‘Ukraine: the dynamics of cross-cutting cleavages during quadraple transition’ in Crises in the Post-Soviet Space

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This book chapter is a part of a book project Crises in the Post-Soviet Space. From the dissolution of the Soviet Union to the conflict in Ukraine led by Felix Jaitner, Tina Olteanu and Tobias Spori (Routledge, 2018).

 The chapter on Ukraine is written by Olena Podolian and Valentyna Romanova.

 It critically investigates the changing structure of Ukraine’s cleavages from the dissolution of the USSR until the outbreak of the Russian aggression. Our findings challenge the widely held opinion that Ukraine is divided between East and West and provide a more nuanced picture of the dynamics of Ukraine’s internal divisions. Ukraine’s regionalised structure of ethnic and linguistic cleavages, inherited from the USSR, has not changed much during political and economic transformations. That was until the Russian illegal annexation of Crimea and its aggression in South-East Ukraine.

 

Ukraine: The Dynamics of Cross-Cutting Cleavages During Quadruple Transition

Olena Podolian[1] and Valentyna Romanova[2]

Introduction

Ukraine’s major ethnic, linguistic, regional and political cleavages, evident since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, have been extensively discussed in the academic literature (Birch 2000, Batt 2002, Sasse 2002, Barrington and Herron 2004, Katchanovski 2006, Balcer 2014). This discussion has often presented Ukraine as a country that is divided between East and West.

The mst obvious regional cleavage is indeed an East-West divide along the Dnipro river. According to Huntington’s global formula of the ‘clash of civilisations’ (1993), the East-West divide makes Ukraine a cleft country: the civilisational cleavage, which has run through the heart of the country for centuries, is too strong to be overcome. This divide symbolises all possible differences, including political identity, ethnicity, language, economics, religion, geopolitics. In brief, Right bank, or Western Ukraine, has been characterised as more pro-Ukrainian in terms of political identity, more Ukrainian in terms of ethnicity, more Ukrainian-speaking, and mainly agrarian, Catholic and pro-European in terms of geopolitics. By contrast, Left bank, or Eastern Ukraine, has been viewed as more pro-Soviet in terms of political identity, more populated by ethnic Russians and more Russian-speaking, more industrial, Orthodox, and pro-Russian in terms of geopolitics (for more on the myth of the ‘two Ukraines’, see Ryabchuk, 2001).

However, an increasing number of scholars regard the well-established division of Ukraine into East and West as being oversimplified and call for a more fine-grained approach. Barrington (2002) sees it as simplified and blurring the actual, more complex than a ‘split into two’, picture of ‘many distinct regions in Ukraine’ (2002: 136). Wolczuk asserts that political identity is not uniform even throughout the oblasts of nationally homogenous Western Ukraine (2002: 67-68), and Rodgers concludes that political identity in more Russified and pro-Russian Eastern Ukraine is not monolithic either (2008). D’Anieri (2007) confirms that as there are Russian-speaking Ukrainians, as well as Russian-speaking Russians in Ukraine, ‘Russian-speaking’ can denote the socio-economic dimension of members of both the ethnic majority and minority. In terms of the socio-economic dimension, Ukrainian regions often combine industrial and agricultural components (Matsuzato 2001). As Wolczuk states, ‘there is not a single regional divide in Ukraine, but many that overlap. Some differences reinforce distinctiveness, whereas others weaken it’ (2002: 68).

This chapter contributes to this academic debate by critically investigating the changing structure of Ukraine’s cleavages from the dissolution of the USSR until the outbreak of Russian aggression (see below). Our study challenges the widely held opinion that Ukraine is divided between East and West and provide a more nuanced picture of the dynamics of Ukraine’s internal divisions. Our analysis shows that Ukraine’s regionalised structure of ethnic and linguistic cleavages, inherited from the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), has not changed much during political and economic transformations. That was until the Russian illegal annexation of Crimea and its aggression in South-East Ukraine. Our findings confirm that since then the use of Ukrainian language and self-identification with Ukraine have increased across all regions of the country. By contrast the number of those who consider Russian to be their native language has decreased.

The structure of the chapter is as follows. The literature review addresses Ukraine’s ‘quadruple transition’, with a special emphasis on nation-building. The empirical part of our study is based on the analysis of the most relevant public opinion polls and statistics. Ukraine’s cleavages have been relatively stable since the dissolution of the USSR. However, they have been continuously influenced by Russian aggression. Having illegally annexed Crimea in March 2014, Russia has intervened militarily in the South-East of Ukraine and has overseen the creation of, and provided ongoing support to, the so-called self-proclaimed DNR and LNR (Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics) in Donbas since April 2014. They are acknowledged by neither Ukraine nor the international community and have been treated as terrorist organisations in Ukraine’s political discourse (although they have not been acknowledged as such by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament). On 27 January 2015 the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine approved Resolution No 129-19 that recognised the Russian Federation as an aggressor and appealed to the international community to recognise the so-called DNR and LNR as terrorist organisations. In line with this, we use the official acronym used in Ukrainian legislation, which designates them as ‘ORDLO’, i.e. the separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (Resolution of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine No 252-19).

