that is "nationalists") and supporters of market reforms, as well as between the number of "committed Soviets" and ardent opponents of free market. In a 2001 nation-wide survey, 26% of respondents agreed that the president's main feature must be commitment to democracy and market reforms; while 35% suggested he must primarily care of social justice and equality. (22% of respondents failed to answer, and 15% told that president's "capitalist/socialist" orientation does not matter, he must be just a strong and bright personality).[16] Nearly the same number of people within the same survey agreed that it is better to have an economy with high consumer prices but no shortages and queues (24%), while 34% stated out the opposite (again, 40% remained undecided).[17]

Even though correlation between language, identity and social/political attitudes is not absolutely straight and rigidly predetermined, it is statistically significant and applicable for all sorts of political prognosis as well as (alas) manipulations. Apparently, the highest level of national self-awareness and the strongest commitment to European integration and Western liberal-democratic values can be discerned in the least Russified western part of the country, while the lowest level of national consciousness and strongest Sovietophile, anti-Western attitudes can be found in the most Russified/Sovietized south-eastern regions.[18] This creates very strong temptation to conceptualize Ukraine in a rather simplistic way, by counter-opposing the "nationalistic" West and "Sovietophile" East in some Manichean mode.


Two Ukraines

Indeed, anybody who visits extreme eastern and western Ukraine, for example, Donetsk and Lviv, inevitably feels the profound differences between the two regions, as if in reality they belonged to two different countries, two different worlds, two different civilizations. Architectural dissimilitude is the most immediately evident. Lviv is a typical Central European city, having been governed under the Magdeburg Law for centuries. French classicism and Austrian "moderne-Jugendstil" eventually supplemented German Gothic, Italian Renaissance and Polish Baroque. Today the faithful fill the numerous churches on feast-days, and little cafes have always attracted people wanting to meet and chat, even during Soviet times.

Beneath the surface, the differences are no less substantial. Western Ukrainians have never internalized communism, never perceived the Soviet Union as "their own" country, and never believed that the Soviet Army had come to liberate them as it claimed rather than to replace some other occupants. They defiantly continued to have their children baptized (in the officially banned, underground Greek Catholic "Uniate" church), and to transmit the traditional sophisticated culinary recipes from grandmothers to young ladies. This habit had disappeared in Eastern Ukraine due to permanent food shortages and the total pauperization of everyday life. Western Ukrainian peasants who put on their suits and white shirts and ties and polished shoes every Sunday for church are rather difficult to imagine in eastern Ukraine. In a sense, they are the "bourgeois", members of some bürgerliche Gesellschaft that had long ago been completely destroyed in the East by the Bolsheviks.

Donetsk represents what was built instead: the brave new world of victorious revolution and proletarian internationalism. A typical Soviet city, it is indistinguishable from myriads of other industrial monsters stretching for thousands of kilometers from Donbass to Kuzbass and from Norilsk to Karaganda. Their major attractions remain the towering monuments to Lenin, the streets and squares and factories bearing his name, and of course the ugly pseudo-classic buildings in the style popularly referred to as "Stalin Repressance". Here people speak a different language, which they think is Russian, attend different churches (when they attend at all), watch different TV channels and vote for different political parties. They are "proletarian" exactly in the same sense in which western Ukrainians tend to be "bourgeois": too many people here, including the top-level nomenklatura or the so-called "businessmen", cannot simply produce a sentence without a dirty word or endure a day without a bottle of vodka.

