Mechanisms of Interpretation

The Myths in the Ukrainian national narratives also contain mechanisms of interpretation. First, in terms of opposite interpretation, the pro-Ukrainian group describes Ukraine as an ethnic state where all other ethnic groups have settled as a result of immigration or colonialism; thus, the multicultural nature of Ukrainian society is denied. The Dual Identity group and the Multicultural group, however, present Ukraine as a multicultural state with coequal ethnic groups, and attempts by Ukrainian nationalists to form a Ukrainian nation on the basis of one ethnic group are criticized. Holodomor is interpreted by the Dual Identity group as a result of a class struggle that took place in many parts of the Soviet Union, whereas the pro-Ukrainian group presents it as a unique genocide committed by Russians against the Ukrainians. The Soviet Red Flag is depicted as a flag of the great victory, the unification of the Soviet people, and grandiose economic achievements by the pro-Soviet group while it is described as a foul flag that represents imperial memory, domination, and arrogance in the myth of suffering by the pro-Ukrainian group.

The second mechanism of interpretation can be seen for example with regard to the idea of a vibrant, developed, people-centered language as the core of an ethnic group. This idea is used both by the Dual Identity group and the proUkrainian group. A member of the former states: ‘While Russian language arrives from the heritage of the Rus’ and represents the colossal mental potential of Russian culture and world-famous writers, the modern Ukrainian language is very young and was developed only in the nineteenth century’ (from the interview with D.L.). A member of the latter sustains that the ‘Ukrainian language is very democratic, based on the people’s language, intelligent, and supported by the youth. Russian was formed under the influence of the state; it is complicated, artificial, and not connected to the people’ (from the interview with F.A.).

The concept of progress as an essential feature of an ethnic group is employed by both the Dual Identity group and the pro-Ukrainian group. In the first case,

Russians are depicted as an economically progressive group that developed the industrial potential of Ukraine and supported the rural, patriarchic, and backward Ukrainians in the West. In the second case, Ukrainians are portrayed as a socially progressive, democratic group with deep European traditions, while Russians are seen as a socially backward group with culture and values of paternalism and totalitarianism. The concept of tolerance is used by three groups. The Dual Identity group depicts Russians as a tolerant group that suffers repression by the Ukrainian nationalists. The pro-Soviet group depicts Soviet people as a tolerant brotherhood of ethnic groups, while Ukrainian nationalists are described as aggressive, imposing their ideology on all the people of Ukraine. The pro-Ukrainian group describes Ukrainians as a peaceful people with deep traditions of tolerance while Russia, the pro-Russian and the pro-Soviet groups are defined as aggressive, with totalitarian and imperial ambitions.

Thus, in agreement with the argument presented in the first part of this chapter, all four groups promote different meanings of ethnic and national identity as well as positions and power of ethnic groups. The Dual Identity group defines national identity as comprising two ethnic groups to justify the equal status of Russians; the pro-Soviet group promotes the Soviet identity as the most positive national identity, justifying a return to Soviet order and paternalism; the pro-Ukrainian group sees it as authentically Ukrainian, justifying the power of the Ukrainians and the exclusion of the Russians or their complete assimilation; and the Multicultural group endorses the civic meaning of national identity to validate the formation of civic society and liberal democracy. The Dual Identity group stresses that the national identity is deprecated by the forced domination of the Ukrainian ethnic groups; the pro-Ukrainian group emphasizes the continuous dominance of an alien and totalitarian Russian group and the aggressive actions of neighboring Russia; the pro-Soviet group sees a threat to national identity in the destruction of Soviet Ukraine’s achievements; and the Multicultural group condemns bringing the country to conflict and totalitarianism.

In sum, both textbooks and history teachers in Ukraine promote competing and oppositional concepts of national identity and structure of power. These differences contribute to the development of conflict in society and to increasing structural and direct violence.

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