Civil War in Ukraine as a Result of Cultural Confrontation between Western and Eastern Regions
Nowadays the political situation in Ukraine makes the entire world worried about it. The opposition between Eastern and Western parts of the country is the result of long-time cultural confrontation. The problem is that the territory of Ukraine was historically divided between other countries, namely Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary. In 1991, when Ukraine became an independent state, historical contradictions worsened. The Western regions kept focusing on European cultural and spiritual values, while the Eastern ones maintained close economic and political links to Russia. In fact, Western Ukraine’s hostile attitude toward Russia exacerbated the problem. Thus, an important aspect to analyze in this situation is the factors determining the conflict. The paper endeavors to confirm that present military actions in Ukraine are a result of continuous cultural conflict between Eastern and Western parts of the country.
Talking about cultural opposition, it includes several aspects, namely language, education, and ideology, among others. (Turner 87). The only official language in Ukraine is Ukrainian, but the majority of people in Luhansk and Donetsk regions speak Russian. Although the use of Russian is not forbidden in Ukraine, there are some spheres in which only Ukrainian is permitted. Hereby, such spheres include official documentation and some other ones. For example, foreign films can be watched only in Ukrainian translation, all the signboards are in Ukrainian, and many other instances. These are trifles, of course, but they made people in the East of Ukraine somewhat opposed to the Western Ukrainians.
Another sphere of Ukrainian culture domination is education. In the secondary school, more time is given to studying Ukrainian rather than Russian. For Ukrainian-speaking regions, it was right, but for Russian-speaking part, it was not. The language is not just one’s ability to correctly speak and write. In fact, the language is a reflection of human consciousness; indeed, people think with the help of words and a person’s mentality consists of linguistic categories. Besides, school textbooks are written in Ukrainian, causing additional problems for children in regions where Russian is the primary language. For instance, English textbooks contain an English-Ukrainian dictionary so that one unknown word is translated into another unknown one. Moreover, the textbooks use Ukrainian terminology in physics and chemistry. Due to this fact, children have to study two sets of terms instead of one. As a result, these problems amplified the negative attitude of people in Eastern Ukraine to the Ukrainian language and to the central government introducing it.
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An important reason for cultural conflict is ideology. Apparently, ideology is a set of principles, the main aim of which is to unite the society. However, in Ukraine, it plays an opposite role. If a country is proud of some of its heroes, respect to them becomes a powerful ideological instrument. On the contrary, in Ukraine, monuments to heroes are one more cause of discord. In 2007, President Victor Yushchenko gave the title of “Hero of Ukraine” to Roman Shukhevych, a leader of Ukrainian nationalists in World War II. It caused a splash of protests in the Eastern Ukraine, as Shukhevych was a hauptmann (captain) of SS – Nazi special forces, which were often used against civilians. Parents and grandparents of many Ukrainian people were killed during the war against Nazis that is why these people could not accept Shukhevych as a hero. Furthermore, monuments to such characters were treated with extreme hostility by Eastern Ukrainians. Thus, ideology caused a further split of Ukrainian society.
Similar situations repeated many times concerning other characters and events in Ukrainian history. The problem is that Western Ukrainian regions treat Russia as an occupier since in 1939 they were joined to the USSR by force as a result of the partition of Poland between Germany and the USSR. What is more, most holidays and celebrations introduced by nationalist-oriented government cause mass antipathy among Eastern Ukrainians. Thus, renaming of streets, destruction of monuments, which remind of the Soviet past, and other actions contribute to the increasing cultural gap between the regions (Klochko 3).
The discontent of Luhansk and Donetsk regions with the central government policy was used by the Russian Federation to increase its power in the region. Since the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Russia treats Ukraine as a part of its sphere of influence. Between 2010 and 2013, the Ukrainian government headed by President V. Yanukovych was loyal to Russia since there were made some attempt to give an official status to Russian as well as ideological press on the Eastern regions was weakened. However, in winter 2013-2014, a revolution took place in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, causing present government come to power (Klochko 2). During the revolution, there occurred clashes between protesters and police forces and hundreds of people were killed. These people got the name of the “Heavenly Hundred” and nowadays are considered to be Ukrainian heroes.
