[lg policy] Ukrainians are getting less divided by language, not more. Here’s the research.

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Jun 8 11:19:31 EDT 2018


 Ukrainians are getting less divided by language, not more. Here’s the
research.
by Joshua Tucker <https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/joshua-tucker/> June
8 at 7:00 AM Email the author <joshua.tucker at nyu.edu?subject=Reader
feedback for 'Ukrainians are getting less divided by language, not more.
Here’s the research.'>

Protesters hold the Ukraine flag and anti-government placards at a rally in
Kiev, Ukraine. (Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

*The journal Post-Soviet Affairs recently published a special issue
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1451241> on
politics and identity in Ukraine. The question of Russian vs. Ukrainian
identity has been central to the study of Ukrainian politics for decades
now, but especially so since the “Euromaidan
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euromaidan>” protests of 2014, Russia’s
subsequent annexation of Crimea
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annexation_of_Crimea_by_the_Russian_Federation>,
and continued violent conflict
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/04/09/the-war-in-ukraine-is-more-devastating-than-you-know/>
among Ukraine, Ukrainian separatists and Russia-supported forces in the
southeast. With this in mind, I spoke to one of the guest editors of the
special issue, Olga Onuch <https://olgaonuch.com/>, associate professor in
politics at the University of Manchester and author of “Mapping Mass
Mobilizations: Understanding Revolutionary Moments in Argentina and
Ukraine”
<https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1137409762?ie=UTF8&tag=thewaspos09-20&camp=1789&linkCode=xm2&creativeASIN=1137409762>
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). What follows is a lightly edited version of our
conversation.*

*Most of the time when we hear discussions of identity in Ukraine, the
focus is on language: Russian language speakers and Ukrainian language
speakers. Has language continued to be a central marker of identity since
Euromaidan?*

Political scientists have long debated whether the language someone speaks
<http://www.jstor.org/stable/2669300> is part of an identity that
informs whom they vote for, whether or not they participate in protests,
and what policies they support.

But yes, there is heightened awareness of ethnic and linguistic identities
now. Arguably, Russian President Vladimir Putin
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/putin-reserves-the-right-to-use-force-in-ukraine/2014/03/04/92d4ca70-a389-11e3-a5fa-55f0c77bf39c_story.html?noredirect=on>
is the one who, in 2014, really hyped the idea that Russian speakers formed
a specific political group that preferred to secede from Ukraine and needed
Russia’s protection. That left observers wondering if ethnolinguistic
identities were *the* push factor that explained support for secession.

While there was some
<https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1469-8129.2011.00493.x>
evidence
<https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/language-in-society/article/gender-language-attitudes-and-language-status-in-ukraine/ABBEAD62AA5263598D4A77F0FC56A685>
that such identities
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2747/1060-586X.24.3.232> were
important <https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/23297> in the past,
political science theory
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00396339308442672> predicted
they will shift
<https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/9781118663202.wberen301>
or harden
<https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/american-political-science-review/article/ethnicity-insurgency-and-civil-war/B1D5D0E7C782483C5D7E102A61AD6605>
in the face of mass protest and conflict. That hasn’t happened. First, the
conflict has not spread to other majority Russophone regions. Second,
Ukrainians outside the contested regions of Donbas and Crimea rallied
around moderate policy proposals like decentralization, shunned right-wing
politicians and parties, and peacefully elected a new president and
parliament.

Political scientists
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1451241>
quickly realized that before we could evaluate whether such identities have
shifted, hardened, or become more or less important, we first needed to
consider how we measure and analyze our data. We all collected original
data and collectively took some time to debate and think through what we
are capturing when we are measuring language and ethnicity.

What we found is fascinating. For instance, political scientist Henry Hale
and I <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1452247>
found that different measures of Ukrainian ethnicity thought to be
capturing the same thing are actually measuring distinct things. Choosing
one measure over another changes whether one finds ethnicity to be
significant.

*[What did Ukraine’s Euromaidan teach us about protest?
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/02/27/what-does-ukraines-euromaidan-teach-us-about-protest>]*

*So what were these different aspects of identity that you felt had
previously been conflated?*

We identified four dimensions of ethnicity that have distinct effects:
individual language preference (the language one feels most comfortable
in), language embeddedness (language spoken at work or home),
ethnolinguistic identity (mother tongue, scale of ethnic group belonging)
and nationality (civic identity). We recommend that all four be included in
future analyses. This means many scholars may have been getting things
slightly wrong in the past.

