Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island, currently a Fulbright Research Scholar in Ukraine
Tuesday 7 January 2014
The situation in Ukraine is a problem for all Europeans, whether they live within the EU or outside it. It stems from the fact that there is at present no cultural context that allows all Ukrainians to feel at home in Europe. Ukraine’s westernmost regions, which once belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Poland, can use this as a peg upon which to hang their European identity. But in the rest of the nation, which has long been attached to Russia, people are alienated by efforts to force Ukraine to choose between the EU and Russia. And when they see how Russia is constantly berated by European leaders for trying to strengthen ties with Ukraine, they wonder how their own distinctive values and culture will be treated by the EU.
Sadly, the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine offers them no answers. There is nothing in it that addresses Ukraine’s cultural and historical distinctiveness, or that acknowledges its deep historical, cultural, and economic ties with Russia. Nor does it suggest that Ukraine’s Slavic and Orthodox heritage will have any role to play in shaping contemporary European values. It is merely a set of conditions that one part of Europe has set for the other part. The reward is, ostensibly, a more prosperous life. The cost is your soul.
The solution to Ukraine’s malaise is obvious, and it lies with Russia. Were Russia to be acknowledged as an essential part of Europe, and its incorporation become part of the EU’s strategic vision, Ukraine’s identity crisis would all but disappear. The whole of Ukraine could simply be what it already is—part of both Eastern and Western Europe.