Literature review

The aftermath of the dissolution of the USSR and subsequent transformation in independent Ukraine have been reflected in the processes of democratisation, marketisation, state-building and nation-building. These four components of post-communist transformation are addressed by democratisation studies. Claus Offe’s seminal concept of ‘triple transition’ embraced marketisation, democratisation and state-building (Offe and Adler 1991). Taras Kuzio (1998, 2001) broadened it into ‘quadruple transition’ by adding nation-building as an overlapping but ‘conceptually and historically different process’ to state-building (Linz and Stepan 1996: 20). Thus, the ‘quadruple’ concept of transition in post-communist states, as suggested by Kuzio, along with state-building, i.e. the construction of an independent state, includes nation-building, i.e. the consolidation of a political nation (1998: 1-2). Nation-building is distinct from state-building as it involves formation of a common identity and a shared feeling of common destiny as a political rather than ethnic nation (Kolstø 1999: 1). For the purposes of this chapter we pay special attention to the nation-building dimension.

 Starting with Rustow’s seminal work (1970), most scholars of transition studies claim that national unity should precede democratisation (Linz and Stepan 1996). Accordingly, high levels of ethnic, regional and other types of diversity are predominantly perceived as a crucial obstacle to national unity (Rabushka and Shepsle 1972, in Beissinger 2008: 85; Solchanyk 1994; Kubicek 2000) and hence a potential obstacle for democracy. This claim also applies to Ukraine (Solchanyk 1994; Kuzio 1998). Returning to Huntington’s understanding of cultural unity as a foundation of a civilisation that overarches a national level, we find the following prediction:

In 1991 and 1992 many people were alarmed by the possibility of violent conflict between Russia and Ukraine over territory, particularly Crimea, the Black Sea fleet, nuclear weapons and economic issues. If civilization is what counts, however, the likelihood of violence between Ukrainians and Russians should be low. They are two Slavic, primarily Orthodox peoples who have had close relationships with each other for centuries. As of early 1993, despite all the reasons for conflict, …there has been virtually no violence between Russians and Ukrainians.” (1993: 38)

By the notion of ‘close relationships’ between two nations this description masks many historical tensions, conflicts and wars (cf. Dyczok 2000: 15-17), hence cultural proximity is insufficient to predict a lack of national tensions (Hughes and Sasse 2002: 23). Indeed since the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and due to the ongoing occupation of the Eastern parts of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, this prediction appears to reflect neither the actual reasons for previous stability in the relations between Russia and Ukraine nor internal homogeneities of their national identities.

In this chapter, we study cleavages in Ukraine. We follow a classical definition of a ‘cleavage’ by Stein Rokkan as representing a particularly strong and long-term socio-economic and cultural, structural division, a ‘fundamental opposition[s] within a territorial population which stands out from the multiplicity of conflicts rooted in the social structure’ (Rokkan et al. 1999: 7; 34, Caramani 2011: 189). In academic literature, there has been a longstanding consensus concerning the salience of ethnic and linguistic cleavages for Ukraine’s transformation and even its survival as a state (Popson 2002, D’Anieri 2007). Having analysed the relationship between ethnic, linguistic and regional identities in Ukraine, Barrington (2002) finds that regional cleavages affect public attitudes towards democratisation and state-building, including the unity of the country. His principal finding is that regional identities are more important than language and nationality as well as demographic factors (such as economic situation, age, religious believer status, sex, size of locality and level of education) (2002: 134-134, 136) and make a difference in their own right.

However, this does not imply a solely negative interpretation. In fact, based on the empirical data, more and more authors challenge the idea that various and strong identities are conflictogenic. Contrary to Barrington, Popson reaches a conclusion that multiple regional divisions make a country more stable (2002: 196). It is similar to D’Anieri’s conclusion in his study of societal divisions in the context of the challenge of liberal democracy in Ukraine that whilst regional differences are salient, they ‘do not amount to the “great divide” some have detected’ (2007: 108). If anything, regional differences are important as predetermining electoral preferences rather than demonstrating any inclination to secession (D’Anieri 2007: 123).

