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Russian-Speaking Citizens of Ukraine: “Imaginary Society” as it is.
 19 May 2008

According to famous American researcher Benedict Anderson, nations are “imaginary societies”, because their members feel a sense of community with others without even knowing them.

This hardly applies to Russian-speaking Ukrainians. They hardly feel as one community –socially or politically. Yet, they are an “imaginary society”, only not according to Anderson’s definition. This society exists in other subjects’ imagination, being identified as an object in need of protection or as a potential threat. This society serves as a pretext for indignant statements and official letters from the neighboring country and for separatist congresses in this country. It is actively referred to in frequent election campaigns and is alleged to have certain distinctive features, which is not always true.

What does exist objectively is the problem of Russian-speaking Ukrainians. It is not just “a piece of red cloth” in the non-stop political bullfight in this country or one of the sorest spots in relations between Ukraine and Russia. Without understanding the peculiar identity of one-third of Ukrainian citizens who use Russian in everyday life it is pointless to talk about any Ukrainian “national identity” or “political nation”.

The Razumkov Center undertook to find answers to the following questions: are Russian-speakers a homogeneous society? How and to what extent does the language factor influence other parameters of identity? Which additional attributes (nationality, cultural tradition, age, etc.) influences the peculiar identity of Russian-speakers?

Ukraine, Russian-Speakers, and the “Russian World”

All official and unofficial statements by Russian leaders and politicians boil down to one “postulate”: all Russian-speakers belong to a Russian culture and so must enjoy special care and protection by the Russian Federation.

The most indicative example is the Russian World Fund founded by Vladimir Putin. According to its ideologists, this “world” unites not only ethnic Russians, citizens of Russia, and Russian communities in other countries, but also “foreign citizens who speak Russian”. Subsequently, 37 in 100 citizens of Ukraine are regarded as objects of special care and protection by the Russian Federation (without even knowing it). As the fund’s materials imply, they are supposed to act accordingly…

Russian philosopher and political engineer P. Shchedrovitsky defines the “Russian world” as “a network structure of large and small communities of people who think and speak Russian”. He is quite outspoken: “It is becoming clearer today that Russia as the post-USSR kernel is facing a dramatic choice: either a new model of development becomes the basis for shaping a new nation or the territory of the Russian Federation as a politically amorphous entity turns into an object for global subjects of power (in the worst event – into a human waste dump)… The more citizens of other states need Russia, the stronger Russia’s positions in the world. The new Russian statehood can and must seek its fulcrum within the Russian world, through a policy of constructive development of its global networks.”

This means that the “Russian world” is supposed to help Russia strengthen its international positions and solve its internal problems. Those who define the “Russian nation” as an ethnic entity are far fewer than those who incline to the imperial paradigm as a prerequisite for restoration of Russia’s might. The latter, including Shchedrovitsky, rule Ukraine out as an independent state and its people as a sovereign political nation.

Some Ukrainian politicians also spread such ideas in this country by playing the “language card” in their political games. Being unable to offer a meaningful development strategy for this country, they build their own election campaign strategies on “socially sensitive issues”. The so-called “language issue” is their favorite tool.

When one Ukrainian politician says that “Ukrainian is no language for science and will eventually disappear as useless” and his opponent calls Ukrainians who identify Russian as their mother tongue “erratic”, the people certainly feel insulted and so are easier to be stirred up and set against political opponents…

Russian-Speaking Citizens: Common Features

According to returns of the poll by the Razumkov Center, 37 percent of adult citizens of Ukraine use Russian in everyday communication.

The “Russian world” ideologists and some Ukrainian politicians may be disappointed, but the overwhelming majority (86%) of Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine call Ukraine their Motherland and 72 percent call themselves its patriots.

57 percent of Russian-speaking citizens are for granting Russian the status of a second state language. Every fourth of them (25%) supports the idea of granting Russian the status of an official language in some regions of the country. 12 percent of Russian-speaking citizens support the present status of languages, and only 4 percent are for Russian as the only state language in Ukraine.

To a relative majority of Russian-speaking citizens the term “Ukrainian nation” means “a nation of all citizens of Ukraine regardless of their ethnic origin, language, or national traditions which they keep and on which they raise their children”. 40 percent of this group support ethnic-based definitions and 9 percent support the definition based on the notion of “belonging to the Ukrainian culture”.

