Nation-Building in Ukraine: A Growing Elite Consensus

By
Nancy Popson

There is an emerging elite consensus in Ukraine on such issues as state-building, territorial integrity, federalism, and foreign policy, said Taras Kuzio, Honorary Visiting Research Fellow at the Stasiuk Program on Contemporary Ukraine of the University of Alberta at a Kennan Institute lecture on 9 November 1999.

According to Kuzio, there is currently no debate in Ukraine on the question of state building. Only the tiny extreme nationalist parties oppose the definition of Ukraine as an inclusive civic state. Across the political spectrum, the elite see building a Ukrainian state as a priority. He noted that in the recent presidential elections, only three of the thirteen candidates supported a "pro-union" position. Even these pro-unionists have evolved in their views of the structure of the ideal union. Kuzio said that unlike in Belarus, one does not hear calls for Ukraine to become a gubernia of Russia--rather they support a confederation of sovereign states.

Kuzio also noted that there is broad consensus over questions of borders and territorial integrity. There has always been a constitutional majority in the parliament in support of Ukraine's territorial integrity. Despite many predictions that Ukraine would suffer from separatist movements and ethnic conflict, this has not been the case.

Kuzio attributes this peace to several factors. First, there is a large "ethnic buffer" in Ukraine--found in the 30 million Ukrainians living between the country's two polar extremes of Galicia and the Donbass. Moreover, the ethnic Russians in Ukraine have a territorial rather than ethnic identity. This is exacerbated by the fact that they tend to view the former USSR rather than the Russian Federation as their homeland.

In Crimea between 1996 and 1998, the only separatist movement in Ukraine, collapsed. According to Kuzio, this was hastened by the abolishment of the Crimean presidency in 1995, the shift to all-Ukrainian parties after the 1996 Constitution, and the recognition of Ukraine's borders by Russia in 1998.

Kuzio further remarked that there is a consensus that Ukraine should be a "devolved unitary state"--that is, neither a unitary state (since the elites recognize elements of regional diversity) nor a federal state. Federalism has very few political supporters. Kuzio also claimed that regionalism in Ukraine, which on the whole has been far too simplified in many analyses, shows no signs of leading to separatism.

Foreign policy issues have also become less contentious among Ukrainian elites. There is support across the spectrum of parties for defending Ukraine's national interests. According to Kuzio, the Kuchma presidency has largely followed in the footsteps of the Kravchuk administration. It has opposed political and military integration into the CIS and has continued to support bilateral economic cooperation. Kuzio also noted that Kravchuk in 1999 was squarely in the Kuchma re-election camp, illustrating the consensus between two politicians who were depicted in 1994 as holding polar opposite views on foreign policy.

Another area of growing consensus, said Kuzio, is state patriotism. He explained that the "national idea" in Ukraine has gradually evolved leftwards, counting members of socialist parties as adherents. Beginning in 1995, pro-statehood left wing parties began to emerge. The majority of parties on the left fit into this rubric: they are very critical of the West and in particular the IMF, who they see as colonizing Ukraine; and their goal is a Ukraine that is independent of both Russia and the West. They call for the need to revive patriotism as a state ideology. Kuzio pointed to the Kaniv Four electoral bloc (including Moroz, Marchuk, Tkachenko, and Oliynyk) in the run-up to the presidential elections as typifying this new leftward movement of state patriotism.

Kuzio suggested that nation-building is one area where elites have yet to form a consensus, but in which he feels there has been progress. The concept of nation-building was institutionalized in the 1996 Ukrainian and 1998 Crimean Constitutions; it has been instituted symbolically as well with the invalidation of Soviet passports starting in January 1998. While this indicates agreement over the larger goal, debates remain over the type of nation-building that is right for Ukraine.

Here Kuzio places Ukraine in the context of post-colonial societies. The questions revolve around to what extent and how quickly the colonial legacy can be removed. Kuzio asserted that the goals of the Kuchma administration in nation-building are the same as those of his predecessor, the difference is in the tactics and timing. Regarding language, Kuzio claims that support for making Russian a second state language has declined. However, given the divided nature of the titular nation, he does not foresee complete Ukrainianization of the country. Interestingly, he shows that introduction of Ukrainian historiography and symbols has not led to counter-mobilization of the Russian-speaking population.

In conclusion, Kuzio emphasized that although Ukraine remains an unconsolidated society, an elite-level consensus has emerged on most of the critical issues of nation- and state-building. Fundamental questions of the independence of Ukraine, its basic structure, borders, and citizenship requirements are no longer contested. Rather, Kuzio noted that future political debates will revolve around the type of nation, political system, and economic system that are being built in Ukraine.

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