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Ukraine: Sociology and Nationalism

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Ukraine’s national identity and its moral values are still high on the agenda of Ukrainian sociologists despite the fact that 30 years have passed since Ukraine became independent. This is because the country’s national identity has yet to acquire a solid and clear-cut political, ideological and moral framework. It is still unclear what is Ukrainian national conscience and how it differs from that of Russia and Belarus.

According to sociologists, “survival values” prevail over “self-expression” values in Ukrainian vision of the world. Ukrainians are more concerned about economic wellbeing than about Ukrainian identity. Only residents of Western Ukraine are believed to have passed all three stages of the formation of national identity, as suggested by Miroslav Hroch. Professor Hroch identified these stages as demonstration of interest in national culture – efforts by the intellectuals to popularize this culture – penetration into the masses and support by the masses of the national culture corps created by the intellectuals. Central and Eastern Ukraine has been stuck in Stage Two for 30 years, – the professor says.

This opinion is echoed by some Russian and Belarusian sociologists and historians, who confirm that residents of Western Ukraine do have a national culture corps described by Professor Hroch, that is, a full-fledged national identity. But Western Ukrainians make up less than 15% of the population of Ukraine. And a country where more than  80% of residents have no clear-cut sense of identity, with clearly pronounced distinctive features, cannot enjoy political stability.

These 80% are directly or indirectly accused of “false” identity, and curiously enough, sociologists who are particularly active in digging into this area of research come from Western Ukraine. For them, the 80% majority, who are different from the 15% minority, are “Soviet-minded, russianized, Moscow-guided Orthodoxy-oriented” people. This sort of research is full of ideology, rather than impartiality of science. It has nothing to do with reality being at odds with the fact that the “non-sovietised” and “non-russianised” population make up the minority that are prone to political aggression only if the country is ruled by unpopular leaders, controlled by the West.

The attempts to sociologically explain the 2014 coup (Euromaidan) by a change in the course of society development and the arrival of the middle class in protest against the oligarch rule, are beneath criticism. The “arrival” would have been impossible without the use of smart technologies and socio-engineering gimmicks. The declared outcome of the “arrival” of the  middle class is equally disheartening: the power in Kiev is firmly in the hands of the oligarchs.

Ukrainian sociologists signal the possibility of Ukraine turning eastward under the influence of “Moscow- and Orthodoxy-guided” voters. In 30 years of national identity Ukraine has not become a unitary state, so co-existing as ideal models are two Ukraines – pro-Western and pro-Russian, whose ideological confrontation has not resulted in victory for either – the two models will continue to confront one another in the future.

What could reconcile the two parts of Ukraine is a massive restoration of domestic policy, accompanied by economic recovery and eradication of corruption. This could attract one of the parties, or at least, part of it, to the other. Vladimir Zelensky’s victory in the presidential elections is attributed to a smart political move which made it possible to win the votes of Central and partly Eastern Ukraine – which is home to the “russianized” and “Moscow- and Orthodoxy-guided” communities.  The population of Central Ukraine, which includes five regions (Vinnytsia,  Kirovograd, Dnepropetrovsk, Cherkassk, Poltava) is the most unstable in terms of identity, demonstrating readiness to support both pro-Western and pro-Russian candidates depending on whether this or that candidate will sound persuasive enough.

In reality, Ukraine is highly unlikely to discard the oligarch-dominated system of government. Ukrainian identity is represented by three “gurus” – Mazepa, Petliura, Bandera. A “Ukrainian patriot” has become synonymous to “Mazepinets”, “Petliurovets”, “Banderite”. Kiev cannot go beyond these definitions – it it does, it will lose the support of the US, without which it will face financial collapse. Further pursuit of the above mentioned triad-based policies does nothing to foster Ukrainian statehood. As a result, there is a vicious circle with no way out. If Ukraine pursues such a triad in the future, it is bound to face ethnic conflicts and escalation of domestic tension.

It is “for Ukraine” and other post-Soviet republics that there appear geopolitical and cultural value projects which have no future. Among them were “Native Realm” by Polish essayist and diplomat Czeslaw Milosz, the principle “maximum diversity  minimum space” by Czech writer Milan Kundera, GUAM, the Lublin Triangle, the Eastern Partnership, Association with the EU. Milosz and Kundera thought that  there would be a flourishing ethnic diversity on a piece of land known as Central and Eastern Europe, naively assuming it possible in the conditions of geopolitical advances of collective West eastward. In this scenario, Ukraine is given the role of a springboard, “a territory of war”, not peace.

Passing through the territory of Ukraine is the geopolitical division line between the West and Eurasia, so national unity is not what it should expect to ever happen. Given the situation, Ukrainian people are doomed to making the unavoidable foreign policy choice in favor of either the West, or Russia.  

Considering this, a split is inevitable, while efforts to keep the disintegrating regions together with the help of nationalistic bonds are counter-productive, as it leads to greater  confrontation.

The appeals from some Ukrainian writers to liberalize Ukrainian nationalism will result in nothing. Contrary to their statements that liberal nationalism cannot mutate into fascism, Nazism and racism, the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism has passed the liberalization stage and is fairly liberal in its present shape. Ukrainian nationalism was radical under Bandera and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, but as it tuned out, its liberal variant is taking its bloody toll  in post-Soviet Ukraine (the burning of people in the House of Trade Unions in Odessa, the bombing of peaceful neighborhoods in Donbass, out-of-court reprisals against the dissenters – Oleg Kalashnikov, Oles Buzina). Even though Ukrainian nationalism is liberal, it is bloodthirsty.

Ukraine is thus facing gloomy prospects: part of the population that will reject this bloodthirsty ideology will be suppressed by the aggressive nationalist minority. Ukraine has already entered this phase and will stay in it long. Though, who knows… 

 From our partner International Affairs

Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Eastern Europe

Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Eastern Europe

Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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