One-third of Russian-speaking respondents identify themselves as bearers of the Ukrainian cultural tradition, almost one-third – of the Soviet culture, 6 percent – of the European, and the rest – less than a quarter – of the Russian one.

Assessing prospects for cultural traditions in Ukraine, 36 percent of Russian-speaking respondents said they were sure that different cultures would prevail in different regions, every fifth said that the Ukrainian tradition would prevail, every sixth spoke in favor of the European tradition, and only 7 percent – in favor of the Russian tradition.

More than a half (53%) do not believe that differences between western and eastern Ukrainians make them two different nations while 36 percent think so. 12 percent are undecided on that score. The majority of Russian-speaking respondents (55%) rule out the possibility of such differences ever splitting the country, 28 percent admit it, and 17 percent have no answer.

The overwhelming majority of Russian-speaking respondents are against secession of their regions from Ukraine and formation of an independent state (79%) or annexation to another state (77%). A considerable majority (60%) are against the idea of Ukraine’s federalization.

59 percent said they would like their administrative regions to preserve their status with wider rights and powers of local self-government.

As we can see, most Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine are patriots of this country, call it their Motherland, and support its territorial integrity. All they want is to raise the status of the language they use in everyday life and more powers for their respective self-governments.

Looking into Differences

The above picture is adequate but incomplete, because Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine may also belong to other nationalities and cultural traditions, their native languages may be something other than Russian, and their social-demographic differences may be considerable.

It is logical to presume that such peculiarities could influence the respondents’ answers to this or that question. In order to prove or disprove this presumption, respondents were grouped by additional characteristics: along with the group “Russian-speaking citizens”, there were “Russian-speaking Ukrainians”, “bilingual Ukrainians”, and “bilingual Ukrainians of Ukrainian culture”. Comparisons were based on two reference groups: “Russians” – Russian citizens of Ukraine whose native language is Russian, who identify themselves as bearers of the Russian cultural tradition and use Russian in everyday communication and “Ukrainians” – Ukrainian citizens of Ukraine whose native language is Ukrainian, who identify themselves as bearers of the Ukrainian cultural tradition and use Ukrainian in everyday communication. In the survey the groups of Russian-speaking respondents were compared with one another and with the reference groups. The results of comparisons look very interesting.

Russian-Speaking Citizens: Distinctions

In all the groups the number of those who identify themselves as patriots of Ukraine exceeds 70 percent. Notably, the level of patriotism in all the groups exceeds the figure of the “Russian” reference group by 22-37 percent. In the group “bilingual Ukrainians of Ukrainian culture” it is only 3 percent lower than in the “Ukrainian” reference group.

The difference between the number of affirmative answers to the question “Do you take Ukraine as your Motherland?” by the “Russian” reference group and the “Russian-speaking citizens” is 22 percent. The difference between this group and the “Russian-speaking Ukrainians” is also substantial (10%). The share of affirmative answers in the other two groups differs very little from the one in the “Ukrainian” reference group.

Thus, the patriotism of Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine is largely determined by such factors as Ukrainian nationality, native language, and belonging to the Ukrainian cultural tradition. At the same time, their patriotism is not disposed against Russia. Between 37 and 61 percent of respondents from all the groups believe that relations with Russia must be a priority in Ukraine’s foreign policy.

Regarding the language status issue, opinions coincide only in the Russian-speaking groups where respondents are for “Ukrainian as the state language and Russian as the official language in separate regions”. 57 percent of “Russian-speaking citizens” and 50 percent of “Russian-speaking Ukrainians” are for two state languages. At the same time, 45 percent of “bilingual Ukrainians” and 49 percent of “bilingual Ukrainians of Ukrainian culture” are for Ukrainian as the only state language. In other words, those whose native language is Ukrainian and who belong to the Ukrainian cultural tradition want Ukrainian to retain its superior status.

Thus, the position of Russian-speaking citizens on the language issue differs from the position of both “Ukrainians” and “Russians”. The diversity of answers given by “Russian-speaking citizens” shows that the groups whose native language is Ukrainian and who belong to the Ukrainian cultural tradition share their opinions with “Ukrainians”.