Statistical data impartially confirms the striking social differences between the "two Ukraines" (a smaller Donbas region of Luhansk rather than Donetsk is taken here, as more comparable with Lviv in terms of both population and industrialization-urbanization):[19]


% of total Lviv region Luhansk region

Population 5.5% 5.3%

Divorces 3.9% 6.1%

Children out of wedlock 2.5% 5.2%

Criminals sentenced 3.6% 7.5%

Teen-age criminals 4.2% 7.1%

Alcoholics 3.9% 6.9%

Drug addicts 2.0% 4.4%

Syphilis 2.7% 7.2%

Gonorrhea 2.7% 6.7%

AIDS 0.5% 2.4%


Political differences are no less striking. Opinion polls clearly show that western Ukrainians are predominantly anti-communist and anti-soviet; they believe Russia is Ukraine's main threat while America is its main ally; they favor private ownership and radical economic reforms, the revival of Ukrainian language and culture, democratization and, of course, Ukraine's eventual membership in the EU and NATO. Easterners tend to prefer the opposite. They want Ukraine to join the Russia/Belarus union, re-establish a soviet-style economy, give more authoritarian power to the president and grant Russian language the constitutional status of "second state language" in Ukraine, which in practical post-colonial terms means (as the Belarus experience has graphically confirmed) the status of the only officially functioning language in the country.

Indeed, this perspective leads many observers to conclude that, since western and eastern Ukraine are too different to coexist within the same country, the split between the two halves is inevitable.[20] However, the main paradox is that nobody can say where one half ends and the other begins. Ukraine had been russified (and, later on, sovietized) very gradually, region by region, over 300 years. In a sense, the "two Ukraines", "Soviet" and "European", have overlapped and fused. They permeate each other so deeply that even in Lviv one may find many remnants of sovietism, while in Donetsk some signs of "Ukrainianness" and "Europeanness" may equally be discerned. These two Ukraines co-exist like two symbols, two options for future development: "back to the USSR" or "return to Europe" (to which Ukraine had allegedly always belonged). Lviv and Donetsk indeed can be considered as the geographical and geopolitical symbols of these "two Ukraines". Nevertheless, it would be inaccurate and deceptive to extrapolate the specific ideological implications of these two symbols onto any other significant part of the country.

Not only are the various Ukrainian regions between "Lviv" and "Donetsk" highly heterogeneous, each with its own peculiar combination of "Ukrainianness" and "Russianness", "Europeanness" and "Sovietism", but in addition each individual Ukrainian tends to be very ambivalent in his or her ideological preferences and orientations, thereby making even the identity of many Ukrainians quite vague and nebulous. This is another paradox concerning the "two Ukraines" that considerably prevents any split of the country into "two halves". In reality, there are many more "Ukraines" than just "two". Notwithstanding, it is these "two" which are the most visible and clearly defined, while the immense space between them remains rather fluid and heterogeneous in geographic, human and ideological terms.

We may define this space as the "third Ukraine": for the most part invisible, mute, uncertain, undecided, ideologically ambivalent and ambiguous. It is more object than subject of the political struggle, the major battlefield and the major prize in the protracted contest between the two vociferating but minor Ukraines, the "Soviet" and the "European".


Ambivalence to Ambiguity

Opinion polls confirm that Ukrainian society is not just radically divided on virtually every fundamental issue (with perhaps the one exception of territorial integrity[21]). They also show that both rival groups, "russophile" and "ukrainophile" (or, more precisely, pro-Soviet and pro-European) are minorities, while the real majority is an amorphous group of those who "do not care", "are not interested", "feel undecided", and "failed" (or "refused") to respond. Perhaps the best example of this ambiguity was revealed by the 1996 national survey when 1,200 respondents were asked to define which political tendency they supported. It appeared that 13% favored promoters of capitalism and 20% - of socialism, 25% claimed they did not support anybody, 22% remained undecided and - nota bene! - 18% stated they would support both sides, that is, promoters of both socialism and capitalism, just in order to avoid conflict.[22]

In 1997, at the height of Ukraine's flirt with NATO, as many as 38% respondents were in favor of Ukraine's putative membership in the Alliance, while 21% were definitely opposed, and 42% felt undecided. Two years later, after NATO's bombardment of Yugoslavia, the number of NATO's supporters and opponents in Ukraine nearly reversed (25% vs 33%). Ironically yet, the number of those "undecided" has not changed, staying firm at 41-44% in every consecutive year.[23] Again, in 1997, 14% of Ukrainians approved the putative admission of East European neighbors into NATO, 10% disapproved, 30% had no certain opinion, and 46% (!) had no interest in the issue at all. Again, 25% of the respondents believed Russia was Ukraine's biggest threat, 23% felt it to be the main ally, the rest were unsure about either suggestion.[24]

