Keeping Ukraine Together

Glory to Ukraine! Glory to her heroes!

At this moment the civilization clash in the country has come to the forefront, and its evident who’s winning. The Euromaidan protesters and the new government have chosen the path Westward. The question, then,  is will the others follow? And, in the process, will Ukraine remain together?

While most on the Eastern half of the nation have greater ties and allegiances to their Russian past, we must remember they are mainly ethnic Ukrainians. Many are talking about a two state solution of sorts, as things aren’t looking good. But we must weigh the odds: abandon the fatherland for Russia, or abandon Russia and keep the fatherland?

I suspect the majority of Ukrainians would want to keep the country unified however things may unfold.  I propose that they can, but we cannot deny the realities of the situation: there is an ineluctable divide in the nation between those who choose West and those who choose East. We must be clear that this not an ethnic or language divide, but a political divide. That, while in some ways better, is by no means an easy challenge to overcome. How Ukraine chooses (or not) to keep itself together is crucial. 

Ukrainian Parliament has made it clear: those who choose East will not be tolerated. Most of their recent legislation on the issue is either ultra nationalist or anti-Russian, and often both. Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov has played a bit milder, vetoing the bill to remove Russian as an official language but continuing the anti-Russian/anti-Putin rhetoric. Yulia Tymoshenko, whose influence cannot be underestimated after her release, is unremitting in her support for a European Ukraine; her daughter discussed yesterday in an interview how her “mother is working full-time to ensure the most just outcome for all Ukrainians”, as after all “that is what it really means to be European”. The activists mobilized in November against Russia from the very beginning.

Depending on the choices of the current leaders of Ukraine, I fear how things will turn out for Eastern Ukrainians and the country as a whole. Both sides have alternative wishes but will end up with the same reality: unification or divergence. On top of the decisions that need to be made by the country, Russia, the G6, the United States, and the five neighboring nations (all EU) play a significant role in that order. The choices they make will decide the looming ultimatum in the coming weeks.

As it is evident Ukraine cannot sustain itself the way it is heading,  and something must be done to bring back harmony. In its few decades of modern existence as a state, there has been little normalcy from the political tension. Ukraine has in the past successfully trudged on balancing the global powers to both of its sides; but that is no longer an option. In the immediate and long term future, Kiev must find a way to bring its citizens together – remaining unified should remain the goal. The issue is compromise: to mediate two sides, one must find middle ground. Unfortunately, neither West nor East would tolerate that.

But perhaps the West vs. East discourse is over-sentimentalized. I wrote about Ukraine last on January 25th, portraying a very Europe vs. Russia mentality among ordinary Ukrainians.  But in my readings and in the rhetoric of the last month, I’ve come to the conclusions it’s not as simple as most media puts it. One article I read brought things to a better light, and I confess I was taken a bit aback at first – it argued the protesters on the streets weren’t there so much for Europe as for independence. According to the author, there “is the desire in Western Ukraine for a free and independent society, and this means, most importantly, a final end to Russian domination.”

That the emphasis of Euromaidan was not on becoming European so much as becoming independent shouldn’t be so startling of a proposition as it was for me. After all, why would Ukraine, a nation with its own history and people, language and tradition, want to one day just become “European”? Who willingly chooses to change not just their culture but their identity and namesake? Ukraine has indeed faced Westernization, but not colonization. Their culture remains free. And what they desire is their own Ukrainian freedom, Ukrainian independence, and Ukrainian liberalism.

That needs to be clear. So why has the government been so appeasing to Europe? The answer is realpolitk-ing and appeasement, and I don’t think that needs to be explained. It is logical for politicians to lure their supporters and their neighboring nations to a label, especially when the label is what the neighboring nations want to hear. Should the Kievan leaders craft their image and rhetoric well, we might see a bit of success in unity.

Ukraine’s ultimate goal should be unity. The Ukrainian people are a people: they are not European alone nor Russian. The current government’s sweeping appeasements to Europe are dangerous, but understandable. It is likely that nothing will satisfy the Putin regime at this point besides a full relinquishment of Crimea, as Putin has consistently tested Russia’s diplomatic limits in the last few years with worrisome success. Thus, the new government has reasoned to put all the eggs in one basket, just as most of the Euromaidan activists have chosen to do.

I fear this insular approach however for its long term consequences. We must, must, must remember that there is more to Ukraine than the western liberal half. Continuing the rhetoric and the legislation that alienates the Russian supporters does no good five years from now – when those Russian supporters still make a near half of the population. Worse yet, the alienation could lead to separation: an independent or Russian annexed Crimea. For a number of reasons I can’t afford space to explain now, while I am for self determination in Ukraine I am demarcating at its borders, not within them.

Achieving unity is not an easy process and never was. Compromising with the two sides of the “ineluctable divide” sounds impossible. But between bargaining with a side that will not compromise (Russia), and the side that will (Europe), I think the choice is clear. After all, the choice isn’t about Europe or Russia, it’s independence or Russia. Perhaps the strategy should be a rhetoric that proclaims both. And even then, maintaining Russian ties while desiring Russian freedom is realistic for Eastern Ukraine – the Russian liberals want no different. It’ll still anger Putin, but it’s the Ukrainian people that count. It was always the people that counted. Ukraine ought to find a way to maintain its economic and social ties with Russia while shifting its political ties Westward. The people must be satisfied to stay unified. It’s the best of both worlds: Western liberalism with the preserved culture. A Ukrainian liberalism.

The eggs in one basket strategy will go nowhere. It may lead to stagnation, chaos, separation, or even civil war. The Ukrainian government can no longer balance itself among world powers, and it needs to balance its people. If Ukraine should survive – together – it must let all the people speak and let all the people be heard. All the while, it must hold to its principles. Russia can be a friend, but independence comes first. Ukraine comes first. As the hymn goes…

Glory to Ukraine! Glory to her heroes!




(Note: It’s difficult to evaluate  a situation when things are changing by the minute. I did my best.)


3 thoughts on “Keeping Ukraine Together

  1. Pingback: Oukrainiërs zouden vrij moeten zijn om zelf hun toekomst te bepalen | Marcus' s Space

  2. Pingback: Ukrainians should be free to shape the future of their country | Marcus' s Space

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