The majority of Russian-speaking respondents in all the groups, including the reference groups, are unanimous on the civil definition of Ukrainian nation (the difference between the answers given by the “Russian” and “Ukrainian” reference groups is 7 percent; between the extreme positions in the “Russian-speaking” groups it is 9 percent). The difference is wider on the “cultural” definition of the Ukrainian nation (10 percent between the reference groups and 8 percent between the “Ukrainian” reference group and the “bilingual Ukrainians of Ukrainian culture”).

Presumably, Ukrainians who communicate in Russian still call Ukrainian their mother tongue and/or identify themselves as bearers of the Ukrainian cultural tradition. Such “cultural dualism” discomforts them and their inclination for the Ukrainian ethnic identity sort of makes up for the use of Russian.

This presumption can be proven by the answers to another question: “What should determine one’s nationality?” In the groups “bilingual Ukrainians” and “bilingual Ukrainians of Ukrainian culture” the number of respondents who believe that it should be the parents’ ethnic origin exceeds the number of such respondents in the “Ukrainian” reference group by 5 percent and 6 percent respectively. The “native language” criterion is also more supported by these groups than by the “Ukrainian” reference group.

On the other hand, four times and twice fewer respondents in these groups respectively believe that one’s nationality ought to be determined by the everyday communication language. It should be noted that this factor is estimated lower by all groups of Russian-speaking citizens than by both reference groups.

The conclusion may look paradoxical. The use of Russian by a part of citizens of Ukraine is a factor that increases the personal significance of the “Ukrainian” aspect of their identity: nationality, native language, and belonging to the Ukrainian cultural tradition. In other words, a part of Russian-speaking Ukrainians may be even more Ukrainian than Ukrainian-speaking ones.

The Russian-speaking citizens differ considerably by belonging to either cultural tradition: 46 percent of them are affirmative on belonging to the Ukrainian cultural tradition while 11 percent – identify themselves as bearers of the Russian cultural tradition. With the “bilingual Ukrainians” the figures are 75 and 2 percent respectively.

As the survey shows, the majority of citizens believe that the language factor is unlikely to split the country and that differences between residents of the eastern and western parts are insufficient for creating separate states or acceding to another state. There is one important reservation: such scenarios will remain possible as long as politicians incite citizens against one another just because they speak Russian or Ukrainian. In disputes and conflicts over the language issue emotions prevail over common sense, and we know only too well where they may lead to (fortunately, we only know it from foreign experience so far).

Russian-Speaking Citizens: Different Forever?

The picture would be incomplete without a review of the answers given by respondents from different age groups. In this case there were three: 18-35, 36-59, and 60 and older.

The survey shows practically no differences among these age groups of Russian-speaking citizens on such issues as patriotism, approaches to the definition of the Ukrainian nation, assessment of distinctions between western and eastern Ukrainians, or the extent of possible consequences of such distinctions.

On other issues, however, the survey revealed substantial differences.

The number of Russian-speaking citizens who take Ukraine as their Motherland is nearly equal in all the age groups, but the number of younger respondents who do not take it as their Motherland is somewhat smaller than among older respondents (7%, 11%, and 12% respectively). This may be attributed to the fact that the younger people completely or partly shaped up as personalities after independence [in 1991] and did not have to “choose” their Motherland.

The majority of respondents in all the age groups are for two state languages in Ukraine. However, the number of respondents aged between 18 and 35 who want Ukrainian to be the sole state language and admit that Russian may be used in everyday communication is bigger than that in the older groups (15% vs. 12% in the 36-59 group and 9% in the 60 + group).

At the same time, the number of those who want both Ukrainian and Russian as the state languages is smaller in comparison with the other two age groups (51% vs. 59% and 62% respectively).

More young than older respondents call Ukrainian their native language and fewer call Russian, although Russian is the native language of the majority of respondents in all the three age groups.

Significantly more young Russian-speaking respondents identify themselves as bearers of the Ukrainian cultural tradition (43% vs. 30% and 22%), relatively more – of the European cultural tradition (9% vs. 6% and 2%), and significantly fewer – of the Soviet cultural tradition (13% vs. 33% and 46%).