In 1998, a nearly equal number of respondents agreed with (36%) and denied (37%) the suggestion that "the referendum should be carried out immediately and the union of brotherly soviet peoples re-established" (27% remained undecided). Another question, however, was addressed to the same respondents within the framework of the same survey: "Do you agree that Ukraine, all the difficulties notwithstanding, should remain independent?" 61% of respondents agreed, 19% disagreed, 20% remained undecided.[25] The number of people who want the Union to be re-established (36%) proved to be almost twice higher than the number of people who oppose Ukraine's independence (19%). It means that nearly half of them believe that the renewed Soviet Union and the newly born national independence can be somehow combined.

Some commentators dubbed this phenomenon "post-soviet schizophrenia",[26] and some play auto-ironical jokes at the daunting amorphousness of the nation, "half of which, according to various sociological polls, have no certain answer to any question. Do you approve or disapprove? Like or dislike? Want or don't want? Do you live or simply survive? Do you exist at all? Remain undecided".[27] Sociologists define this phenomenon still more accurately as "social ambivalence". They claim it results from people's commitment to opposite, incompatible views and values, and typically surfaces during any transition when two different political cultures, two different models of social behavior (political, economic and even linguistic) counteract. Ambivalent consciousness reconciles incompatible values and models in a mythical, irrational way; it works like a magic device bringing the individual a kind of psychological comfort in the uncomfortable circumstances when "the right to choose must be paid for with responsibility, freedom - with uncertainty, equal opportunities - with critical self-evaluation."[28]

Of course, the "ambivalent consciousness" plays a positive role by protecting society as a whole and each person in particular from the untenable challenges of a changing world and its inevitable psychological traumas. Yet in the long run it becomes an unbearable burden per se, a collective neurosis that lends itself to skilful manipulation by the new spin-doctors. Stability turns into nasty stagnation, ambivalence into ambiguity. People with a fluctuating identity and with only a vague idea of the country's optimal choices are highly susceptible to brainwashing, and they quite naturally are targeted by official propaganda, authoritarian blackmail and political manipulation.

Needless to say, the post-soviet oligarchy has a vested interest in keeping society highly atomized, confused and alienated. They do all they can to prevent any civic democratic development within the country, since it could expose them to objective (and fair) political competition entailing, ultimately, the loss of political power and power-based economic privileges. Therefore in Ukraine we have the emergence of a peculiar ersatz-ideology, which can be defined in the negative. It is primarily based on the assumption that things are going badly but could get much worse. So, the oligarchic media proclaim, would it not be wiser to accept the status quo, rather than to rock the boat with all kinds of crazy demands and radical suggestions.

In reality, the regime gets credit not for what it has done, but for what it hasn't. It did not distort elections as cynically as Mugabe, did not steal as much as Mobutu or Marcos, and did not kill in the same proportions as Milosevic or Putin or Sharon. The social consent, so called "zlahoda", is officially proclaimed to be the supreme objective and the government's major achievement, but it has a clearly negative dimension: we don't do much wrong because we don't do much. A bad peace in Ukraine is certainly better than a good war, but the "peacekeeping" efforts of the Ukrainian oligarchy are rather peculiar. Their policy is aimed not so much against a "good war" which actually is not a threat in Ukraine, but primarily against a "good peace" which does constitute a real threat for the ruling regime. The fact that the latter exists as an alternative to a "bad peace" is deliberately silenced, while the former is propagandistically overemphasized.

In order to play the role of a "peacekeeper" in Ukraine, the post-soviet nomenclatura needs to maintain division, disorientation and intimidation within the state. Had Ukraine not had a colonial, communist legacy, the authorities would have invented it. The colonial legacy furnished the nomenklatura with the specific regions and local identities that could effectively be played against each other. The totalitarian legacy construed an "uncivil" and easily manipulable society. The objective of the post-soviet rulers was to preserve this legacy for as long as possible.