Hence, a few competing accounts for regional divisions are suggested in the literature, in which a relationship between regional identity and other types of identity is contested. On the one hand, Dergachov (2000: 81) and Kulyk (2011) state that regional differences in Ukraine are less pronounced than socio-economic differences (i.e. education level). On the other hand, regional identities are seen as traditionally the strongest, in particular in the political orientations of the population in the East and West of the country. Regional differences in Ukraine are also more numerous than division between East and West and cross-cut with above functional divisions (Subtelny 1994, Liber 1998, Barrington 2002, Wolczuk 2002). In addition, in the Ukrainian context the regional cleavage embraces the centre-periphery cleavage which further cuts across the established East-West divide (Protsyk 2013: 692). We are aware that there are different approaches towards classifying Ukraine’s macroregions (see Barringron 2002: 135-136; Bekeshkina 2017: 14). Most public polls that we refer to in this chapter identify the following five macroregions: Northern Ukraine (Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy oblasts, and the city of Kyiv); Eastern Ukraine (Dnipro, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts); Southern Ukraine (Crimea, Odesa, Mykolaiv and Kherson oblasts), Central Ukraine (Kyrovohrad, Cherkasy, Vinnytsia and Poltava oblasts), and Western Ukraine (Transcarpathia, Volynska, Rivne, Chernivtsi, Khmelnytsk, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil oblasts). However, the project ‘Starting a national dialogue in Ukraine’ (2015) developed a more nuanced framework of macroregions and regions, based on regions’ historical and ethnographic proximity. In this chapter, we use their classification (see table 1).

In a later wave of research, the question was raised not only about type and strength of these identities but also about influence of institutional arrangements in managing potentially divisive identities. There is relative consensus that, even though Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union a suboptimal set of institutions such as a centralised administrative-territorial structure, it still managed to preserve interethnic peace and societal stability (Hughes and Sasse 2002, D’Anieri 2007).

The latest trend in research interprets identity as being based not on language, nationality or region. Identity is seen as far more of an ideological or ideational construct. Riabchuk addressed the proverbial thesis of ‘two Ukraines’, described by the historian Roman Szporluk as the Russian/Russified one and the Ukrainian proper. Szporluk defines Russian/Russified Ukraine as Donbas and the South, whereas Dnipro’s Right Bank, parts of the Left Bank and the West are predominantly ethnically and linguistically Ukrainian. Importantly, under the Soviet regime’s urbanisation, Russification spread mainly into the large industrial cities of Donbas and the South, whereas the countryside – even in these ‘Russian’ parts – remained more Ukrainian (Subtelny 1994: 525). So even in this initial thesis of ‘two Ukraines’ we can see some ambiguity between centre-periphery and urban/rural cleavages as the basis for division. However, Riabchuk fills the thesis with a new meaning: he claims that the main cleavage is not between ‘Russian’ and ‘Ukrainian’ Ukraines, but between two types of Ukrainian identity: non/anti-Soviet and ‘European’ on the one hand and post/neo-Soviet and ‘East Slavonic’ – on the other. Other identity factors such as ‘ethnicity, language, region, income, education, or age’ correlate with it to a different degree (2015). In a similar vein, Torbakov speaks about socioeconomic, ethno-linguistic and religious cleavages as being accompanied by ‘differing attitudes towards Ukraine’s past and its relations with Russia’ (2014: 200). Importantly for our understanding of the influence of Russian aggression on cleavages, this ideological division can explain differing loyalties more than any other individual identity dimension. An ideational dimension is analytically separate from an ethnic, linguistic or political one, let alone a regional or socio-economic one. It embraces such issues as a nation’s past and its relations with significant ‘Others’; popular attitudes to independent statehood; and domestic and foreign policy (Birch 2000; Popson 2002: 192; Torbakov 2014: 200; Protsyk 2013: 700). This cleavage overrides ethnic and linguistic cleavages yet relates to the regional one (Birch 2000).

Despite the cleavages presented and the challenges associated with them, some areas of nation-building such as historiography and instruction in Ukrainian have been success stories (Kohut 2002, Moser 2014). Although the national historiography was developed and taught in the 1990s in regions with different perceptions of key historical events and developments, it was not opposed at any regional level (Kohut 2002). In particular, the return to the historiographic models of the late XIX-early XX century describing the longevity of the Ukrainian nation, as opposed to the later Soviet official narrative of simultaneous development of ‘brotherly peoples’, as well as the controversially perceived period of the Second World War, have overall been favourably received across the country’s schools. This is indicated by the choice of similar textbooks from the list of various textbooks, accepted by the state, in different regions (Kasianov 2002, Janmaat 2002). The popular attitudes to these and other potentially divisive historical events and narratives are presented in the section on ideational cleavages.

