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Cart before the Horse

by Myroslav Petriw (Vancouver)

First Published on

Mirko Petriw

It has been two decades since Ukraine’s declaration of independence. For two decades Ukraine has been mired in a political morass that although bearing the external markings of democracy, is very far from it. All attempts at reforming the present condition into a functioning democracy have been doomed to failure. The result has been Ukraine-fatigue in the West, and an apparent apathy within the country itself.

It is revealing to note that this state of affairs was entirely predictable. One hundred and fifty years ago, the English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote a treatise “Representative Government” that I find applies very directly to today’s Ukraine.

First of all, the treatise very much supports the case for a Ukrainian nation-state –

Where the sentiment of nationality exists in any force, there is a prima facie case for uniting all the members of the nationality under the same government, and a government to themselves apart.

However this statement is followed by the caveat –

…there is a still more vital consideration. Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities.

John Stuart Mill goes on to clarify this statement –

Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist. The influences which form opinions and decide political acts are different in the different sections of the country. An altogether different set of leaders have the confidence of one part of the country and of another. The same books, newspapers, pamphlets, speeches, do not reach them. One section does not know what opinions, or what instigations, are circulating in another. The same incidents, the same acts, the same system of government, affect them in different ways; and each fears more injury to itself from the other nationalities than from the common arbiter, the state.

These words, although written around 1861 in England, perfectly describe today’s state of the Ukrainian state. In fact, the divide and rule methodology perfected by the former Kuchma regime, and continued under Yanukovich is described in his next sentence –

That any one of them feels aggrieved by the policy of the common ruler is sufficient to determine another to support that policy.

The conclusion that must be drawn from both these quotations and the observation of the actual situation in Ukraine is that there is no point in struggling for “representative government” or “free institutions” until the pre-condition for having such a representative government is met. That is to say, that the inhabitants of the country in question have fellow-feeling (nationalism) and read and speak the same language. All this time we have been putting the cart before the horse and wondering at the lack of progress! Many had hoped that somehow after the establishment of democracy and free institutions, the Ukrainian language would spontaneously re-emerge on territories that had been cleansed of it a half century ago. They got it backwards. In fact, the lack of success in this endeavour was predictable –

Even if all are aggrieved, none feel that they can rely on the others for fidelity in a joint resistance; the strength of none is sufficient to resist alone, and each may reasonably think that it consults its own advantage most by bidding for the favor of the government against the rest.

Simply put, only a country united by language can successfully achieve and maintain democracy.

Regrettably the effort to reverse the effects of genocide has been ineffective. We have discovered to our dismay that in the push-pull (supply – demand) forces that affect language choice, as in those that affect the economy, the effect of the pull (perceived need) created by media and the cultural milieu far exceeds that of the push (supply ie knowledge and ability) of Ukrainian education in schools. Regrettably in much of Ukraine, students see little practical need nor application for the Ukrainian that they are learning in school.

Statistics have confirmed the ongoing voluntary Russification of the very youth that have been educated in Ukrainian. To them, Ukrainian has as much application to their daily life as Latin has in the anglophone world. Putting education before media and cultural milieu has proven to be another case of placing the cart before the horse. If today we put the ideal of a Democratic Ukraine before that of a Ukrainian Ukraine, we must acquiesce to the reality of a Muscovite Ukraine, and that is no Ukraine at all.

All our efforts, lobbying and pressures applied towards democratization are being wasted. The dream of a Democratic Ukrainian Ukraine is only possible if we a) Ukrainianize the East, or b) redraw the borders recognizing the success of genocide in the East in the same way as we have recognized its success in Kuban’. The hurdle that we face in acting on either option is the huge muscovite or moskvophillic voting block (possibly on the order of 40%) in addition to a civil service (state apparatus) of at least a million souls that owes its very existence to both Stalin for the structure itself, and Shcherbytsky for its cadres. They see the future of a Muscovite Ukraine, or even that of a Free and Democratic Muscovite Ukraine, well within its grasp. If we continue to misapply our efforts and resources, their success will be assured.

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