Oligarchic "peacekeeping"

Whereas one might agree with Huntington's statement that "political leaders cannot through will and skill create democracy where preconditions are absent"[29] (which is probably just a paraphrase of the popular wisdom that each nation deserves the government it has), nobody yet could and should justify the leaders who have neither skill nor will to promote democracy and who, on the contrary, do their best to subvert any preconditions for the democratic development.

A perspicacious analysis of such an activity has been made by a Canadian scholar Taras Kuzio in a number of recent publications. To his credit, he has paid a particular attention to a very important and largely underestimated interdependence between (weak) national self-awareness and (weak) civil society. Having contended that "all civic states are composed of both civic and ethnic-cultural factors," and that "political identity in the modern era is linked to national identity because political awareness implies a conscious national loyalty," he boldly argued that

"The relationship between civil society and national identity lies at the heart of the transition process in post-Soviet states such as Ukraine. National identity is an 'occasional friend' and not an 'eternal foe' of civil society... [T]he Ukrainian and Belarusian cases are examples of post-communist states where the main problem negatively affecting their transition process has been too little - not too much - civic nationalism... An atomized population, regionally divided, cynically disposed in their ability to affect change and lacking trust with other citizens in the same country are unlikely to generate either a vibrant civil society or societal mobilization towards stated goals. The 'collective self consciousness' sustains civil society because, 'concern for one's nation reinforces the concern for the common good'. National unity and integration therefore play a central role in sustaining civil society and generating mobilization."[30]

Kuzio's next argument is based on the fact that Ukrainian post-communist rulers feel a profound distrust of civil society and quite reasonably suspect that this dangerous agent might dramatically challenge their authoritarian dominance over the country. "The state sees civic activism and the mobilization of citizens as a threat to its capture, and perceived ownership, of the state... Civil society and citizens are not something to negotiate with, respect or admit responsibility for one's actions to. State policies have therefore served to dampen civil society and reduce feelings of efficacy amongst Ukrainian citizens."

Consequently, if the core of civil society is the "dominant nation", as Edward Shils puts it, and "without a nation there can be no civil society,"[31] the vested interest of the post-soviet oligarchy in Ukraine (and elsewhere) must be to atomize the society and to prevent the emergence of a modern consolidated civic nation. And Ukrainian rulers have been rather successfully doing so within the last decade, exploiting the old Soviet-style "anti-nationalistic" (essentially Ukrainophobic) stereotypes among the majority of population:

"Divisions were deliberately fostered between western and eastern Ukrainians. Western Ukrainians were depicted as bloodthirsty "bourgeois nationalists" or, even worse, "Banderovtsi" (followers of Stepan Bandera, leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) on the payroll of the West. After a decade of independence, very little has changed. Ukraine's post-Soviet elites have not sought to overcome regional divisions. As the last elections showed, they deliberately play them up when threatened by serious opposition forces... [R]egional divisions allow Ukraine's elites to maintain their self-appointed role as umpires between the "nationalist west" and the "pro-Russian east." The former Soviet Ukrainian elites, who are today's oligarch centrists, promote their "pragmatic" policies as the only means open to Ukrainian society to maintain "zlahoda" (accord) between different regions and groups. A favorite buzzword among the elites, "zlahoda" actually means support for stability and the policies of paternalistic elites who pretend to know what is best for the country and its citizens. Without this ingredient, it is argued, western and eastern Ukraine would soon be at each other's throats and Ukraine would disintegrate. The country's ruling elites therefore have no interest in overcoming regional divisions or promoting reconciliation... Without any domestic or foreign policies, they instead promote what the Ukrainian sociologist Yevhen Holovakha calls a "momentocracy". That is, everybody lives for the moment and short term."[32]

