|The maximum territorial extent of countries in the world under Soviet influence after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and before the official Sino-Soviet split of 1961 (Source: Wikipedia)|
Andrei and I have been having an ongoing conversation about what is going on in the Ukraine with regards to the removal of the duly elected President (who seems more than a little corrupt) and the consequent invasion of Crimea by Russia. Rather than continue in the comments with this, I thought this post important enough to become it's own entity, in response to Andrei saying:
Ukraine as it is drawn on the map today is an accident of history - nobody even called themselves "Ukrainian" until the Romantic movement of the 19th century - Ukraine was a region of Europe where Catholicism meets Orthodoxy - the Western parts of the modern state were in the Austro-Hungarian Empire 100 years ago while the Eastern parts were in the Russian Empire and always had been
Anyway by quirks of history Ukraine as a "nation" came into being with its current borders in 1991 and if it was to have any hope of survival and becoming a nation the last thing it needed clueless,idiotic Americans stirring up trouble in the name of "promoting democracy".
However, Ukraine as a nation with different borders did come into being nearly a century ago. From an article I've been meaning to comment on (Eastern Ukraine Is Still Fighting Its Past Life under Stalin's long shadow):
For five years, between the 1917 Revolution and the end of the Civil War, Ukraine had a brief and tumultuous experiment with independence, as did other former Russian colonies and future Soviet republics, like Georgia and Armenia. Those few years of independence gave Ukrainians a taste of national liberation that they would not soon forget and were marked, as now, by lengthy sit-ins in public squares, by rowdy parliamentary debate, and by diverse factions of Ukrainian society jockeying for influence. Then, in 1920, Ukraine—like the republics of Georgia, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and others—began signing a series of vague military and economic treaties with Moscow that gave shape to what we would come to know as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Then we get to the really interesting bit, which agrees with Andrei's point that the Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire, albeit now a Soviet Empire:
Very quickly, though, the Union became a distinctly Russian entity. According to Soviet historian Geoffrey Hosking, this was no accident. Stalin “wanted to see a political framework which would give expression to the dominance Russia had assumed in the world revolutionary movement,” in which communist patriotism was sublimated into Russian patriotism. Vladimir Lenin was slightly horrified by all this, seeing it, correctly, as a revanchist moment and a return to the bad old days of imperialism. He even prepared a memorandum in protest and was to deliver it at the Twelfth Party Congress in 1923. He demanded that, in the new Union, some form of autonomy be returned to the various national republics.
But Lenin had his third and final stroke before he could go on record with his protest, and Stalin and Leon Trotsky had the memorandum suppressed. (It came out after Stalin’s death.) As a result, notes Hosking, “the new [Soviet] constitution embodied Stalin’s conceptions rather than Lenin’s.” Moscow and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic got to run the show, not just in terms of military and diplomatic matters, but in pretty much everything else. Ethnic Russians made up nearly three-quarters of the Communist Party, and official business all across the USSR was done in Russian. Which is all to say that, when the older respondents of Cherkashin’s poll in Donetsk say they are Russian, what they mean, mostly, is that they are Soviet.
Now, the final sentences above show the importance of "Russian speakers" in Ukraine - it's those who are more likely to identify with Soviet Communism, and not see themselves as part of an independent nation:
In the last tense months, the conflict in Ukraine has been described as a fight over Ukrainian identity—in terms of language, territory, and great-power influence. Maps on television and in newspapers show a country conveniently cleaved in half between Ukrainian speakers in the pro-Yulia Tymoshenko west and Russian speakers in the Yanukovych east. The former love Europe; the latter love Russia. The former have been oppressed for centuries by the latter, who want to see a return to the days of the USSR.Things change. What defines a nation? History or a shared vision for the future? Or force?
But Cherkashin’s informal office lecture [note by Lucia - it's in the link, as I haven't included it in my post] demonstrated that the truth is more complicated, as it always is. The real split is generational. Unlike Cherkashin, his students were all born after 1991, in an independent Ukraine, and they see their country’s close relationship with Russia very differently than their older professor. In fact, Cherkashin’s own research confirms this division. The younger a citizen of Donetsk, the more likely she is to view herself as Ukrainian. The older she is, the more likely she is to identify as Russian. And this is the crux of it all: What we are seeing today is the reverberation of what happened more than 20 years ago. This is still the long post-Soviet transition. And this is what it’s like to wander in the desert, waiting for the old generation to die off.
Ukraine is no longer Polish, I've let that go, and I'm sure that Poland has too. There is some long history there of Ukraine being part of the Polish borderlands, but no more. The Russian Empire no longer exists either, nor does the Soviet Union. Russia needs to come to terms with her history, but recreating the past is not the way to do it. Instead, an honest examination of what has been before is needed, and I've not seen much evidence that Russia wants to go there, or will be able to go there in the near future.
Related link: Eastern Ukraine Is Still Fighting Its Past Life under Stalin's long shadow