Staunton, August 19 – An increasingly common theme in many commentaries about Crimea and the Donbass is that Ukrainians should not want them back. Pro-Russian attitudes in the those regions would, if they were again included within the borders of the Ukrainian state, make them a classic “fifth column.”
But that is “yet another lie about ‘the Russian world,” Kseniya Kirillova argues in a commentary yesterday, one that fails to take into consideration the nature of such attitudes and the ways in which they have changed in the past and could change in the future as well.
There are several reasons for confidence that this is so, the commentator says. First of all, those said to have “pro-Russian” attitudes consist of several groups: those who hope to benefit financially or psychologically by being part of Russia, those who fear Ukrainization, and those who feel “a cultural closeness to Russia,” Russian traditions, and the Russian language.
It should not be any problem for Ukraine to demonstrate that ethnic Russians in Crimea and the Donbass will be better off in Ukraine than they will be in Russia, especially at a time of economic crisis in the latter, Kirillova says. That leaves the third group whose members are concerned about self-identification.
Under Putin, Russian propaganda has insisted that “the so-called ‘Russian world’ is possible only within the state borders of Russia,” a lie that ignores the experiences of nations and ethnic groups around the world who can maintain and even promote their cultural identities while being loyal citizens of other states.
The history of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States, is a clear example of this, Kirillova continues. Its members speak English, are American citizens and identify with the U.S. But they also maintain their Ukrainian language, continue to be concerned about their ancestral homeland, and identify with it as well.
The possibility they and others have to combine in themselves “various identifications” in a way in which one does not conflict with another is typical of the United States, she says. And she suggests that “by declaring that Russian cultural identification is possible only within the state borders of the Russian Federation, the Russian authorities are declaring the weakness of this culture and its inability to exist and develop without the help of the state.”
But more than that, Kirillova argues, “this conscious setting of one identification against another, identifications which under normal conditions could be combined is one of the means of manipulation by which the Russian authorities for some years already have been successfully controlling the consciousness of their people.”
That sets one group of people off against another, but it also creates splits within particular individuals by insisting that they must choose between identities and give up one in order to have the other, a challenge which recalls the dangerous question children are sometimes asked “Whom do you love more? Your mother or your father?”
Such a question should not be posed because “the very situation of a choice between parents for a child is not healthy, is wrong and more than that in normal families, such a choice is absolutely unnecessary.” In them, “a child grows up as a healthy and harmonious personality when he loves his father and mother equally, each in its own way, with its nuances but at the same time strongly.”
“Many have noticed,” Kirillova says, “that before the annexation of Crimea, external freedom in Russia was much greater than now and dissidents were not subjected to criminal persecution for the expression of their views … But at the same time, in Russia has been destroyed in a planned fashion the main internal freedom, the freedom of self-identification.”
Under the current Russian government and under its predecessors as well, each person could have one and only one identity and that identity once declared could not be changed, even if the individual feels an attachment to more than one group or changes his or her attachments over time.
In a free society, individuals can identify with more than one group at a time; and they can change their identities with time. “This is one of the reasons why the Russian authorities are so afraid of freedom.” Those who can make choices often make them in unpredictable ways and that makes them far less manageable.
What authoritarian regimes want is predictability, the analyst argues; and they consequently “seek to drive the individual into ‘a ghetto’ of one of his identities” and “to cut him off from the possibility of associating himself at the same time with some other group.” Such regimes thus fear multiple or shifting identities like the plague.
In Crimea prior to the Anschluss, many people for many years combined identities, a pattern that gave the lie to Moscow’s insistence that “love for Russian culture cannot be combined with life in a Ukrainian state.” Sometimes choices are necessary to avoid falling into an unprincipled position; but not in cases like this.
Thus, “the task of Ukrainians consists not so much in showing the residents of the Donbass and Crimea that ‘the Ukrainian world’ is better and more attractive than ‘the Russian world,’ but in showing that Ukraine is capable not only of showing the world its own unique culture while preserving and expanding all the best that is in the Russian one as well.”
Indeed, Kirillov argues, “it is precisely Ukraine more than anyone else which can preserve and cleanse from dirt propagandist lies and show to the entire world in its real form all the combined words, meanings and achievements of both cultures.”
Ukrainians must show the residents of the occupied territories that “integration in Ukraine is not a rejection of Russian culture but an opportunity to see it in an undistorted and unharmed light, as this happened, for example, with the celebration of Victory Day in Ukraine” with the participation of veterans and a sense of tragedy but without insane militaristic hysteria.”
If that happens, Kirillova concludes, then “part of ‘the pro-Russian views’ of the residents of the occupied territories will not interfere in any way with their becoming in time normal citizens of the Ukrainian state,” precisely because they can remain part of their ethnic community just as Ukrainians in the United States do.