Having no consolidating national idea, Ukrainian elites pursue the so called "Third Way" policy that, as many specialists in the field have agreed long ago, leads nowhere but into the "Third World". In the internal politics, it means a weird combination of the worst features of a senile communism and nascent capitalism. This choice, Taras Kuzio remarks, is understandable as it tries to "reconcile what pain can be applied economically without causing widespread social instability... A 'Third Way' option defers any decision from being made as to the crucial questions of whether to move towards Europe or Eurasia in the foreign domain, or build capitalism or a mixture of capitalism/socialism in the domestic field. The proponents of a 'Third Way' want the best of both worlds [...] because this 'Third Wayism' suits their personal interests."[33]

In the international politics, the Ukrainian "Third Wayism" ("momentocracy") results in a clumsy flirting with both Russia and the West called officially the "multi-vector policy." In practice it means rather infantile attempts to play both sides against each other and to get some dubious gains from the petit blackmail. Such a policy puzzles western observers and prompts some of them to overtly dub it as "schizophrenic":

"One moment, the country's leaders have proclaimed their desire to be included in Western institutions; the next, they have suggested closer integration with their Eastern neighbor, Russia. One minute, these leaders have appeared to covet regional power status; the next, they have shrunk from actions that would help them reach that goal. To explain these apparent contradictions, officials in Ukraine have talked of a "dual" and "bipolar" foreign policy, and suggested that the country's most important goal should be "creating a safe zone of peace and stability" around it. Unfortunately, this refusal to choose a clear direction for its foreign policy meant that the country remained in a type of limbo, hovering ineffectually between East and West, easily swayed and manipulated by both sides."[34]

Taras Kuzio comments on this even more sarcastically: "Although Kuchma is fond of stating that Ukraine's foreign policy is neither "pro-Western" nor "pro-Russian" but "pro-Ukrainian," it is in reality more "pro-Kuchma," in that it almost exclusively serves to further the interests of the executive and its oligarch allies."[35]

The skepticism about Ukraine's "Western orientation" has not decremented either after its stated goal to join EU in some unspecified future or after the recent declaration on a "close integration with NATO" announced by Ukrainian president and the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) on May 23. One of the wittiest Ukrainian publicists Tetiana Korobova has immediately dubbed it a "Dog's Waltz", referring poignantly to a primitive melody that can be pretentiously played on the piano with two hands by virtually everybody, without any knowledge of music. Her colleague from the opposition newspaper Grani Iryna Pohorelova suggested that the president's declaration was a merely propagandistic move aimed at breaking the international isolation of Kuchma after "Gongadzegate" and calming down the new scandal that might well blow up after the information emerged on the alleged Kuchma's involvement in the illegal arms trade with Iraq.[36]

Whatever the reason for president's declaration might really be, there have been so many contradictory and confusing statements, on the Ukrainian side, in the past that very few experts are prone today to accept the new Ukrainian initiatives at face value, without a proper reservation. So far, Ukraine's broadly advertised goal is "joining a security system based on NATO," rather than becoming a member of the military alliance as such. Of course, "Ukraine needs to make further progress on economic and military reforms in order to line up in the queue" - to both EU and NATO. It is probably also true that a Ukrainian application for membership in the alliance "would, at this stage, be dismissed with a laugh," as Yevhen Marchuk, the head of NSDC, stated out.[37] But it is also true, that Ukrainian rulers have little will to carry out any reforms that would have made Ukraine eligible for EU and NATO membership - just because the very same reforms would dramatically and inevitably subvert their authoritarian dominance over the country. And these rulers have even less will and skill to definitely emancipate their country from Russia, its murky politics and economy. This is perhaps the main if not the only reason why Ukraine's European aspirations are dismissed with laugh, while Bulgarian and Romanian, Albanian and Turkish are accepted.

