Majority-Minority Relations in the Ukraine

Article excerpt

Abstract

Majority-minority relations in Ukraine, as in any other country, are a complex phenomenon. What differentiates the Ukrainian case from many old polities and from some recently established ones is that the identities of both majority and minority groups probably have been settled to a much lesser degree than is usually the case in Europe. The process of defining what it means to be a majority or a minority group in Ukraine goes along with all the other identity-related processes that a newly independent country has to face. The fact that the identity of both majority and minority is still 'in the making' has numerous implications for how the Ukrainian state positions itself with regard to various international standards and mechanisms of minority protection and how international bodies-both intergovernmental and nongovernmental-approach the issue of Ukraine's adherence to these standards and mechanisms.

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This article begins with a short discussion on efforts to define 'majority' and the effect that these efforts have on the position of a group that hesitantly came to occupy the status of the country's largest minority group, namely, ethnic Russians. It then structures the subsequent presentation by identifying and analysing the most salient issues related to the general aspects of relations between Ukraine's majority and minority groups. The article also examines the extent to which these issues have been addressed, or have the potential to be addressed, through the framework of the international regime for minority governance that is currently under construction at the European level.

As recent studies on EU accession conditionality have shown, there is substantial variation in how conditionality on minority matters was applied to individual candidate states in the last wave of EU enlargement and in how these candidate states approached the question of their obligations towards their national minorities.1 This experience, as well as the lack of short-term prospects for Ukraine to acquire the status of an accession candidate, suggests that the country's engagement in various aspects of an international regime of minority governance will proceed on principles of voluntary cooperation rather than strict conditionality.

Substantive issue areas discussed in this paper have, over the years of Ukraine's independence, acquired a high degree of salience in public discourse. They were highlighted further during the course, and in the aftermath, of the dramatic November-December 2004 events, commonly referred to as the 'Orange Revolution'. A substantial increase in the degree of political pluralism and civic activism are among the main undisputed achievements of the Orange Revolution.2 This increase could not avoid having a direct bearing on public discussion of majority-minority relations. Informed by this discussion, this chapter concerns itself with the following issues: the administrative-territorial structure of the state and issues of federalism, the effective participation of minorities in public life, language use and language policy, and problems of indigenous status and non-recognition.

As in many other countries in the post-Soviet space, security concerns-defined here in terms of preoccupation with the issues of sovereignty, internal stability, and territorial integrity-have been a very important factor in government decision making on minority-related issues. Although not always articulated explicitly, the fear of separatism, secession, country breakdown and disintegration has shaped the state's perception of minority issues. Throughout the chapter, efforts are made to illustrate how security-based concerns have shaped policies in specific minority-related areas. It is also argued that the desecuritization of some minority problems by the Ukrainian state can be achieved fully only after the process of Ukraine's integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures (NATO and the EU), is on a firm footing. …