This analysis aims to review different aspects of identity in Ukrainian society and determine whether each is either a factor promoting the consolidation of Ukrainian society or, conversely, is capable of dividing it.
The analysis also intends to assess attitudes within Ukrainian society towards a range of fundamental issues. In the end, the analysis provides a brief conclusion drawn from all the above points and considerations with an emphasis on future prospects for consolidating Ukrainian society. The relevance of this analysis derives from the paramount role that social consolidation and cohesion play in strengthening a nation’s ability effectively to resist as well as recover from foreign aggression. Consolidation of society has always been highly important for the functioning and at times even the survival of a state, let alone its democratic consolidation and development. It acquires even greater significance when one part of the state has been annexed by a neighbouring revisionist power while another has become a battlefield on which the state must defend its sovereignty as well as the right of the nation to freely determine its own future—which is the case of Ukraine.
In 2014, Ukrainian society amazed the international community by its level of consolidation, sense of unity and self-organization during the protests that became known as the Revolution of Dignity. What, however, is the level of consolidation at the present time, some three years later? In this regard, a research project by the Ukrainian non-governmental public policy think tank, the Razumkov Center, is particularly noteworthy. Entitled “Consolidation of Ukrainian society: options, challenges and prospects,” the project—whose findings are based on the results of a sociological survey of Ukrainians—merits thorough review.1
Overview of the subject
The most important factor influencing consolidation of society is national identity. In a way, statehood itself may be considered the established recognition of national identity.2 Therefore, the concepts of national identity and statehood are closely intertwined. In 1943, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asserted that “Americanism is a matter of the mind and the heart.” The word “Americanism” in that sentence can fairly be replaced by “national identity,” since the concept of national identity has much to do with hearts and minds. Why is the notion of national identity particularly important in Ukrainian context? First, in the absence of any significant tradition of independent statehood due to prolonged periods of foreign rule—combined with the attendant invasions and occupations—the importance of the national identity issue attained crucial importance. Second, it is common knowledge that one of the particular focal points of the Kremlin’s efforts in Ukraine has been winning the war for hearts and minds in Ukraine—via waging an information war in which it promotes its own messages, while undermining and contesting others—thereby distorting and changing national identity. A unique national identity represents a guarantee that a nation will not accept any limitations on its sovereignty or independence—to say nothing of foreign rule or domination—and will insist on the right to determine its own future.
According to a survey conducted as part of the aforementioned research, 86% of respondents consider themselves Ukrainians while only 11% view themselves as Russians. Others either regard themselves as representatives of other nationalities or expressed no opinion.3 It should be noted that the share of those who consider themselves Ukrainian increases, as the age of the respondents decreases. 81% of those 60 and older view themselves as Ukrainians, while the figure among those under 30 is 94%.4 It can thus be concluded that over time, the share of the those considering themselves Ukrainians can be expected to increase further. This survey data provides solid ground to conclude that, in terms of national identity, Ukrainian society is now fairly homogeneous, given that the overwhelming majority of those surveyed—including ethnic Russians—regard themselves as Ukrainians. The above can be explained by the new and inclusive sense of national identity that has emerged in Ukraine as a result of the Revolution of Dignity and Russia’s hybrid war. Russian aggression has united diverse communities within Ukraine around the ideas of freedom and independence, shifting existing perceptions of Ukrainian identity beyond the narrow frames of language and ethnicity.5
Sense of patriotism