By way of summary, Riabchuk additionally provides an account of the relative academic consensus that has emerged in Ukrainian studies: ‘(1) Ukraine is not sharply and unambiguously divided along ethnic or even linguistic lines; (2) ethnicity, language, and political orientations correlate but do not necessarily match; and (3) no clear dividing line can be drawn across Ukrainian territory for a number of interconnected reasons’. These include: ‘(a) the proverbial West and East are quite heterogeneous within, (b) the lands between them are even more heterogeneous and versatile, and (c) there is no popular will in Ukraine for any division’ (2015: 138).

The above-mentioned quadruple transition as a model for analysis of political and economic transformation in Ukraine, triggered by the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is suitable for studying the post-Soviet ‘intersecting crises phenomena’. This was highlighted in the introduction to this book. This framework is particularly helpful for identifying the role of cleavages in democratisation processes and for considering the effects of external factors on the trajectory of Ukraine’s transition. The case of Ukraine is particularly interesting in this context. It gives us an opportunity to find out how crises can stimulate the dynamics of interdependent domestic cleavages, including linguistic and political cleavages.

This chapter considers the main cleavages in national identity. These include: ethnic and linguistic cleavages,[1] which have been studied the most; regional cleavage as connecting both ethnic and linguistic cleavages; and ideational cleavage as an emerging trend in the research.

Ukraine’s quadruple transition in brief

Until the Russian aggression of 2014, Ukraine’s democratisation was peaceful.  This was the case both with the mass protests of 2004, known as the Orange Revolution, and with those of 2013-2014, known as Euromaidan or the Revolution of Dignity. At the same time, we confirm that the political transformation processes, including state-building and nation-building, have been affected by Ukraine’s regional differences. The core of Ukraine’s nation-building, i.e. the process of formation of a political nation (Popson 2002), is associated with language policies.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been a de facto bi-lingual state (Arel 1995; Kulyk 2011), with one state language – Ukrainian, and two languages spoken on a day-to-day basis – Ukrainian and Russian. Along with this linguistic cleavage, Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union the institutional framework that regulated language policy. According to the last Soviet-era 1989 Law ‘On Languages in the Ukrainian SSR’, Ukrainian was a state language, while Russian was a language of international communication. Whilst Ukrainian had a de jure superior role, Russian was very actively used in public and private life. In line with that law, the 1996 Constitution established Ukrainian as the only state language and granted Russian a special status. Apart from Russian, the 1996 Constitution granted all national minorities the right to be taught in their native language or to study their native language in state and communal education establishments and in national cultural societies (Article 53).

In 2012, a highly controversial Law ‘On the Foundations of State Language Policy’ was approved by the national parliament and signed by the president. The 2012 Law introduced the status of regional or minority languages. These are defined as languages that are traditionally used within particular areas by the citizens of the state, who represent a group. Potentially 18 languages could obtain a new status and be used in schools, universities, by the civil service, courts, media, and in advertising. However, many experts proved that in fact the 2012 Law favoured Russian language over other minority languages and even over Ukrainian, therefore having disunited Ukraine rather than promoted national reconciliation (Melnyk 2012, Moser 2014). As Khmelko (2007) predicted, the changes in language policy appear to be highly sensitive for the Ukrainian public, since they activate latent conflicts and provoke new ones. One of the first laws passed by the post-Yanukovych government in February 2014 attempted to repeal the 2012 Law. However, that law was not signed by the then acting president and is still formally valid.

Ukraine’s Cross-Cutting Cleavages and their Dynamics

As Hughes and Sasse specify following Lijphart, cross-cutting cleavages are one of the key mechanisms for moderating ‘ethnicisation’ of politics, for example through institutionalised political parties (Lijphart 1977). However, in order for cross-cutting cleavages to have a moderating effect, they need to meet certain qualifications such as not to coincide with each other and to have a different intensity and socio-economic context (Hughes and Sasse 2002: 7). Kravchuk and Chudowsky (2005) find that the level of economic well-being of people in Ukraine is regionalised in a way that does not necessarily correspond to the East-West dividing line. For example, how one votes in national elections depends on regional economic strength in a particular region. Therefore, they claim that socio-economic cleavages in Ukraine are regionalised in a complex rather than simplistic way and cut across ethnic and linguistic cleavages (2005: 131-133).

Our analysis clearly demonstrates that the dynamics of Ukraine’s internal divisions is more nuanced than a straightforward ‘East vs West’ divide.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and until Russia’s aggression, ethnic and linguistic cleavages were relatively stable. However, since the conflict erupted in 2014, the structure of the linguistic cleavage has changed dramatically.