A relative majority of respondents in all the age groups (34%, 36%, and 40%) believe that in the future different cultural traditions will dominate in different parts of Ukraine. A notably higher number of younger respondents (22% vs. 17% and 8%) expect a common European cultural tradition to prevail in Ukraine.

The age groups also differ on priorities in Ukraine’s foreign policy. More young than older respondents believe that relations with EU countries should be the priority (24% vs. 14% and 8%). At the same time, relations with Russia are viewed as the priority by fewer respondents in the youngest age group (51% vs. 64% and 71%).

As we can see, younger and older Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine differ primarily by their attitudes to the language issue, cultural identity, and foreign policy. Younger Russian-speaking citizens have more bonds with Ukraine and its cultural tradition than with the Soviet tradition. Young Russian-speaking citizens are more pro-European than older ones.

Figure-Free Conclusions

The above figures prove undeniably that Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine are neither an ethnic sub-community of the Russian nation nor a part of the “Russian world”.

Firstly, the overwhelming majority of them recognize Ukraine as their Motherland and themselves as its patriots.

Secondly, less than a quarter of them relate themselves to the Russian culture.

And thirdly, Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine do not “imagine” themselves as a separate community in this country or as another – international – community “united in space and history”.

Yet, looking back on so many dramatic and unexpected turns of history and considering Ukraine’s ethnic and political peculiarities, we must not give a priori judgments. Nations, like living organisms, are mobile, changeable, and very sensitive to external influences, especially if such influences are powerful and specifically targeted. Russian-speakers are the prime target in Ukraine. The influences aimed at them are based not on emotions but on a complete and logically built concept which poses an evident threat to Ukraine’s national security since a part of its citizens are viewed as potential human resources of another state.

This very concept is behind the laments of some Ukrainian politicians about the humiliated state of the Russian language, education, and culture in Ukraine. It is behind the complaints about the violated right of viewers in Donetsk to watch movies exclusively in Russian. It is behind the initiative to hold a national referendum on the status of the Russian language. It is behind the attempts of some pseudo-philologists to define the Russian language as some “common property of East-Slavonic nations” and Ukrainian – as a variant of the dialect spoken in a small part of western Ukraine and alien even to ethnic Ukrainians.

Someone definitely wants Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine to imagine themselves as a separate community some day (the sooner the better) and to see their future in another state. So far, their sober mind allows them to imagine possible consequences and make practical conclusions in favor of their Motherland, and that is the best antidote.

On the other hand, Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine differ in social and cultural aspects and many of them are “in a transient state”, judging from their patriotic sentiments, recognition of Ukrainian as the native language and themselves as bearers of the Ukrainian cultural tradition. That is why the policy for this category of citizens must be maximally considerate.

Differences are also evident in Russian-speaking citizens of different age groups. The younger are less bound by rudiments of the Soviet era and are more inclined to Ukraine and its culture. They are more pro-European than their older Russian-speaking compatriots. This inspires a hope that intercultural disagreements might disappear in the process of Ukraine’s integration with the common European cultural space.

The fundamental prerequisites for strengthening civil patriotism are positive political, economic, and social changes and emergence of a truly civil society. The country needs an optimal model of government, rotation of political elites, economic growth, and just distribution of social benefits. The country needs to break free from the vicious circle of stagnation, permanent political crisis, total corruption, and societal apathy. Progress on the way to these goals can and must make the people proud of belonging to the “Ukrainian world” and being part of its history and destiny. Subsequently, the Ukrainian language and culture will spread to the predominantly Russian-speaking regions.

The main problems in the language adaptation of Russian-speaking citizens and their integration with the Ukrainian cultural space are the currently low quality standards of Ukrainian-language educational, cultural, and informational products plus unsystematic and inconsistent measures for expanding this space.

Of course, it is wrong to expect all Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine to buy books or watch movies exclusively in Ukrainian regardless of their quality. But those who will not are not the critical majority. Returns of sociological surveys indicate very clearly that a rational, considerate, and consistent language policy will be positively accepted by the overwhelming majority of Russian-speaking citizens. Like all the rest, they want to live in a stable country without any internal barriers that may well turn into barricades.

Meanwhile, it has just become known that there are plans to open a “Russian World” office in Luhansk – for popularizing the Russian language…

Other materials:
Publication source

Yuriy Yakymenko

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