The results of research show that the events of recent years have significantly influenced the development of civic identity. According to respondents’ self-assessments, their sense of patriotism has been increased primarily by the heroism and dedication demonstrated by Ukrainian troops in the struggle against Russian aggression and separatist movements. Respect for Ukrainian volunteer and professional soldiers stems from the fact that, in the opinion of the overwhelming majority of respondents, “[the] Ukrainian military today is the only guarantor of citizens’ security, Ukraine’s sovereignty, and territorial integrity” and “if not for the dedication of mobilized soldiers and volunteers, Ukraine would not exist today.”6 These judgments are shared by a majority of residents in most regions (except the East, where there is no statistically significant difference between the share of those who agree and those who do not). Conversely, however, the government’s inefficiency to deliver on reforms over the past three years have conversely weakened the sense of patriotism in a relative majority of respondents. The absolute level of patriotism is high: three-quarters of respondents claim to have feelings of patriotism towards Ukraine (80% of ethnic Ukrainians and 53% of ethnic Russians). With regards to the issue of divergences between western and eastern Ukraine, 59% of those surveyed in the Donbas express patriotic feelings towards Ukraine, compared to 88% in the western part of the country.7
The above figures clearly render groundless the narrative about an irreconcilable split between western and eastern Ukraine over the issue of national identity. Certainly, there are differences between the populations in each region; however, they are by no means sufficient to justify the Russian definition of a divided Ukraine: as Vladimir Putin once famously told US president George W. Bush, “Ukraine is not even a state,” since “part of its territories is Eastern Europe, but the greater one is a gift from us.”8
Linguistic identity and language practices
Only in the western part of the country is the proportion of those who consider Ukrainian their native language close to the share of those who actually speak it at home. In all other regions, the first figure is higher. The biggest difference is in southern Ukraine, where 63% consider Ukrainian as their mother tongue, while only 34% use it as a primary language at home. Thus, one may notice a contradiction between linguistic identity and language practices. It should be noted that the dissonance between linguistic identity and language practices is greater in the group of respondents with higher education – in this group 66% of those surveyed consider Ukrainian their mother tongue, while only 48% of them speak Ukrainian at home. To some extent this may be due to the fact that people with higher education are more likely to live in urban areas, and Ukrainian cities—in the Russian imperial era as well as in Soviet times—were most heavily subject to Russification.9
One can thus note an explicit rebuttal of one of the claims promoted by the Russian propaganda narrative: that Ukrainian society is divided in terms of national identity and different language practices (i.e., that all Russian speakers share a Russian rather than a Ukrainian national identity). Simply put, a majority of Ukrainian citizens (69%) consider Ukrainian their native language, though far from all of them speak it in their daily lives. Furthermore, an opinion poll conducted by the International Republican Institute in 2014 revealed that 74% of the Russian-speaking population in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine asserted that “they are not under pressure or threat because of the language they speak.”10 This attitude shows the ethno-cultural inclusiveness of the new and evolving Ukrainian identity. Ultimately, demonstrates that language is not the best indicator of political preferences in modern Ukraine. In other words, use of the Russian language is not a political act. In fact, even though Kyiv is the largest Russian-speaking city outside Russia itself, the people of Ukraine’s capital are firm in their patriotic positions. After all, the city has already twice been the driver of revolutions aimed at moving the country out of the Russian orbit.
According to the data presented in the Razumkov study, there is no consensus within Ukrainian society as to whether preserving cultural features of regional/ ethnic groups is better than cultural unification, as the level of support for each position hardly differs. Similarly, there are balanced numbers on either side of the dilemma of whether the state should provide support only for the Ukrainian language and culture or also for the languages and cultures of other peoples living in Ukraine. Although Ukrainian cultural needs are viewed as slightly better satisfied than Russian. The majority of Ukrainians who feel a sense of commonality with residents of other regions are aware of the differences between them—and a majority also believes that these differences are a good thing (this opinion is shared by majority of Ukrainian citizens as well).11 It is noteworthy that Russian disinformation campaign has long been trying to instrumentalize the issue of cultural identity, seeking to portray Ukrainian society as culturally divided while simultaneously advancing the claim that the development of Russian culture is restricted. However, the above data belies the latter propaganda line’s thesis concerning any obstruction of the cultural development possibilities for the Russian minority in Ukraine.
