Ukrainian society is more European-oriented than political elites think
The confusion and apathy that have dominated a large part of Ukrainian society lately come from – or cause in some cases – historical trauma. Today, voter panic is caused by the successful usurpation of power by anti-Ukrainian forces, the lost battle – or a showcase of one – around the language law, and the bugging anticipation of a defeat in the war for the next parliament. However, neurotic insecurities are not the only reason for social inertness. Apparently, many have the impression that some members of the opposition feel perfectly comfortable as losers. They can promote themselves as the last stronghold or barricade, call on people to stand and fight, reveal wrongdoers, and be in the avant-garde of the rearguard while holding no responsibility whatsoever for anything. Is there possibly any more convenient way to self-assertion?
BACK TO THE USS… WHERE?
However, a sober look at the overall balance of powers in modern Ukraine overturns this convenient position. In the first place, the force to which Ukrainian patriots (this word is used here with no irony) are about to surrender is not that strong. Its key tool is the confusion of its opponents. The more depressed the opponents, the stronger the ruling force. A hypnotized rabbit makes the snake look and act more demonic and obnoxious, and fails to see it as incapable and ridiculous.
The Ukrainian Week has already analysed the strategic goals of the oligarch-controlled government. Those of their speeches and messages which reflect their platform, including speeches by party leaders at the Party of Regions’ congress, are surprisingly hollow. The vacuum of their pompous declarations, populist promises and libel against their predecessors bring to mind similar documents from the late USSR. “Overcome the ruin – reach stability and welfare…” Clearly, none of them will write blatantly that their goal is to return to the Soviet Union! And their Soviet Union will look like the one that is currently successfully implemented in Russia rather than like the real USSR with its odd, yet effective preventive measures. After all, the period of snobbish communism was merely an episode in Russia’s history lasting 70 years out of 300 and walking away from its key line merely in style rather than in essence. The deeper essence of the empire has always been the same: serfdom, militarism, assimilation of strangers and ideological monopoly inside, and aggression and the expansion of the Russian World outside. One of the leading ideologues of the modern day once put an equals sign between “Russia’s two biggest political projects – the Third Rome and the Third International.”
Respectively, the different versions of what we carelessly label homo sovieticus are in fact an incarnation of the Russian civilizational model. Basically, we justify them whenever we identify them as soviet relics because doing so makes them look obsolete, untimely and therefore safe. In reality, however, homo sovieticus is still here. And not because he is extremely resilient, but simply because he is not what he seems to be. Just call a spade a spade, the USSR/Russia, Soviet mentality/Russian mentality — that put everything back in place. Due to dissonant cultural patterns that impose their models of politics, economy and everyday life, Russia remains the key threat to the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians.
THE LAND OF THE DEAD
This does not mean that all Ukrainians feel animosity to the imperialistic model. Quite on the contrary, some once felt perfectly comfortable in it – and they still do. Some have even done pretty well, contributing to its viability. However, by doing so they rejected their identity and turned from Ukrainians into Russians - or little Russians to be more specific.
Calling everyone who votes for the Party of Regions a Russian would be speculation or exaggeration. These voters are probably feeling nostalgic about the order and the familiar world they thought they had in the past. People lost in modern chaos tend to seek salvation in an illusionary and nominal past. There is a place where souls go after death in all ethnic mythologies. Ancient Greeks had Heraclitus’ river of dead where nothing happened, nothing changed and time stopped. Part of Ukraine’s population dreams of returning to that dead time. One does not have to be from the older generation to feel nostalgic for the old days. Someone younger who failed to find his place in modern reality can yearn for the same retreat — and that is what happens most often today. There are enclaves of the dead in both modern Russia (in fact, almost all of Russia, save of a few cities, is the enclave of the dead) and its one-time provinces. Belarus is a model of a country that lives beyond time. In Ukraine, the enclave is Donbas acting as a micro Russia with mothballed memories, reflections and relations. And the illusionary Russia is just one step away from the real one with all of its real “benefits”. In this mythological reality, political borders are nominal and temporary.
However, the empire itself is going through hard times. The civilization project called Russia launched 300 years ago has exhausted itself. The Russian state is unlikely to collapse before it uses up all of its energy resources that keep it alive and viable, yet it can no longer give its citizens the sense of existence or a direction to follow. Therefore, floating to the Russian coast makes no sense at all. This is impossible to explain to the current leaders of Ukraine: they will not understand or believe it. Some citizens will hardly believe it either, because they are still in that illusionary or nominal time and place. But it is possible and necessary to communicate to those Ukrainians who are concerned about their future regardless of their current language and culture preferences.
THERE IS A FUTURE!
Recent battles over the language law revealed a new linguistic and socio-political reality: the split runs between people who see Ukraine as a separate alterative civilization project and associate themselves with it, and those who look back into the past, rather than between Russian and Ukrainian speaking citizens. There are Russian-speaking patriots who continue to speak Russian in everyday life by inertia yet the language does not identify their cultural and civilization choice, while the challenges of time will make them choose between ultimately admitting their non-Russianness or staying in their dead past. As for ethnic background, it does not matter in this case. In fact, modern sociologists determine ethnic background based on personal choice. Anyone with a Russian, Polish, Romanian, Jewish or Tatar last name can be a Ukrainian. Here, nothing other than what the person feels he or she is actually matters.
The opportunity to use the crisis as a push for further development is nothing new – all successful countries have gone through it.
Ukraine has all the prerequisites for this journey. The population is largely ready to accept the Ukrainian scenario of their future and reject the Russian one. Surveys by various sociological groups confirm that over and over again: most Ukrainians describe themselves as the citizens of their country in the first place; they share European values and prefer to move in the European direction. According to one of the latest surveys conducted by the Rating group in July-August 2012, the number of people who consider themselves patriots has been growing in Ukraine lately. In August 2012, their share hit 82%. 61% versus 57% of those surveyed answered “I’m a citizen of Ukraine” when asked “Who are you?” and only 19% mentioned their ethnic background. The lowest share of them was 42% in the South, primarily because of Crimea, and 53% in Donbas. The rest of Eastern Ukraine including Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk Oblasts, came in at 59% which is almost identical to figures in other regions of Ukraine.
Notably, 61% of those surveyed would support the declaration of Ukraine’s independence if they had to choose today, while only 26% would not. Most importantly, the supporters of independence comprise a majority in each micro region of Ukraine, save for Southern East, and the share is much higher among young people at 68%. This signals that more and more people will advocate Ukraine’s independence as generations change. 54% of those surveyed support Ukraine’s European choice – and again, more young people do. Therefore, the Ukrainian pro-European majority has become a reality and it is bound to keep growing for objective reasons. The leaders of opposition political forces should realize and follow this, in order to not miss the moment and to not indulge in unjustified inertness in promoting Ukrainian interests, reinforcing national identity and breaking through to modernization and European integration of Ukraine. In essence, what they need is not even to guide, but to catch up with a society that has once again outrun the elites and is anticipating clearly articulated priorities from them.