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A reply to a reader about Odessa and Ukraine

May 6, 2014

Amongst many comments and emails I get at the blogs, unfortunately 80% is spam seeking to advertise either directly or via the back door with comments sent from corporate/business email addresses.

There are then the trolls, and the less than erudite.

There are then those who would find the answers to their questions by rummaging around within historical entries some of which I reply to and some of which I don’t.

Yesterday however, I received an email that whilst the answers certainly exist within previous entries over the years – in current circumstances those answers are probably deserving of restating.

I shall quote the poignant parts and do my best to reply as to my position relating to the points raised.

My father is from Kherson and my mother is from Odessa. My parents went to university in this city. Now we live in Canada, after leaving Ukraine in ’94, but we still have many family there and in Russia. I have always regarded Ukrainians and Russians as being the same blood. Is it not true? From an ethnic perspective, why are you so against Russia and pro-Russians in Odessa?

An easy issue to answer.

My position is not based upon the ethnic narrative The Kremlin is trying to use whatsoever.

No matter how many times Mr Putin makes speeches and television appearances questioning why the Bolsheviks divided the Soviet Union as they did almost a century ago, it has nothing to do the foundation of my position.

My position is based upon international laws, charters and legal instruments that Russia signed and ratified recognising the sovereign integrity of Ukraine and its territorial borders at the time of ratification.

There are mechanisms within international and regional legal instruments that allow for the redrawing of international borders.  Deliberate intimidation, destabilisation, covert or overt insurgency, referendum at gun point and all other coercive methods not proscribed within these international legal instruments I reject.

My son lives in Moscow.  He is proud to be Russian – or at least I would hope that is so.  He is a son to be proud of.  I lived in Moscow and I enjoyed it.   I in no way class myself as “anti-Russian”.   In May 2006, Mr Putin graciously granted me 10 minutes of his time.  But meeting Mr Putin is not meeting Russia.   I have always made a point in life of separating personality from policy, and people from government.

Like the writer of the email, naturally I have a great many friends who are Russian.  I also have a great many friends who are Ukrainian – the majority of which would prefer a unified Ukraine, but there are a percentage that would prefer a federal Ukraine.  I know none however, that have expressed the view of wanting Odessa or the nation to become part of Russia.  Such people may exist, but I don’t know any personally.

However, if Ukraine was to theoretically employ the legally recognised routes within international law to accede to Russia of its own free will then I would accept that.

The fact is Ukraine both at a political level and also as a people would not vote that way.  Notwithstanding the political self-interests of the feckless political class, 23 years of independence brings with it more and more voters who did not know the USSR and feel no strong pull toward The Kremlin.  That does not make them anti-Russia.  It is simply a matter of them identifying with an independent Ukraine for that is all they have ever known or ever voted within.

There are also those who always identified themselves as USS Ukraine even during the times of the USSR.  My father-in-law being one – despite only ever having spoken Russian his entire life.

Whilst touching on the language issue briefly – to be clear – it has always been a political issue in Ukraine and never really registered as much of an issue for the people themselves.  There are countless links to polls throughout this blog over the years and of them all, language as an issue ranked at 7% amongst the population and about 13th on the list of national priorities for the public as I recall – feel free to poke about in the historical posts if necessary.

How recent polls rank the language issue, I must admit I don’t know.  Circumstances in Ukraine have distracted my attention to other things of late.

Anyway, as the years pass by, more and more Ukrainians will be born, raised, work and vote  – whether they speak Ukrainian or Russian – within an independent Ukraine.  That is naturally what they will identify themselves with.

Logic would dictate that at the other end of the scale, more and more of those that would identify themselves as products of the USSR, holding a nostaligia for The Kremlin, will reach the end of their natural lives.

There is a demographic shift that with it carries one of on-going changing identity – and one that is legacy severing.  As King Cnut could no more turn back the tide, then The Kremlin can no more turn back the identity that grows every year Ukraine remains independent – and one which in turn fails to be drawn to the Kremlin magnet.

Yet all of that has no influence on my position which is firmly based upon rule of law.

I recognise fully though, the realities that I outline above are having an influence upon what we see manifesting itself now in Ukraine.  When an identity is threatened, many will rally to whichever identity feels closest to them.

Please reply, I’d just like a better understanding of your perspective. This inter-Slavic conflict deeply confuses and saddens me. I don’t understand how Ukrainians can show so much ethnic hate towards Russians who, really are ethnically indistinguishable. I myself am both what you’d call Russian and Ukrainian, but I always regarded the two as essentially, along with Belorussians, being the same- all Kievan Rus’

I hope the above has gone some way to answering this quote – but I will expand a little more regarding “the inter-Slavic conflict” – This to me has little to do with being Slavic, but far, far more to do with democracy and being able to choose a national path free from coercive external forces and influences.

After all, it is far too simplistic to describe matters as an “inter-Slavic conflict” without mentioning sizable ethnic Bulgars, Hungarians, Tatars, Germans and Jews in Ukraine – all of whom have their visions of a Ukrainian future, and many of whom have not sat idly by over the past 6 months.

Unless I am missing something very basic, being a Slav or even simply living in “Slavic lands” does not necessitate the requirement to live under the same model of governance, have the same economic, foreign policy or domestic policy interests etc.  Indeed – let us be frank – ethnic Slavs don’t all live under the same models of governance.  Many have notable differences in their economic interests, foreign and domestic policies etc.  They remain though, ethnic Slavs.

Ergo, being historically of Kyivan-Rus no more provides one of today’s nations the right to dictate the future or decide the sovereign territorial borders of another hundreds of years later – ethnic ties or not.

My default position is not one that places one ethnic identity above another – or even against another – though I have concerns for the Tatar looking to the future under the current leadership in Crimea.

My default position is one of rule of law, democracy and the ability for a nation to plot its own course free of coercive external interference – whatever direction that coercive interference may come from.

I have no doubt there will be other blogs out there that look at matters through an “ethnic lens” first and foremost – this just happens not to be one of them.

 

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One comment

  1. well, I think you are absolutely correct

    it is certainly very easy to try to portray what is happening as “Russians v. Ukrainians” or “russophiles v. russophobes” or “Russian speaking v. non-Russian speaking”

    but it is really:

    those who want democracy and freedom v. those who don’t
    those who want Putlerism, a dictatorship, v. those who don’t
    those who are anti-corruption v. those who aren’t
    those who want kleptocracy and oligarchy and “managed democracy” v. those who want democracy
    those who want rule of law v. those who want ad hoc decisions and “understandings” and “arrangements”

    And you are right – a Kremlinoid like Putler is not Russia

    You have described it in a most excellent way



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