Ethnic cleavages

Upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the newly proclaimed Ukrainian state inherited the territorial structure of the Ukrainian SSR: the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, 24 oblasts, and two cities with a special status – Kyiv and Sevastopol. The 1996 Constitution proclaimed the unitary status of Ukraine and confirmed the asymmetrical autonomy of Crimea. Likewise, Ukraine inherited the structure of ethnic cleavages of the Ukrainian SSR. Ukraine became home to representatives of almost 130 nationalities or ethnic groups (the 2001 Ukrainian population census). It remains ethnically heterogeneous, i.e. a multinational, state (Popson 2002: 191). Ukraine hosts the largest ethnic minority in Europe – about eight million of Russians (17.3 % of overall population). 60% of this minority is not historical. It was formed, between the 1960-80s, by economic migrants from Russia who came to the industrial East of the country (Barrington 2002: 135), in a way that was similar to what happened in the Baltic States. Nevertheless, in accordance with the European organisations’ standards, the Russian minority is granted full national minority rights (Articles 10, 11, 53, 119 of the Constitution of Ukraine). Other ethnic groups in Ukraine include Belarussians (0.6 %), Moldovans (0.5 %), Crimean Tatars (0.5 %), Bulgarians (0.4 %), Hungarians (0.3 %), Romanians (0.3 %,), Poles (0.3 %), Jews (0.2 %) and other (1.8 %) (State Statistics Committee of Ukraine 2017).

The structure of ethnic cleavages is regionalised. Ethnic Russians form sizeable minorities in many of the Southern and Eastern regions (see the table below). In broad terms, ethnic Moldovans and Bulgarians are concentrated in Odesa oblast, Hungarians – in Transcarpathia, Romanians – in Chernivtsi oblast, and Poles – in the Halychyna region. The highest number of ethnic Ukrainians is in Western Ukraine, with Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts being the most mono-ethnic. The number of ethnic Ukrainians also tends to be high in central Ukraine, with the highest number found in Rivne oblast. By contrast, in Eastern Ukraine, which borders Russia, the number of ethnic Ukrainians is relatively low, while the number of ethnic Russians is very high. However, the highest number of ethnic Russians is found in Southern Ukraine and in Crimea (65%), particularly in the city of Sevastopol (90%).

From the end of the Soviet rule until the Russian annexation of Crimea and aggression in Donbas, the ethnic structure of Ukrainian society has not changed much. If we compare data from the 1989 and 2001 censuses, we discover that the most obvious shift refers to the proportions of ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. The percentage of Ukrainians has increased from 72.7% to 77.8%, whereas that of Russians has decreased from 22.1% to 17.3%. Moreover, Khmelko (2007) finds that ethnic identities in Ukraine can be dual, i.e. fluid. According to his research, in 1995 only 58% of those adult respondents, who claimed to be ethnic Ukrainians, came from Ukrainian families which were mono-ethnic for at least two generations. Khmelko (2007) adds that only about 10% of those who claimed to be ethnic Russians came from Russian families which were mono-ethnic for at least two generations. About a third (28%) of those who claimed to be ethnic Russians came from hetero-ethnic families, including 19% from Russian-Ukrainian families. Inter-ethnic marriage, language usage, and urbanisation are amongst the factors which contribute to mixed ethnic self-identification.

We expect the next census to demonstrate more shifts as a result of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and the ongoing conflict in South-Eastern Ukraine. But some differences are already evident. Before the Russian annexation of Crimea, Crimean Tatars mainly lived in Crimea. Since then over 20,000 Crimean Tatars have left the peninsula, mostly for Kyiv and Lviv but also for other parts of Ukraine. A related shift of the ethnic cleavage generated by Russian aggression is associated with internally displaced persons. These are people who had to leave their homes in South-Eastern Ukraine and Crimea for another region in Ukraine. According to the official statistics, more than a million people (1,026,177 at the time of writing) had to do so. These internally displaced people most often settle in the government-controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the neighbouring oblasts (Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro), and Kyiv. There is no accurate data yet which would allow identification of the major implications for the ethnic cleavage. However, we presume that such implications may include the increase of ethnic Russians in the respective regions.

Linguistic cleavages

Since Ukraine’s independence, linguistic identities have been relatively stable. In 1989 only about 66% of the population in Ukraine claimed that Ukrainian was their native language (the 1989 all-Ukrainian census). According to the most recent 2001 census, 67.5% identified Ukrainian as their mother tongue, while 29.6% identified Russian as their mother tongue. Similarly, public opinion polls between 1997-2004 (Panina 2005) show that there were 62-64% who declared their native language to be Ukrainian, while about 34-35% claimed it was Russian.