When we do account for these four dimensions, we do find that personal
language preferences and ethnic or civic notions of “Ukrainianness” are
important in shaping political attitudes to language policy and joining
NATO. However, the language spoken at work, not at home, affected the
likelihood of joining the Euromaidan protests. Counter to expectations,
ethnicity doesn’t appear to have shaped Ukrainians’ expectations of a new
Russian invasion.

*Several articles in the special issue focus on new emerging identities in
Ukraine post-Maidan. Could you tell us a bit about these?*

Yes! Volodymyr Kulyk
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1451232> shows
that over the last two decades we observed two phenomena: (1) a “shedding”
of “Russianness” and (2) a simultaneous rise in people declaring their
sense of nationality to be civic and not ethnic.

*[When does Russian propaganda work — and when does it backfire?
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/04/03/when-does-russian-propaganda-work-and-when-does-it-backfire-heres-what-we-found>]*

Using original panel data, Graeme Robertson and Grigore Pop-Eleches
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1452181> find a
significant increase in people thinking of Ukraine as their “homeland.”
This is a heavily polarized post-colonial society where ethnicity is
thought to be hugely salient, where outside forces are trying to heighten
ethnolinguistic tensions. And yet attachment to the state is growing.

At the same time, they find that ethnic identities and language practices
have not shifted or hardened as a result of the current conflict. Thus,
whilst civic identities have seemingly strengthened, ethnolinguistic
identities have remained consistent.

Finally, Elise Giuliano’s
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1447769>
article points to the possibility that class-based and regional identities
centered around feelings of “being left behind” have become increasingly
important for those most affected by the conflict in the east. That’s very
significant. Eastern Ukrainians’ feelings that the government has abandoned
them correlate with their support for separatist conflict. This is similar
to feelings of abandonment correlating with voting for the far-right in
France, for Brexit in the U.K. and for Trump in the U.S.

*[Ukrainians are protesting corruption using a new technique. Here’s how it
works.
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/01/05/ukrainians-are-protesting-corruption-and-using-a-new-approach-heres-how-it-works/>]*

*What was the most surprising thing you learned from your work on this
special issue?*

Gwendolyn
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1452209>Sasse
and Alice Lakner
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1060586X.2018.1452209> have
really interesting data that tracks several populations: those living in
the eastern regions that are still controlled by the Ukrainian government;
those living in the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk
People’s Republic”; the internally displaced; and those who fled to Russia.
Surprisingly, they find that the war has not shifted ethno identities — and
yet, civic identities have either remained stable across all four groups
or, in some cases, have strengthened.

*More and more these days, we hear Ukraine described as a “frozen
conflict.” Based on the research in this special issue, are you more or
less optimistic that this conflict will be resolved soon?*

I have a measured optimism. Ukrainian citizens seem to be unified by a
shared sense of belonging to a civic community or homeland. However,
regional socioeconomic inequalities are driving support for violent
conflict and secession. In some places, citizens are struggling
economically because of the collapse of former Soviet industries, bad
economic policies, and massive corruption. That’s not easy to fix.

To reduce anger at the central government, politicians and international
donors should focus on regional development policies and invest in the east
of Ukraine.

A solution to the conflict will also require outmaneuvering Russian
tactics. It is possible that Putin’s continued attempts to inflame ethnic
or linguistic divisions, may lead the conflict to spread — yet, what we
have seen to date suggests the opposite. Although the Ukrainian state is
weak, and its elites are not only corrupt but also lack capacity and
coordination, ordinary Ukrainians across the country have an increasingly
stronger sense of a common civic identity.

*[Remember the Cold War? Putin has brought it back.
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/03/19/remember-the-cold-war-putin-has-brought-it-back>]*
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Joshua Tucker is a Professor of Politics at New York University. He
specializes in voting, partisanship, public opinion, and protest, as well
as the relationship of social media usage to all of these forms of
behavior, with a focus on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Follow @j_a_tucker
<https://twitter.com/intent/follow?screen_name=j_a_tucker>
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-- 
=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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