How to Break the Cultural Gridlock in Ukraine,

Nicolai N. Petr , Silvia-Chandley Professor of Peace Studies and Nonviolence at the University of Rhode Island.

There will be no peace in Ukraine until its domestic politics are brought into conformity with its cultural reality.

Ukraine’s independence in 1991 created a nation-state whose two predominant cultural constituencies were unevenly divided between urban and rural, between wealthier and poorer regions, and between the more and less educated. The historical disbalance in favor of the Russian-speaking in each of these groups automatically made the status of the Russian language in Ukraine an issue of political contention.

Political elites from the westernmost region of Ukraine—Galicia—who before 1939 had been part of Poland, and before that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, argued vehemently that for Ukraine to become truly independent, the use of Russian had to be restricted. State policy, they argued, should aim at creating a Ukrainian national identity based on their own Galician identity which, given the oppression of the Soviet era, was now the only authentic Ukrainian identity. In those halcyon days many Russophone Ukrainians, seeking to distance themselves from the legacy of communism, also supported a gradual Ukrainianization. As Ukraine’s first president Leonid Kravchuk explained to them in the run-up to the independence referendum, they would be “full-fledged owners” of the country, and they would always be guaranteed “preservation of full-blooded, unhindered ties with Russia and other sovereign states of the former Union.” With this understanding, they voted in large numbers for Ukrainian independence at the end of 1991. Läs artikel