On 22 January, Unity (Sobornost) Day is observed in Ukraine. This is the state holiday dedicated to the national unity of all Ukrainians and the lands populated by them. On this day in 1919, the unification of the Ukrainian and West Ukrainian People’s Republics was declared, this formation lasted through the end of the Civil War. The idea of unity and inclusivity – just like the ideas of national and state sovereignty, strong centralized power, and Euroatlantic integration – currently dominate the ideological discourse in Ukraine.
However, the ongoing political instability and unabated rivalry between the eastern and western parts of the country raise doubts as to the contemporary Ukraine’s collective integrity, i.e. unity. In line with this, Europe Insight has posed to experts the following question: “In its nearly 25 years of independence, has Ukraine succeeded in becoming a truly unified and inclusive state?”
Olexandr Dmytruk, expert from the group EuroTemp
Sobornost (“a unity of purpose or sense of collective integrity”) is an exceedingly polysemantic concept, not clear to everyone on the street. So I would speak of national and state “unity”.
There is no state unity in Ukraine because there is an absence of cohesion among the national elite. Rather, there are mutable, situation-dependent coalitions of financial and industrial groups.
But there is no national unity either. We have a predominantly uniform, nationalistic intellectual elite holding pro-Ukrainian and pro-European positions irrespective of their language, faith or ethno-national origin. And we have a mass of regular folks who do not feel a connection with Ukraine.
Russian propaganda has a huge impact here, of course. It is difficult to combat it. But Russia can also be “thanked”: by attacking our country, it has created for us a unity and solidarity far greater than all of our statesmen taken together.
Maxim Rozumny, D.Sc., Head of the Political Strategy Department of the National Institute for Strategic Studies
It is necessary to understand what we mean by the concept of a unified, inclusive state. It may be that different people understand different things by this, and so there is no sense to any simple answer.
You see, we exist not only in different conceptual systems but also, in fact, in different eras.
Some people think in terms of the pre-modern world, where traditional cultures and their hallowed symbols reign. This is the most appropriate context for the concept of a totally inclusive state. But the social realities tied to this context have remained in the distant past whilst contemporary Ukraine not only fails to correspond to this form but also lacks any chances of responding to it anytime soon. Other people think in terms of classical modernity. For them, behind the concept of a unified Ukraine stand the no less classic forms of 19th and 20th century nation-states. Their attributes are the unified identity of citizens, consensus patriotism, national pride and conscious national interests.
During 2014-2015, we moved significantly closer to this model, but maybe it will not be possible to realise it fully – because we do not live in isolation from the world. On the contrary, we are integrating into that segment of the world which emerged from the Modern “Age” and lives by conceptualisations of the post-modern era. From the post-modernist point of view, discussions about “spiritually unified” state are naïve and even harmful insofar as they lead to ideological extremes and political excesses.
We are approaching the modern standard of a nation state, but two things impede our full implementation of it: the archaic illusions of a segment of Ukrainian society that lives according to pre-modern era realities, and the scepticism and criticism of people (inside Ukraine and out) situated in the post-modern cultural space.
Olesya Kirilenko, Doctor of Sociology, Professor in the Political Science Department at Rivne State Humanitarian University
I think that sobornost has not been achieved though it is a historical necessity. There are many reasons: the geographical/geopolitical status of Ukraine and its neighbours; in practical terms, its limited or insufficient experience with statehood and political management mistakes made in the 20th century when forming territorial structure; serious miscalculations concerning the strategic vectors of domestic and foreign policy during the independent period; contemporary global crisis of civilisational values; the “costs” of globalisation; the low level of social competence and political culture of society (of the population as well as elite); the crisis of capitalism as a society based on competition, inequality, consumerism and individualism; the youth/immaturity of the social and political sciences, their ideologization and privatisation; and the orientation of social consciousness towards history instead of the future.
Alexei Antipovich, Head of the polling group Rating
Has Ukraine become an ideologically cohesive state? More yes than no, but still far from completely. First of all, different regions see the future of our state differently, as they do the past. Secondly, people of different generations also relate to this variously. We have a situation where nearly half of the inhabitants of the east and south of Ukraine still regret the collapse of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, they make up a tenth in western Ukraine and a quarter in the centre.
Or take attitudes towards Ukraine’s entry into the European Union. Up to a third of the population of Donbas and the southeast remain opposed to European integration while the majority of those in the west, centre and north support it.
Residents of unoccupied Donbas, despite the war with Russia, tend to have a positive attitude towards Russia (39% warmly and 31% neutrally), only one in five with a negative association. This is simultaneous to the fact that almost 60% of Ukrainians overall relate coolly to Russia.
The situation has improved substantially over the past several years, however. Due to the war, Ukrainians have become more integrated; support from Europe has increased; and Ukrainian has been recognised as the sole state language. Paternalistic attitudes are gradually decreasing and civil society is concurrently maturing. The Revolution of Dignity, volunteerism, aiding the army, taking responsibility the future, and demanding accountability from the authorities and politicians – this is what makes us unified and consolidated.
Andrei Vasiliev, Ph.D. Political Science, Executive Director of the Centre for the Development of Regional Policy and Local Self-Government
The Ukrainian state is not integrated. Ukraine’s sobornost, I am deeply convinced, means, above all, the unity of all lands inhabited by Ukrainian people.
Yet to be solved is the issue of Donbas, where there is brazen Russian aggression. The Crimean question is temporarily frozen. And there is still Kuban, Bryanshin and North Slovozhanshina, with ethnically Ukrainian populations, which by the will of Soviet functionaries ended up in Russia. This is one aspect.
The second aspect is the lack of internal unity among the Ukrainian nation. As long as the electoral position of such monstrous social strata as “pro-Russian Ukrainians” has a decisive impact, there can be no talk of unity. There is no full-fledged nation with these people. That is why the chief task of Petro Poroshenko’s administration and the government of Arseniy Yatsenyuk is found in the ideological sphere – namely Ukrainisation of Ukrainians in the southeast of the country, however strange that sounds.
Oksana Gutsul, Political Scientist, Deputy Director of the Lviv Institute for Ukrainians Abroad
A unified, democratic, socially responsible Ukrainian nation-state based on the rule of law – this is what, in my opinion, should be written into the Constitution. For 25 years, this has not been achieved, nor any of the features listed above. The main reason for this is the lack of a state-centred approach in the actions of Ukraine’s political authorities since acquiring independence down through the revolutionary events of 2014.
At the same time, there is no use overestimating the significance of the Revolution of Dignity for the collective integrity of our state, since many Ukrainians did not approve of it at all. Ukrainians abroad, members of the diaspora, unanimously supported these transformations; those living in Ukraine itself did not. Euromaidan provoked Russian intervention and brought about the loss of Donbas and Crimea. These are the main obstacles to the consolidation of Ukraine.
The peaceful return of these regions is the only thing our country needs for stable development as a collectively integrated European state.