With the Soviet Union disintegrated 1991 a multi-ethnic state, in which lived about 100 ethnic groups. The political elites in the successor states then faced the problem of creating an independent national identity in order to protect themselves in the long term against reintegration into a successor realm. For ideological reasons, the leadership of the Soviet Union never paid much attention to the question of nationality. Relations between Soviet republics were close in every respect, and especially Russians, Belarussians and Ukrainians played an important role in many smaller constituent republics. Many territorial issues remained unresolved. That was the difficult starting position at the end of 1991, when the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
The handling of the nationality problem did not succeed equally well everywhere. While Russia and Kazakhstan, with their more than 100 resp. 50 ethnic groups, regard themselves as multi-ethnic states, other former republics began to demarcate themselves sharply.
“Western countries, too, not only tolerate these goings-on, they even promote them: Neo-Nazis from the Ukraine were trained in military camps in the Baltic States, in Poland and Georgia. US, Canadian and British instructors trained these volunteers at the so-called Peacekeeping Operations Centre near Lviv. Gladly, one uses the universal argument of neo-Nazism against political opponents in one’s own country. But when Ukrainian and other Nazis fight against Russian citizens in Donbass and against Russia in general, Washington, Brussels and Berlin are happy to turn a blind eye.”
Development in the Baltic republics
This was especially easy for the Baltic republics, which had little in common with Russia in language, religious and cultural respects. The basis of their national understanding was and is their language. However, Estonia and Latvia in particular quickly began to disadvantage their Russian-speaking minority systematically. This minority today accounts for about a quarter of the population in both countries. The problem took on such proportions that the OSCE was obliged to appoint a special envoy. However, these states will not have to fear any criticism from the High Commissioner for National Minorities (HCNM): Diplomats from EU and NATO countries probably made sure that the HCNM did not become too active. More recently veteran associations of former members of the SS have become increasingly active in the Baltic republics, appearing in public in uniform, organising commemorative marches, erecting monuments and rejoicing at the high prestige they enjoy in these countries. Today they receive state pensions. And the younger generation is fully involved in this tradition. The official representatives of these countries sometimes show difficulties in distancing themselves from these activities.
Central Asian republics
The republics of Central Asia also succeeded in demarcation on the basis of linguistic, religious and cultural characteristics. But they coped well with the Russian minority and the Russian language. In Central Asia, unresolved territorial issues and the influence of radical Islamists – especially from the Gulf region – play a destabilising role.
The situation is completely different in the South Caucasus: In Georgia as well as in Armenia and Azerbaijan, political elites believe that only a person speaking the state language can be a citizen. Georgia in particular, under the leadership of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, expressed problems in dealing with national minorities. In the Djavacheti region, with its predominant Armenian population, a new minority problem is growing, because these people are not allowed to run Armenian language schools and they have to hold services in their churches according to the rites of the Georgian Orthodox Church. For the Armenians, for whom religion is part of their self-image as a nation, this is hard to bear. In Armenia and Azerbaijan, even before the final collapse of the Soviet Union, conflicts arose and pogroms occurred in some places. This severely hampers the search for a solution to the conflict in Nagornyi Karabakh.
The Republic of Belarus also faced the problem of demarcating itself from the big neighbour in the East. But Belarus approached this problem with a sense of proportion, and after the events on the Maidan Nezalezhnostiin in Kiev in 2014 and later on, hardly anyone believes that the Ukrainian way is worth following.
- May 8, 2007 in Ternopol (Western Ukraine), Nazi and Islamist factions create a so-called anti- imperialist front to fight against Russia. Organizations from Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and Russia participate, including Islamist Crimean separatists from Adygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, from Karachay-Cherkessia, Ossetia, and from Chechnya. Not able to get there because of international sanctions, Dokka Umarov had his contribution read. The Front is chaired by Dmytro Yarosh, who became, at the time of the coup in Kiev, February 2014, Deputy Secretary of National Security Council of Ukraine.
Ukraine in its present form is a result of the secession from the former Soviet Union. Its territory was determined after the Second World War according to political and military criteria. Since independence, Ukraine has pursued a policy of Ukrainianization based on the understanding that a national understanding must be on the basis on the Ukrainian language. This culminated in a statement by former President Viktor Yushchenko that his goal was to make the use of the Russian language in Ukraine disappear within two generations. The Russian minority, which made up about a quarter of the population, became the first target of the political elite in Ukraine. This did not only apply to the Crimea and Donbass, but also to the cities on the Black Sea coast, especially Odessa, with its mixture of Russian, (Crimean) Tatar, Greek and Jewish populations. It did not bode well for the Romanian, Hungarian, Slovakian and Belarusian minorities in the country, any more than for the autochthonous Russians in the Carpathians, who are not officially recognised as an ethnic group of its own.
A first attempt to secede Ukraine from the Soviet Union was made by Ukrainian nationalists under the leadership of Stepan Bandera and Roman Schuchewitsch in the summer of 1941, after National Socialist Germany invaded the Soviet Union. During the whole war Ukrainian nationalists made a common cause with National Socialist Germany, put guards in concentration camps and participated in the brutal fight against partisans in Ukraine and Belarus. Since then, Ukrainian nationalists have always struggled to distance themselves from National Socialism.
The followers of Bandera and Zhuchevich were now very much in demand with the outbreak of the conflict in Donbass. Their volunteer organisations had been important for Ukraine in 2014, one often hears, and the rulers in Kiev tolerate them. On the other hand, Ukrainian officials are always happy to point out that the nationalists can only win a few per cent of the votes in elections. On 14 October of this year, about 10,000 supporters of the Nationalist Volunteer Battalions gathered in the city centre of Kiev to commemorate the establishing of the so-called Ukrainian Uprising Army in 1942. If they are able to arm themselves from the large number of illegally circulating, unregistered weapons from the various wars of the first half of the 20th century and from the disintegration of the Soviet Army in the early 1990s, they represent a power in the state that is not to be ignored. This is also causing concern in the neighbouring states of Ukraine. And to this mass of violent protesters, the Ukrainian police held against with a ridiculous number of 200 police officers. This clearly shows that Interior Minister Arsen Awakow is happy to let these thugs act as they please.
In keeping with this, on the same day in Kiev, a convention of ultra-right nationalists from all over Europe and North America was held, star guest of which was the notoriously known Greg Johnson, a white nationalist who wants to build an ethnically pure state in the US whose citizens are of white skin colour only. His understanding of the state coincides with that of many nationalists in the former Soviet Union.
The list of state-tolerated abuses against national minorities in Ukraine is long. Also in the future, the rulers in Kiev want to utilise the gangs of hooligans to help establish their understanding of the state. If Ukraine is to be maintained with its present-day borders and in its form of state, then the government will have to take coercive measures, call for martial law or resort to other provocations.
Western countries, too, not only tolerate these goings-on, they even promote them: Neo-Nazis from the Ukraine were trained in military camps in the Baltic States, in Poland and Georgia. US, Canadian and British instructors trained these volunteers at the so-called Peacekeeping Operations Centre near Lviv. Gladly, one uses the universal argument of neo-Nazism against political opponents in one’s own country. But when Ukrainian and other Nazis fight against Russian citizens in Donbass and against Russia in general, Washington, Brussels and Berlin are happy to turn a blind eye. •