Archipelago Ukraine

7 December 2022, 01:46 PM

The issues that divide Ukrainians have not disappeared. Unlike Russia, Ukraine is not a rigid structure. Mentally, it does not consist of solid land, but of islands of consensus. Together, they form an archipelago.

I am reading an intelligent book that tries to summarize Ukraine’s 30 years of independence. Perhaps it is too smart, because I don't understand everything about it. In particular, it says that despite individual achievements, Ukrainians have not managed to develop a common vision of their country.

Video of day

I have a question: if the Ukrainians have not succeeded in this, then who has? Could the authors point to a country whose inhabitants have a common vision? Almost certainly, no such country exists in old Europe and its children - North America and Oceania. I do not know very well what is being done in Asia, Africa, and South America, but I assume that such a country would not be found there either. Perhaps the closest to the ideal is North Korea. But even in Russia, whose government is trying to achieve the North Korean ideal, 20% do not support the war with Ukraine.

This is not the first time I have noticed: we, Ukrainians, are perfectionists. If we have something that is neither white nor black, then we reject it as unnatural. Our political leaders should be the living embodiment of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary. If there is even one stain in their biography (and there are many more stains!), then we cancel them and wait for a "new George Washington”.

The truth is that democracy is neither black nor white, but rather gray. Therefore, it cannot have a common vision. There is a competition of different visions. And the winner among them is the one on which there is a majority consensus.

The question of whether such a consensus exists fell upon us back in the early 1990s. At that time, it was about the possible death of the Ukrainian state. It was rightly believed that the future of Ukraine depended on the presence or absence of such consensuses. Therefore, we were looking for a national idea that could unite the east and west of Ukraine.

National consensus, however, is created not from ideas, but from the experience of common life. The first such experience came about on December 1, 1991, when the majority of the Ukrainian population voted for the independence of Ukraine during the referendum.

This consensus was called false and situational. Only 9 months before, in the all-Union referendum of 1991, the majority of Ukrainians voted for the preservation of the USSR. If they changed their minds so quickly, why could they not change their minds again?

Now we see that this consensus is permanent. In whatever year or month we repeat the December referendum, the result would be the same: the majority would choose independence.

Only the size of this majority would change. It decreases with each worsening of the economic situation, but increases with each threat from Russia. And it reached its highest figures before the current war during the Russian annexation of Crimea.

The history of consensus building around national symbols — the Ukrainian flag, anthem, and coat of arms — is interesting. A significant part of the population did not accept them, because they saw in them an embodiment of bloodthirsty Ukrainian nationalism. There were proposals for a compromise - to add a yellow stripe to the red-blue flag of the Ukrainian SSR. The consensus appeared unexpectedly when, during the 1994 Winter Olympics, Oksana Bayul won the gold medal in figure skating. When she got on the Olympic podium, they played the Ukrainian national anthem and raised the Ukrainian flag. This story had its nuances. The organizers of the Olympic Games did not have a ready recording of the Ukrainian anthem, and the head of the Ukrainian delegation had to rush to the hotel for her own tape, and the flag was raised aloft. But these are details. The general picture was that, as opinion surveys showed, the non-acceptance of Ukrainian symbols almost completely disappeared after this incident. From then on, it became a symbol of Ukrainian success.

Another interesting example is the case of Mykhailo Hrushevskyi. He had been banned in the late Ukrainian SSR. In the early 1980s, as a young graduate student, I was "kindly" warned: even a negative mention of his surname is tantamount to covert propaganda of Ukrainian nationalism, so God forbid I mention him in my texts. The situation changed after 1991. The Ukrainian government needed its historical legitimation to show that it did not arise in an empty place, but had inherited old traditions. Accordingly, a portrait of Hrushevskyi as the head of the first Ukrainian state appeared in Kravchuk's office. Since then, in every survey of who Ukrainians consider to be their national hero, he appears at the head of the list among the top five.

The consensus on the Holodomor was just as surprising. In Soviet times, the Holodomor was subject to an even greater taboo than Hrushevskyi. After the collapse of the Union, it was hotly debated whether it had the character of a targeted crime against Ukrainians. But when the Verkhovna Rada recognized the Holodomor as genocide in 2006, polls showed that this point of view was shared by the majority of the population in all regions, including Donbas. The reason why this consensus included even the south and east of Ukraine is quite simple: the state decree resonated with the family memories of the local population.

Дайджест главных новостей
Бесплатная email-рассылка только лучших материалов от редакторов NV
Рассылка отправляется с понедельника по пятницу

The list of other consensuses includes the status of Ukrainian as the state language and European integration. All these consensuses were formed even before the war. The war has created new consensuses about Bandera and belief in victory.

The issues that divide Ukrainians have not disappeared. Unlike Russia, Ukraine is not a rigid structure. Mentally, it does not consist of solid land, but of islands of consensus. Together they form an archipelago.

The war has shown that this structure is viable. There will be ebbs and flows. But they do not change the strategic consensuses that determine the country's fate.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google News

Ukraine Today
Fresh daily newsletter covering the top headlines and developments in Ukraine
Daily at 9am EST
Show more news