The border between the confrontational regions is the Dnieper River, which is the fourth biggest river in Europe or at least it was so before the start of military actions in Donbass that is the most Eastern region. Since the war started in the spring of 2014, the majority of previously neutral central Ukrainian areas changed their ideological accent toward more nationalistic positions. It happened due to information campaign by Ukrainian mass media, making central and Western regions unite against the Eastern ones. The confrontation followed the worst path of the solution of the military conflict. A civil war is especially challenging, as the enemies are previous neighbors, relatives, friends, who are now behind the front line. In fact, ideology of war between countries is more understandable and enemies are clearer since it is easy to hate someone a person does not know personally. However, it is really hard to understand that cultural controversy can trigger the killing of thousands of people, destruction of whole regions and political tension in the world. Sanctions of the USA and European countries against Russia, rapprochement of Russia and China as a reaction to them, fall of world prices of oil and natural gas are just several consequences of Ukrainian internal ideological conflict.
The situation in Ukraine is not unique. Culturally motivated conflicts took place throughout the human history, namely Crusades of 11th-15th centuries (Florean 145), French wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants in 1562-98 (Taber 685), and French vs. Flemish conflict in Belgium, among others. An important lesson to be learned from the past is that cultural contradictions must be solved by cultural means not by weapons and violence. A democratic state, which Ukraine tries to become, must take into account spiritual values of the different ethnic groups, inhabiting the country. A good example in this sphere is Switzerland with its 4 official languages and a confederative structure. If the Ukrainian government was more flexible, permitting at least the use of Russian in the Eastern regions and giving some ideological freedom to them, the level of social stress could be reduced and the war could be avoided.
The winter revolution was ambiguous. Its doubtless achievement was the dismissal of corrupted power, which deceived Ukrainians. Yanukovych announced the policy of European integration but cancelled it two weeks before signing the agreement of association with the European Union. Thus, many Ukrainians, especially from Western and central regions, including Kiev, felt betrayed. After three months of protests, Yanukovych had to escape from Ukraine. Apparently, that moment, February 2014, was the last point to stop. It was the last opportunity for Ukraine to follow the way of peace. The new power came to the parliament so that a temporary acting speaker was elected and a new prime minister was appointed. In fact, that was the moment to show to Eastern regions that the new power is not against them and that the government would not suppress Donbass. However, the central power only increased the cultural pressure.
The winter revolution was treated negatively by the most of Eastern Ukrainians due to its aggressive rhetoric. For instance, the main motto of the “maidan” (“square”, from the name of Maidan Nezalezhnosti – Independence Square, the place in Kiev, where the main events happened) revolution was “Glory to Ukraine!” and the response was “Glory to heroes!” It caused hostility in the East because this was a slogan of the already mentioned Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which fought against Soviet forces during the World War II. Also, the majority of Donbass people could not accept methods used by protesters. The revolutionaries in Kiev used burning bottles of kerosene against police, torched heaps of tires, and dammed the Ukrainian capital with barricades. News footage showing policemen burning alive caused mass indignation as most of the police forces were brought to Kiev from Eastern regions.
“Berkut” (literally “golden eagle”), a special police force used against the revolutionaries, was dismissed and criminal cases were started against many of its soldiers. In fact, this process played a cruel joke to the new Ukrainian power. When armed protests started in the Eastern regions in the spring of 2014, it became apparent that “Berkut” was the only serious force able to resist them. However, it was already dismissed. Moreover, the army is not active in an anti-terrorist operation since it must be fulfilled by specially trained professionals. It led to the failure to solve the military conflict, which proves that culturally motivated confrontation must be solved by diplomatic means.
By the autumn of 2014, the main problems in the conflict area are in the social sphere. The previous system of economic relations is broken, and a new one is not built yet. People of Donbass are left without salaries and pensions. Ukrainian government is going to pay all the benefits to people if they move to the territory controlled by it. The consequences of such decisions are disastrous, as people simply start dying of hunger. These resolutions affect the neediest people, who are unable to go to another region because of illness and old age. Besides, it contradicts common sense since an old person who worked their whole life paying taxes to Ukrainian state pension fund will not receive pension. Instead of pensions, the Ukrainian government offers humanitarian aid, but the system of social security is also destroyed, and no one can guarantee the delivery of the aid to each needy person. Consequently, it might transform into a humanitarian disaster, which can cause a new splash of violence. The reason is that people left without livelihood will have to start fighting for it. Their aggression will be again directed against other Ukrainians, making a peaceful solution of the conflict less possible. Thus, this is a practical example of confrontation transition from cultural and economic spheres to the military one.
In conclusion, the problem of cultural and axiological misunderstandings between people is often underestimated. People used to treat them as eternal and irresolvable ones. However, the solution exists. Everyone must try to understand cultural values of other people and stop making them accept the other ones. Cultural suppression typically causes equal resistance. The more one cultural group presses another one, the more motivated opposition becomes. In such situations, it is imperative to watch the border, crossing of which can cause conversion of cultural conflict to the military one.