Like the structure of ethnic cleavages analysed above, the structure of the linguistic cleavage and language preferences[2] in Ukraine are heavily regionalised (Kubicek 2000). Whilst people in Central and Western Ukraine speak mainly Ukrainian, the residents of Southern and Eastern regions mostly prefer Russian. In Western Ukraine, the overwhelming majority (95.4%) speaks Ukrainian at home, with almost the polar opposite being the case in Eastern Ukraine, where 81.5% of population speak Russian in their households. In central Ukraine 76.2% of respondents are Ukrainian-speaking, while 70.9% in southern oblasts are Russian-speaking (Stegnii 2008: 41).

Returning to the findings of Khmelko (2007), we recall that in Ukraine people might identify themselves with two ethnicities and two language groups at the same time. 20% of Ukrainians and 40% of Russians acknowledged their dual national identities (the 2001 survey of the KIIS). The subsequent 2004 study of the KIIS reveals that bi-ethnic (Russian-Ukrainian) groups were more likely to be represented by Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Further research by Kulyk (2011) proves that numerous ethnic Ukrainians are Russian-speaking.

Ethnic and linguistic cleavages affect public preferences regarding language policies (Khmelko 2007). However, one’s declared native language is not a good predictor of a preference for a state language status (Ukrainian only or also Russian), as the following paragraphs demonstrate.

Since 2014, the number of those who consider Ukrainian, as well as those who consider both Ukrainian and Russian to be their native languages, has increased. At the same time, the number of those who consider Russian to be their native language has decreased. In 2015 the majority (60%) of citizens considered Ukrainian to be their native language, 15% – Russian, 22% – both Ukrainian and Russian, while 2% considered another language to be their native language. By way of comparison, in 2006, 52% of citizens considered Ukrainian to be their native language, 31% – Russian, 16% – both Russian and Ukrainian, 1% – other languages. This trend is valid for both official and everyday use. Vorobiov (2015) stresses that numerous Russian speakers switch to Ukrainian ‘as a badge of self-identification’. Whilst in 2005 42% of Ukrainians claimed that they spoke mostly Ukrainian at home, by 2011 the figure had risen to 53%. By 2015 almost 60% of the population apparently preferred to use Ukrainian in everyday communication. This illustrates the previous findings of Kulyk (2011) that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are the most volatile group with regards to native language and language use.

In addition, public attitudes towards language policies have changed significantly since the outbreak of the Russian aggression. Research demonstrates the decline of public support towards the policy of having two state languages and the rise of the popularity of the idea of Ukrainian being the only state language. In 2015, after Euromaidan, the majority (56%) of respondents wanted Ukrainian to be the only state and official language in Ukraine, in contrast to 25% in 2005, after the Orange Revolution. A quarter (24%) of respondents claimed to want Ukrainian to be the state language throughout Ukraine, and would like Russian to be the official language in some regions of Ukraine, in contrast to 20% in 2005. By way of comparison, in 2015 only 14% respondents wanted two state languages – Ukrainian and Russian, which marked a significant decline in comparison with 37% in 2005.

The regional diversity of public attitudes towards language policies has changed, too. In 2015, in the West and the Centre the overwhelming majority (81% and 75%) wanted Ukrainian to be the only state language (an increase from 77% and 50%), and 15% in the West and 16% in the Centre would have preferred Russian to be an official language in some regions of Ukraine, which marked no change since 2007 in the West (15%). As few as 2% in the West and 4% in the Centre supported the idea of two state languages, whereas in 2007 there were twice as many supporters of such an option in the West (5%) and five times more supporters in the Centre (21%). In the South, 37% of respondents wanted Ukrainian to be the only state language in Ukraine, demonstrating a significant increase since 2007, when their number was 25%; 30% of respondents would have preferred Russian to be an official language in some regions of Ukraine, as opposed to 21% in 2007; and 23% of respondents would have supported two state languages, marking a twofold decline in comparison with 46% in 2007. In the East, 34% of respondents wanted Ukrainian to be the only state language in Ukraine, in stark contrast to 13% of respondents in 2007. The number of those who would have preferred Russian to be an official language in some regions of Ukraine increased from 31% in 2007 to 34% in 2015. So far there is a lack of research to explain that phenomenon. We understand that numerous internally displaced people from Donbas, who used to have preferences with regards to language policies, left their homes after the outbreak of the military conflict in the East of Ukraine and settled in other regions of Ukraine. Thus, the structure of language preferences may have changed due to that. At the same time, the number of those in the East who supported the notion of having two state languages significantly dropped: from 50% in 2007 to 25% in 2015.

