Ukraine After Empire
Ethnicities and Democracy
Despite its ethnic complexity and large Russian minority, Ukraine continues to manage its interethnic strains successfully. Under both the Kravchuk and the Kuchma governments, Ukraine has promoted peaceful and egalitarian relations among its diverse ethnic groups on the basis of democratic procedures and processes. The increasing legitimacy of these fledgling democratic institutions both underpins the rule of law in general and, more specifically, increases popular confidence that the state will protect all its citizens, irrespective of ethnicity. The legal protections extended to Ukraine's various ethnic groups have been codified in legislation, and a supportive political culture of tolerance and compromise appears to be developing. The spring 1994 elections for the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, and the presidency provide important evidence of the diffusion of democratic norms and reflect the willingness of diverse groups to utilize the mechanisms provided by the democratic political system to promote their interests and resolve conflict.
Creating a civil society, complete with an empowered citizenry and effective democratic institutions, is potentially complicated in Ukraine because of the extent of the population's multiethnicity and its territorial pattern of concentration. The tasks of constructing a viable civil society and a united, national (i.e., nonethnic) identity are formidable, particularly as Ukraine's citizens are simultaneously called on to grapple with extreme levels of economic uncertainty and basic questions revolving around ethnic identity.
Issues of ethnic identity in Ukraine center on questions of historical "truth" and myths, language, religion, territory, and socioeconomic status. Ethnic identities are sometimes based on overlapping or divergent versions of historical truth, and what might more appropriately be termed myths may clash with the versions of events supported by other groups. 1 Where the government is unable to provide successful mediation or remedial actions, there is a potential for ethnic conflict and therefore a threat to the stability of the fledgling political system.