It is probably time to put it straightforwardly:

"As long as the country's president is weakened by scandal and dependent on Russian support, there can be no true West-oriented policy. Additionally, as long as the country remains dependent on Russian energy, it will need to remain dependent on Russian political will. Unfortunately, despite repeated attempts, Ukraine has been unable to wean itself away from the Russian energy trough. And in the last 10 years, Russia has been very willing to use its control over its neighbor's energy supply to "convince" Ukraine to support Russia's policies... For this reason, while the inclination of many leaders of Ukraine is to lean Westward, pragmatically, the country must stay engaged to the East... Probably it will be necessary to wait several more years before the country's foreign policy can begin to move in one consistent direction. Only a post-Kuchma country with a more diversified energy supply will be truly able to choose its own independent path."[38]



The international survey carried out in 2000 in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Russia revealed, with a great surprise, that it is Ukrainians and Moldovans who "were the least likely to 'feel European', although both countries were entirely European in their geography and had made the most overt commitment to a 'European choice' at the public and official level. The question wording was: "Do you think ever of yourself as a European?", and the answers were distributed as following:[39]

Belarus Moldova Russia Ukraine

Often 16 9 18 8

Sometimes 34 25 34 26

Rarely/never 38 56 47 57

Don't know/no answer 12 10 2 8


It looked strange indeed because, in the same survey, it was Ukrainians and Moldovans who were the most positive about the EU activities and their nations' tentative EU membership (50-57% in Ukraine and 50-69% in Moldova), it was them who felt the least regret for the collapse of the USSR and the weakest desire to re-establish some new Russia-led union, and were the least prone to perceive USA, Germany, and European Union as an external threat to their countries.[40]

The researches have failed to explain their paradoxical discovery. They simply admitted that "a European identity, at least at the level of national publics, had no necessary connection with the wish to become a member of the European Union itself. Our Moldova respondents. who were among the least likely to feel 'European', were the most likely to favor their own country's admission; conversely, our Russians, who were the most inclined to identify themselves as 'Europeans', were the least enthusiastic about the EU and possibility of their own membership."[41]

Meanwhile, the most verisimilar and perhaps the only reasonable explanation for this phenomenon is that each nation has its own criteria of "Europeanness." This notion has probably more general, abstract (if not purely geographic or civilizational) connotation for Russians and Belorusans who, by and large, have neither desire nor chances to join EU and NATO. And it is probably more concrete for Ukrainians and Moldovans who, by and large, want to institutionalize their "Europeanness" via the membership in respective Euro-Atlantic organizations. To put it simply, they evaluate their "Europeannes" through, so to speak, "Copenhagen criteria" and, of course, having thus Western view on themselves internalized, they dismiss their own "European" pretensions "with laugh" (as Mr. Marchuk may have put it).

Paradoxically yet, such a self-depreciation gives us a grain of hope. It may grow even stronger if we turn to the results of another sociological survey, carried out again in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia among the both general public and so called "elites". The number of people with "European" self-identification among the Ukrainian "elites" (52%) proved to be twice higher than among the general public (24%). By the same token, 77% of "elites" supported Ukraine's tentative membership in the EU and 47% in NATO (versus 51% and 29% of the general public respectively). Neither in Belarus nor in Russia any significant difference between the elites and general public was found: there were 26% and, respectively, 20% of the NATO supporters in Russia, and 23% and, respectively, 26% in Belarus).[42]

The very big difference between the elites and masses in certain important issues might represent a threat for the national unity if the predominant attitudes of both groups are opposite. In Ukraine, however, the predominant mass attitude to many issues is uncertainty and lack of opinion. Elites seem to be more competent and, of course, they are in position to effectively propagate their views among the less competent and "undecided" part of the population. The problem however is that Ukrainian elites are divided within themselves, and it is rather old Soviet nomenklatura than younger professionals and intellectuals who hold upper hand over society, keeping it alienated, incompetent and undecided. And it is them, the largest sociological group of the "undecided", who are the main object of the protracted struggle between the two major "parties" in Ukraine that may have different political names but essentially should be defined as "Ukrainian" and "Soviet". One may conceptualize this struggle as a continuation of Gorbachov's perestroika, somebody else may consider it as an attempt to complete the process of nation-building, launched in the 19th century but dramatically arrested, delayed and destorted, afterwards. In fact, there is a fierce competition between the two projects of nation-building or, from the Ukrainian point view, between the projects of nation-building and nation-destroying.[43]

Due to peculiar circumstances of this competition, "Ukrainian" has always tended to mean "European" and, consequently, "democratic", while "Soviet" has never meant anything else but "Russian", "imperial", and "anti-Western". In this view, I would like the metaphor of "two Ukraines" to have rather temporal than spatial dimension. Ukraine is really divided between East and West but much more between the Soviet past and the European future.