Corruption and socio-economic problems
According to the Razumkov public opinion data, the following factors can most contribute to the consolidation of Ukrainian society: “overcoming existing socio-economic problems, enhancing the welfare of the majority of citizens” (67% of respondents), and “combating corruption and bringing corrupt officials to justice” (66%).12Pervasive corruption is frequently referred to as the chief underlying problem of Ukraine. For example, the international affairs experts from around the world surveyed by the Institute of World Policy for its Foreign Policy Audit of Ukraine, indicate that domestic policy—namely continuing reforms and combating corruption—is among the top three , problems of Ukraine’s foreign policy.13 Such a perception of corruption in Ukraine is not groundless, given that Ukraine ranked 131th out of 168 countries in the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International.14
State governance and public institutions
A change of government in Ukraine, [and the] coming to power of honest, professional, non-corrupt people” (51% of respondents) and a “more fair distribution of social wealth, narrowing a gap between incomes of rich and poor citizens” (48%) can also contribute to the consolidation of Ukrainian society, as indicated by those surveyed.15Such a perception among the population is not accidental, since Ukrainian government’s inefficiency and poor governance is outlined in various international rankings as well. For example, in accord with The Economist’s Democracy Index 2016 Ukraine is ranked as a “hybrid regime” with the functioning of its government awarded only 3.94 points out of 10.16
Ukraine has changed after the Revolution of Dignity, but has not lost the features of a “captured state” in which key state institutions are controlled by groups of related individuals who have access to public funds and national resources. There remains a large closed cycle of political corruption in Ukraine in which several oligarchic business elites “invest” illegally obtained assets (mainly “black” cash) in elections and political players at all levels in order to control officials’ future decisions. These officials, in turn—through corruption and favourable decisions—help to increase the oligarchs’ capital.17 Ukrainian society has little confidence in the state, its main institutions, or its politicians, regardless of their political affiliations. None of the key state institutions—with the key exception of the army—enjoys much public trust.18 This is not surprising, as over the quarter-century since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has become one of the poorest countries in Europe.19
The Federalization of Ukraine
Ukrainian society, according to the Razumkov study, views federalization as the most divisive factor: By region, federalization of Ukraine is seen as a potentially divisive factor most of all by those in the west.20 These attitudes represent an argument for the inadmissibility, unacceptability, and irrelevance of one of Russia’s aims – the federalization of Ukraine.
National policy in relation to Russia
The most worrisome finding of research is a lack of common view within Ukrainian society as to what the country’s policy should be towards the Russian Federation; attitudes differ considerably. Some 25% support eliminating cooperation with Russia, another 25% advocate reducing cooperation, and 21% of respondents favour deepening cooperation with the eastern neighbour.21
The Case of Georgia
With regard to the above-mentioned Ukrainian problems with state governance and public institutions, there is already an exemplary precedent in the post-Soviet space: that of Georgia. There, it has been demonstrated that even in such a poor, corrupt, and criminalized so-called “failed state,” it is possible to carry out successful reforms and transformations if there is a high level of competence and strong political will. This precedent suggests that corruption is not a mental problem, nor an inherited one. Learning lessons from the successful Georgian experience of achieving economic reforms along with rebuilding and reforming state institutions and, more importantly, their genuine and comprehensive implementation in Ukraine (that is, not simply transposing separate elements to Ukraine in an imitative way in order to make reforms falsely visible) might create a crucial breakthrough along Ukraine’s state-building path. There are many sources from which one can learn about the Georgian reform experience. One of the most systematic and well-structured papers regarding this subject is the book Fighting Corruption in Public Services: Chronicling Georgia’s Reforms, published by the World Bank. It argues that the main measures that made Georgian economic reforms successful while also combating corruption were: simplifying tax administration and facilitating customs procedures, reducing bureaucracy, cutting the wide network of regulatory and licensing agencies, and radically decreasing the number of regulations and required permits for starting and doing business.22
To sum up, it can be concluded that citizens of Ukraine increasingly see themselves as a separate community and political nation that has its own state, history, culture, and determined to fight against the armed aggressor for the right to exercise their free democratic choices. The future prospects of the consolidation of Ukrainian society depend to a large extent on the degree to which the factors supported by a majority of Ukrainian citizens can actually be realized, notably on corruption and economic reform. As the history of Ukrainian statehood since 1991 shows, the most important of all these factors is a government of honest, professional, and non-corrupt people – without that, as proven by the disenchanting experiences after the popular uprisings in 2004 and 2013-2014, socio-economic problems cannot be overcome. The overall conclusion that can be drawn is as follows: the more fundamentally and profoundly the current political elite of Ukraine is changed by new generation of leaders having a genuine faith in their country, a high level of enthusiasm, and a lack of corruption, the greater the prospects for the consolidation of Ukrainian society.
