Formation of National Identity among Ethnic Minorities in Ukraine
At a recent Kennan Institute talk, Karina Korostelina, a Research Professor and Fulbright New Century Scholar Fellow at George Mason Universtiy, and a former Regional Exchange Scholar at the Kennan Institute, discussed the process of national identity formation among Russians and Crimean Tatars living in Crimea and the potential for ethnic conflict in the region. She explained that Ukraine is a nationalizing state, still in the process of developing a unifying "Ukrainian" identity. The formation of a Ukrainian identity, she cautioned, could have both positive and negative consequences for minority groups and for the stability of the state as a whole.
The formation of what Korostelina called "Ukrainian national identity" could increase feelings of unity and dignity among the citizens of Ukraine and promote tolerance of different ethnic groups. However, she warned that Ukrainian national identity could also provide incentives for ethnic homogeneity and breed resentment among minority groups. She explained that Crimea is the region where ethnic conflict would most likely appear. The population of the region is 60 percent Russian, 20 percent Ukrainian, and between 12 and 15 percent Crimean Tatar. According to Korostelina, both Russians and Crimean Tatars have historical grievances—Russians because the Crimean peninsula was ceded from Russia to Ukraine in 1954, and Crimean Tatars because their entire nation was deported to Central Asia in 1944 and allowed to return to Crimea only in 1989.
In order to explain the absence of ethnic unrest, Korostelina presented the results of extensive survey research in Crimea that studied the salience and structure of Ukrainian national identity among Russians and Crimean Tatars, and the willingness of group memebers to fight in favor of the causes of their own ethnic group or against the causes of other groups. She noted that Ukrainian national identity is more salient for Crimean Tatars than for Russians, but that Russians are more likely to have adopted Ukrainian culture. Korostelina also noted that most Russians and Crimean Tatars think of Ukrainian national identity as civic or multi-cultural, but that Russians are somewhat more likely to view it in a purely ethnic light.
Willingness to fight for ethnic causes is slightly higher among Russians, according to Korostelina, but while both Russians and Crimean Tatars express some willingness to fight in support of their own group's causes, there is much less readiness to fight against the causes of the other group. Korostelina presented data demonstrating the correlations between salience of Ukrainian national identity and several indicators of ethnic hostility and conflict. She noted that she had expected to find that acceptance of Ukrainian national identity would reduce influence of ethnocentrism, ethnic identity and economic deprivation on readiness to fight, and this was indeed the case with Crimean Tatars. In the case of Russians, however, Korostelina found that acceptance of national identity even increases impact of ethnocentrism and ethnic identity on proclivity toward interethnic conflict.
Korostelina concluded that acceptance of Ukrainian national identity affects Russians and Crimean Tatars differently because the two groups understand Ukraine differently. Ethnocentric Crimean Tatars see Ukraine as a multi-national state and are concerned with their rights as a minority group. Ethnocentric Russians see themselves as the dominant ethnic group of a "Russian-Ukrainian state."