[1] Mykhaylo Hrushevsky, Khto taki ukrayintsi i choho vony khochut? (Kyiv: Znannia, 1991), pp. 142-144.

[2] I discussed this phenomenon in more detail in "The Nativist/Westernizer Controversy in Ukraine: The End or the Beginning?" Journal of Ukrainian Studies, vol.21, nos.1-2 (Summer-Winter 1996), pp. 27-54.

[3] Ivan L. Rudnytsky, "Ukraine between East and West," in his Essays in Modern Ukrainian History (Edmonton: CIUS, 1987 [1966]), p. 8.

[4] Ihor Sevcenko, Ukraine between East and West. Essays on Cultural History to the Early 18th Century (Edmonton & Toronto: CIUS, 1996), pp. 3-4, 6.

[5] Ibid., p. 8.

[6] Andrew Wilson, "Elements of a theory of Ukrainian ethno-national identities," Nations and Nationalism, vol. 8, no. 1 (2002), p. 32.

[7] Ibid., p. 34.

[8] Ibid., p. 44.

[9] L.Aza, "Tendentsiyi etnomonoho rozvytku v Ukkrayini," in V.Vorona and M. Shulha (eds.), Ukrayinske suspilstvo: desiat rokiv nezalezhnosti (Kyiv: Instytut sotsiolohiyi NANU, 2001), p. 532.

[10] Wilson, p. 45.

[11] O.Reznik, "Zovnishniopolitychni oriyentatsiyi naselennia," in V.Vorona and M. Shulha (eds.), Ukrayinske suspilstvo: desiat rokiv nezalezhnosti (Kyiv: Instytut sotsiolohiyi NANU, 2001), p. 242, 239.

[12] M.Mykhalchenko, "Desiat rokiv nezalezhnosti: polityko-sotsiolohichna otsinka politychnykh reform," ibid, p. 153.

[13] Aza, p. 529. Accordinng to the same source, 36% of the respondents oppose the official "bilimguism" and 19% remain undecided.

[14] Stephen White, Ian McAllister, Margot Light, and John Loewenhardt, "A European or a Slavic Choice? Foreign Policy and Public Attitudes in Post-Soviet Europe," Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 54, no. 2 (2002), p. 196.

[15] Ibid., p. 195.

[16] Vorona & Shulha, op. cit., p. 592.

[17] Ibid., p. 571.

[18] Reznik, p. 244. The author proves, in particular, that geopolitical preferences of both Ukrainians and Russians in Western Ukraine clearly differes from geopolitical preferences of both Ukrainians and Russians in the East. It makes him to conclude that "rather regional than ethnic affiliation determines geopolitical preferences." Ibid., p. 243.

[19] Volodymyr Voytenko, "Vechory na khutori poblyzu Aziyi," Den, 2 March 2002, p. 8.

[20] These feelings were especially strong in 1994 when the allegedly "pro-Russian" president-elect Leonid Kuchma won over the allegedly "nationalistic" incumbent Leonid Kravchuk. See, e.g., D.Williams and R.J.Smith, "U.S. Intelligence Sees Economic Flight Leading to Breakup of Ukraine", Washington Post, 25 January 1994; or "Ukraine - The Birth and Possible Death of a Country," The Economist, 7 May 1994. Respective Russian publications of the time are comprehensively reviewed by Vera Tolz in "Rethinking Russian-Ukrainian relations: a new trend in nation-building in post-communist Russia?" Natioans and Nationlism, vol. 8, no. 2 (2002), pp. 238-240.