*This analytical overview was published as a part of the on-going research study in the framework of the development cooperation project called “Civil society support for strengthening national resilience and security in Ukraine”, which launched by the ICDS and is kindly supported by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
1 “National Security & Defence”, (Kyiv: Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov, 2016), razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_201… (accessed April 26, 2016)
2 M. Huysseune, “Nationalism and Identity Politics in International Relations”, International Relations – Vol.I (2009), accessed March 16, 2017, www.eolss.net/sample-chapters/c14/e1-35-01-06.pdf
3 “National Security & Defence”,. (Kyiv:Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov , 2016), 10, razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_2016_eng.pdf (accessed April 26, 2016).
4 “National Security & Defence”,. (Kyiv:Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov , 2016), 10, razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_2016_eng.pdf (accessed April 26, 2016).
5 Peter Dickinson, “National identity debate: Should Kyiv embrace country’s multicultural heritage or strive for a more Ukrainian Ukraine?”, ukrainedemocracy.org/?news=national-identity-debat… (accessed March 21, 2017)
6 “National Security & Defence”,. (Kyiv:Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov , 2016), 5, razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_2016_eng.pdf (accessed April 26, 2016.
7 “National Security & Defence”,. (Kyiv:Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov , 2016), 4, razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_2016_eng.pdf (accessed April 26, 2016).
8 Richard Palmer, „Putin Confirms: Ukraine Is Russia’s“, The Trumpet, www.thetrumpet.com/article/6188.8.131.52/europe/easte…(accessed March 4, 2017).
9 “National Security & Defence”. (Kyiv:Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov 2016), 8, razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_2016_eng.pdf (accessed April 26, 2016).
10 Уэйн Ли, “Госдеп опубликовал десять мифов российской пропаганды”, Голос Америки, www.golos-ameriki.ru/a/ten-more-false-claims-about… (accessed March 2, 2017)
11 “National Security & Defence”,. (Kyiv:Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov , 2016), 17, razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_2016_eng.pdf (accessed April 26, 2016).
12 “National Security & Defence”, (Kyiv:Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov, 2016), 11, razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_2016_eng.pdf (accessed April 26, 2016).
13 From August to December of last year, IWP conducted a survey of 102 experts (33 from Ukraine and 69 from abroad) on their view of the main challenges for the country’s foreign policy. See Ukraine’s Foreign Policy Audit: Recommendations for Foreign Policy Strategy. (Kyiv: Institute of World Policy, 2016), iwp.org.ua/eng/public/2214.html. (accessed April 26, 2016)
14 “Corruption Perception Index 2016,” Transparency International, www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perce… (accessed February 17, 2017)
15 “National Security & Defence”,. (Kyiv: Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov , 2016),11, razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_2016_eng.pdf (accessed April 26, 2016)
16 Democracy Index 2016. Revenge of the “deplorable” (London: The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2017) (accessed April 26, 2016)
17 Дар’я Каленюк, “Простий рецепт подолання корупції,” Тиждень, February 16, 2017, tyzhden.ua/Economics/132453 (accessed April 26, 2016)
18 Stanislav Zlenko, “Trust to social institutions,” Kiev International University of Sociology, accessed February 18, 2017, kiis.com.ua/?lang=eng&cat=reports&id=678…
19 “Poorest Countries In Europe,” World Atlas, accessed February 19, 2017, www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-poorest-countries-…
20 “National Security & Defence”, (Kyiv:Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov , 2016), 11, razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_2016_eng.pdf (accessed April 26, 2016).
21 “National Security & Defence”,. (Kyiv: Ukrainian Centre for Economic & political Studies named after Olexander Razumkov, 2016), 15, razumkov.org.ua/uploads/journal/eng/NSD165-166_2016_eng.pdf (accessed April 26, 2016)
22 The World Bank, “Fighting Corruption in Public Services: Chronicling Georgia’s Reforms.” (Washington, D.C., 2012) (accessed April 26, 2016)