Since 2014, the number of those who consider Ukrainian, as well as those who consider both Ukrainian and Russian to be their native languages, has increased. Also, the number of people who speak Ukrainian on a daily basis has increased. Moreover, public preferences towards having two state languages have declined, most sharply in the South and the East. Nowadays more people in Ukraine support the notion of having Ukrainian as the only state language.

Our findings prove that linguistic identity does not automatically determine public support for particular language policies, though it can partly correlate with it. This conflicts with some earlier findings that attitudes towards language policies are influenced by language identities, i.e. identification with a language or languages (Kulyk 2011).

Political identities: ideational divides

The dynamics of political identities deserves special attention. Here we understand political identity mainly as the relationship between local and national identities. Political identities have been significantly affected by the legacies of dissolution of the USSR.

Namely, the formation of state identity co-existed with regional identities, principally differing between the regions that were parts of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union prior to 1939, on the one hand, and regions that were annexed by the Soviet Union during and after the Second World War from Poland, Romania and Hungary, on the other. Since Ukraine’s historical regions used to be parts of different states in the past, Ukraine faced territorial challenges from some of its regions such as Crimea, Donbas and Transcarpathia, rather than clear-cut ethnic challenges. Only in Crimea did this lead to Russians’ ethno-political mobilisation in the early 1990s until a constitutional arrangement for Crimea’s autonomy under the guidance of the OSCE was reached (Hughes and Sasse 2002: 26).

This pattern persisted after the Orange Revolution in 2004: whilst highlighting the growth of national identity, academics acknowledge the strength of regional identities. By 2012 some shifts had occurred. According to the survey conducted by the Institute of Sociology of the National Sciences of Ukraine, nearly a half (48.4%) of the citizens of Ukraine prioritised their national identity. Local identities scored 28.9%, while regional identities scored 7.6%. This can be partially explained by the ongoing state-building efforts in Ukraine, some policies of which, such as language and education (history teaching), are referred to in this chapter.

The most pronounced changes of national identity occurred after Euromaidan and the Russian aggression. The balance between national and local identities in Ukraine has changed. In line with the above trend observed since 2012, the number of those who identify themselves first of all with Ukraine has increased, whilst the number of those who identify themselves first of all with the locality and with the region they live in has decreased. Moreover, after the outbreak of the war, national identity has prevailed over local and regional identities in most regions of the country.

Public opinion polls conducted after Euromaidan showed that identification with the Ukrainian state as compared to local and regional identifications grew significantly. The number of people who identify themselves primarily as citizens of Ukraine grew from 54% in December 2013 to 73% in December 2014 (Bertelsmann Transformation Index 2016 – Ukraine Country Report). Likewise, in 2015, the majority of respondents identified themselves as Ukrainians (Starting a national dialogue in Ukraine, 2015).[3] Throughout Ukraine, 67.5% identify themselves, first of all, as citizens of Ukraine; 12.2% identify themselves with the region they live in; and 10.8% with the settlement they live in. In the West there are 96% of those who, first and foremost, identify themselves as Ukrainians, whereas in Donbas only 61% of people identify themselves as such. Only 9% of people in Ukraine identify themselves as Russians, although there are officially 17% of ethnic Russians, according to the 2001 census; out of these 31% live in Donbas, 11% in the East, and 9% in the South. Obviously, the decrease in declaring Russian nationality is affected by the annexation of Crimea and occupation of ORDLO, which are areas with the highest number of ethnic Russians (Hryniv and Chekh 2017). As the table below demonstrates, the number of those who identify themselves as Ukrainian is the highest (87.9%) in the Halychyna region (Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil oblasts). By contrast, the lowest levels (37.8%) of national identity are found in Donbas (Donetsk oblast) and the South-West (Transcarpathia and Chernivtsi oblast).

/Figure 1 here/

The attitude towards Ukraine’s independent statehood deserves special attention in this context. Since Ukraine’s independence, the level of its support has increased. However, significant regional differences in this regard are still evident. According to the 2015 public poll conducted by the Razumkov Centre (2016), 68% respondents claimed to support Ukraine’s independence at a hypothetical referendum (87% respondents in the West, 77% in the Centre, 57% in the South, 56% in the East, and only 44% in Donbas). As far as we can see from the 2006 public poll conducted by the same institution (Razumkov Centre 2007), only 59% respondents claimed to support Ukraine’s independence should a hypothetical referendum have taken place in 2006.

