Stephen Velychenko’s analysis of events in Ukraine (Solidarity 310) is selective, simplistic and kitsch. It writes large national minorities and the working class of Ukraine out of existence.
Ukraine is a vast area with no “natural” borders. It has always had a diversity of identities and languages. The industrial Donets Baisin (Donbas) region in the east of Ukraine has had a mixed Russian and Ukrainian working class going back to the 19th century.
As a Ukrainian historian from the region says, “The fact that you came from the Donbas was more important than that you were Russian or Ukrainian; so of course the break-up of the Soviet Union also meant a raising of this regional identity and loyalty... In any case, most people here honestly couldn’t say what they are ethnically, because most families, like mine, are mixed.”
The Crimea is also largely Russian speaking. It was merged into the Ukrainian SSR by Soviet bureaucrats in the 1950s and ended up as part of Ukraine after the break up of the Soviet Union.
Velychenko suggests the millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians settled in the region for generations are a colonial caste and agents of Russian imperialism. This kind of portrayal is common on the kitsch left, made in relation to Israeli Jews, Ulster Protestants and Kurds; it is rightly opposed by us. The identification with Russia, linguistically or culturally, doesn’t make the national rights of these people any less legitimate.
Consistent democrats and socialists should side with protesters in the Ukraine demanding civil rights and release of political prisoners. But to see this as an anti-imperialist struggle is misleading.
It’s no doubt true that Russia throws its weight about in the region and welcomes autocratic pro-Russian tendencies in the Ukrainian regime. However the situation is more complex. The pro-western section of Ukrainian bourgeoisie is not our friend!
We should remember the chauvinism and nationalism of much of the bourgeois-led opposition. The Fatherland Party of Yulia Timoshenko wants to abolish any special status for minority languages, particularly Russian (though this would also affect Romanian, Hungarian and Moldovan speaking minorities as well).
The main question here is democracy, and as such we should support those who reject Ukrainian nationalism and try to organise rather then disenfranchise the large Russian speaking minority.