[21] The earlier survey revealed that only 1% of respondents in Lviv and 5% in Donetsk agreed that Ukraine would be better off if divided into separate countries. See Yaroslav Hrytsak, "Shifting Identities in Western and Eastern Ukraine," New School for Social Research. The East & Central Europe Program. Bulletin, vol. 5/3, no. 18 February 1995), p. 7. The recent survey confirms these findings indirectly: 58% of the young respondents in Lviv and 47% in Donetsk answered positively to the question whether they would agree, if necessary, to defend their country with arms. (The national average for the positive answers was 51%; negative 16% and 33% remained undecided). See Dzerkalo tyzhnia, 23 September 2001, p. 18.

[22] Yevgeniy Golovakha, Transformiruyushcheyesia obshchestvo. Opyt sociologicheskogo monitoringa v Ukraine. Kiev: Institute of Sociology, 1996, p. 102. Two years earlier, in another survey, 20% of respondents stated socialism would be the most desirable economic system for Ukraine, 18% preferred capitalism, 20% expressed uncertainty, while 42% rejected both systems and suggested that Ukraine should opt for its own way. All these results largely correlate with subsequent sociological findings. A number of surveys carried out in 2000-2001 proved that there are some 14-17% of respondents who support the communist ideology, 11-19% who support pro-Western national democrats, there are also some smaller groups that support other political/ideological trends, and up to 40% who "don't care". See Den, 24 July 2001, p. 1.

[23] Reznik, p. 242.

[24] Politychnyi portret Ukrayiny, no. 18 (Kyiv: Democratic Initiatives Center, 1997), pp. 111-118.

[25] Den, 16 July 1998, p. 1.

[26] The Economist, 4 February 1995, p. 27.

[27] Yuriy Andrukhovych, Krytyka, vol. 6, no. 6 (June 2002), p. 2.

[28] Yevhen Holovakha, "Osoblyvosti politychnoyi svidomosti: ambivalentnist suspilstva ta osobystosti," Politolohichni chytannia, no. 1 (1992), pp. 24-39.

[29] Samuel P.Huntington, The Third Wave. Democracy in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), p.108.

[30] Taras Kuzio, "Between Totalitarianism and Democracy: Assessing Regime Type in Ukraine," Paper delivered at the conference Ukraine: Challenges of a Country in Transition (University of Fribourg, 19-20 April 2002).

[31] Edward Shils, 'Nation, nationality, nationalism and civil society', Nations and Nationalism, vol.1, no.1 (March 1995), p.118.

[32] Taras Kuzio, "Elites not interested in healing divisions in society," Kyiv Post, 17 May 2002.

[33] Kuzio, "Between Totalitarianism and Democracy..."

[34] Tammy M. Lynch, "Post-Election Return to Foreign Policy Status," The NIS Observed: An Analytical Review, vol. 7, no. 9 (22 May 2002).

[35] Taras Kuzio, "'Pro-Ukrainian' or 'Pro-Kuchma'? Ukraine's Foreign Policy in Crisis," RFERL Nesline, 26 April 2002.

[36] See Grani, no. 20 (27 May 2002);

[37] "Ukraine Seeks Closer Relations with NATO as Top Priority," Jamestown Foundation Monitor, vol. 8, no. 102 (24 May 2002).

[38] Lynch, op. cit.

[39] White et al., op cit., p. 189.

[40] Ibid., pp. 190, 192, 186.

[41] Ibid., p. 189.

[42] Transition, no. 14 (1995).

[43] The former project, as a leading Ukrainian intellectuals argues, is an embodiment of "Ukraine's new opportunities," and means "the radical break with Empire and gradual integration into an essentially non-Russian, European civilization. The project seems to be very adventurous (I wouldn't say crazy) under current circumstances. But this makes it even more challenging and attractive for the new Ukrainian elites, particularly for the socially engaged youth."[43] Yuriy Andrukhovych, "Fragment i komentar," Rossijsko-ukrainskiy bulleten, ‹ 6-7 (Moscow & Kyiv: Central European Information Agency, 2000), p. 101.

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