Friday, January 28, 2011

Window on Eurasia: ‘Three Nations’ Competing for Dominance within Ukraine, Lviv Activist Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 28 – Most analysts view relations between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians as the basic source of conflict in Ukraine today. Some have argued that this conflict is among three groups: Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians, Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Russian-speaking Russians.
But Yuri Mikhalchishin, deputy head of the Ukrainian nationalist Freedom Party in the Lviv city council, told “Glavkom” yesterday that the real conflict in Ukraine at the present time is about “the right to exist” for one or another of “three different national projects” (
“Today we can quite confidently speak about the formation” of three distinctive groupings: the Freedom Party leader argues, “[first,] a contemporary Ukrainian nation, [second,] a Little Russia nation, and [third,] a neo-Soviet nation, the representatives of which are commonly called “sovki.”
The contemporary Ukrainian nation, he suggests, “is that part of the old Ukrainian ethnic base” who members “consider themselves Ukrainians” and see “continuity and an uninterrupted pattern of Ukrainiaan statehood from Kyivan Rus to Ukraine of 1991 and who desire the development of the Ukrainian state in its ethnic boundaries.”
The “Little Russia” group is “the politically amorphous part of ethnic Ukrainians who have been subjected to strong de-nationalization: in particular, as a result of mass repressions, collectivization and the consequences of the Second World War for central and northern Ukraine.”
Members of this group “recognize their blood relationship to those Ukrainians who position themselves as a clearly conscious Ukrainian nation but are more indifferent relative to [its] future.” And they form that part of contemporary Ukrainian society which by its passivity and absence of vision … equates two polar tendencies,” those of Lviv and those of Donetsk.
“The third part,” Mikhalchishin says, “is the neo-Soviet nation, that part of the population of Ukraine which possibly is the result of mixed marriages of Ukrainians, Russians and representatives of other peoples of the former Soviet Union.” It is a product of Soviet nationality policy and of efforts to produce a single “Soviet people.”
Such people view “the liquidation of the USSR … as a catastrophe in their lives” and continue to “identify with a single all-union center of influence in Moscow.” Culturally, spiritually and economically, they identify themselves [not with Russians necessarily] but with the Soviet period of history,” seeing it as a model for the future.”
Such people are “extraordinarily hostile to the very idea of the existence of Ukraine as “a separate state unit on the geopolitical map of the world.”
According to Mikhalchishin, “today’s Ukraine is divided not along an ‘east-west- line,’” that is geographically “but more alone one of “a spiritual-biological character.” Each of the three groups, he says, has about 30 percent of the population and thus no one of them is in a predominant position now.
Despite its “biological component,” something that will cause many to dismiss it, Mikhalchishin’s proposed model really focuses on psychology, and it provides a more adequate explanation for why Ukrainian politics is so unstable and why individuals and groups ally with or oppose one another than do most ethnic models.
Meanwhile, it is increasingly clear that Moscow and Kyiv under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovich are working to promote the third group at the expense of the other two. One clear example of that involves the fate of Ukrainian organizations in the Russian Federation, organizations that Russian officials have moved to close.
Even as Moscow courts move to close Ukrainian autonomy organizations in Russia, people close to the process told “Nezavisimaya gazeta” that the Russian powers that be are working with Kyiv to set up “new [Ukrainian] structures with a new [and presumably less nationalist] leadership” (

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