Finally, it is important to consider not only public opinion surveys but also expert estimations. According to the latest Bertelsmann Transformation Index’s country report on Ukraine (2016), ‘The Ukrainian nation-state is accepted by all relevant actors and groups in Ukraine, apart from Crimea and the territories in the east of the country under the control of pro-Russian insurgents.’ In line with surveys data above, ‘identification with the Ukrainian state reached its peak after the Euromaidan protests’, undermining the Kremlin’s assumption about the loyalty of Russian-speaking Ukrainians to the Russian state (Bertelsmann Transformation Index 2016 – Ukraine Country Report: 7).

Thus, we argue that the most pronounced changes of national identity occurred after Euromaidan and the outbreak of Russian aggression. The level of support for Ukraine’s independence has increased, despite the still significant regional differences in this regard. Moreover, the balance between national and local identities in Ukraine has changed. The number of those who identify themselves first of all with Ukraine has increased, while the number of those who identify themselves first and foremost with the locality or region they live in has decreased.

Conclusion

This chapter has analysed Ukraine’s major cleavages as well as how and why they have changed since independence, particularly in the aftermath of the Russian aggression.

 Our study of the theoretical approaches and empirical evidence demonstrates that Ukraine’s linguistic, ethnic, political and ideational cleavages, which have been inherited from Soviet times, have a cross-cutting and dynamic nature.

First, we confirm that the newly proclaimed Ukrainian state inherited the regionalised structure of the ethnic cleavages of the Ukrainian SSR. It did not change much despite political and economic transformations in Ukraine until the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and the outbreak of the ongoing conflict in South-Eastern Ukraine. We expect the next all-Ukrainian census to demonstrate further shifts in the ethnic cleavage due to the consequences of those events. We also expect to see a growth in the number of Crimean Tatars throughout Ukraine, but mainly in the southern oblasts and in Kyiv. Furthermore, we expect to see a growth in the number of ethnic Russians, who left Crimea and Eastern Ukraine as internally displaced persons and settled in the neighbouring regions and in Kyiv.

Second, we find that until the outbreak of Russian aggression, the regionalised linguistic cleavage was relatively stable. However, since the conflict erupted in 2014, the structure of the linguistic cleavage has changed dramatically. The number of those who consider Ukrainian, as well as both Ukrainian and Russian to be their native languages, has increased. The number of those who consider Russian to be their native language has decreased. Public attitudes towards language policies have also changed significantly since the outbreak of Russian aggression. Research demonstrates the decline of public support towards the policy of having two state languages and the rise of the popularity of Ukrainian as the only state language.

Third, our study confirms that the most pronounced changes of national identity, and ideational identities in broader terms, occurred after Euromaidan and the outbreak of Russian aggression. The level of support for Ukraine’s independent statehood has increased. This is despite clear significant regional differences in this regard. Moreover, the balance between national and local identities has changed in Ukraine. The number of those who identify themselves first of all with Ukraine has increased, while the number of those who identify themselves first foremost with the locality or region they live in and with the region has decreased.

By doing this, we contribute to the academic debate on the nature of Ukraine’s dividing lines and confirmed that since the dissolution of the USSR the structure of Ukraine’s cleavages has been most affected by Euromaidan and the ongoing Russian aggression. Our study supports the argument discussed above: whilst clearly being diverse, Ukraine is not deeply divided along ethnic or even linguistic lines. Ethnicity, language, and political orientations correlate but do not necessarily match and reinforce each other. These cleavages are cross-cutting; hence Riabchuk’s recent observation that ‘no clear and indisputable dividing line can be drawn across the Ukrainian territory’ (2015: 139) is supported by the analysis of the literature and surveys in our study. Finally, our analysis of the literature and surveys undermines any attempts to apply a ‘civil war’ prism for the analysis of the current Russian aggression in Ukraine still present among certain Western academics and media.

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[1] Olena Podolian is a PhD candidate at Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden. She holds an MA in Political Science from the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, and an MSci in Russian, Central and East European Studies from the University of Glasgow, UK.

[2] Dr Valentyna Romanova is a Lecturer within the joint Master Programme ‘German and European Studies’ of the University of ‘Kyiv-Mohyla academy’ and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. In addition, she is a Senior Expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies ‘New Ukraine’.

[1] Socio-economic and religious cleavages have been left out due to the scope of the chapter.

[2] Domestic and international researchers apply nuanced approaches towards studying linguistic identities and language preferences in Ukraine, including measuring native language, or mother tongue; language use (language for everyday use, language used at home), preferences in respect of particular language policies, etc. In this chapter, we refer to a wide range of pollsters’ and academics’ approaches and compare the most relevant research findings and public polls that measure linguistic identities and language preferences in Ukraine.