Identity in political and social discourse is most frequently a tool to separate and create simple groups – oppositions. In 20 years we have failed to construct complex balanced identities, and the simple ones continue to break at the first signs of conflict.
More and more frequently the essence of Russian-Ukrainian battles on social networks can be narrowed down to one simple formula: “who are you to tell me who I am?”
In simpler terms, who has the right to call themselves Ukrainian, Russian, to speak for them? Who is genuine and who is not? Do they (we) exist as a people or do we (they) not exist as a people? They use history, anthropology, fictional literature by Lev Gumilev, even cultural surveys – whose culture is deeper and longer, but clarity does not come.
All of this can be entitled identity wars. These wars for the answer to “who are we?” and “who are they?” are very important, as there are no identity issues without politics and vice-versa. This is why we are greedily looking at national sociological investigations and censure results, trying to understand how many we are, and how many they are, those who are different.
There are two types of identities: simple and complex.
Today simple identities are playing a cruel joke with us. We stopped perceiving not only others but ourselves as complex – “well, I am Russian, which means I should support Russian policies, I don’t like them, but I cannot reject my Motherland if it’s bad,” says one of my former students to me. “You cannot, Olga, be Russian-cultured and write about how Crimea is Ukrainian, you are just Russian-speaking. If you were Russian-cultured, you would feel the same joy over Russian Crimea we do,” says my interlocutor from Crimea. “Why is your magazine in Russian?! It is the occupants’ language! Do you understand that by using Russian you make all things Ukrainian weaker than they already are,” one of the readers of our magazine says irritably in a private conversation. “I don’t feel at home anywhere: in Russia I am a traitor who is supporting the “ukrs,” and in Kyiv, sorry, but I am also alien,” my close friend, a Russian citizen of Ukraine living in Moscow, tells me. All of this to point of the denial of complex identities, which have no place in a simple world.
Before February 2014 I had lived in Crimea, and dedicated the last 10 years to investigating identities as a scientist. Do you know what the problem is? There is a big difference between how people live their identities and how they discuss them. Complex identities are characteristic of many people, that is when you simultaneously consider yourself a Russian-cultured person and a citizen of Ukraine. A citizen of Ukraine, but a Russian-speaking Muslim. A Crimean Tatar and a Christian citizen of Ukraine. All of these are real examples of how my acquaintances answer the “Who am I?” question.
Another thing is that few like such identities in the political world. Complex identities are a litmus test for democracy. The more democratic a society is, the more people can freely live their complex identities, belong not to a single, but to many groups, which are contradictory at first glance. Complex identities unite civic nations.
For example, among twenty Crimean residents, those who were born in non-Soviet late 80’s, many thought and still think themselves to be Russian and citizens of Ukraine, but nobody would say it out loud. To feel oneself an ethnic Russian and political Ukrainian simultaneously was shameful for some reason, it meant betraying someone. This feeling was palpable on both sides of the almost invisible barricades at the time.
Within 20 years we have not created a positive myth, why is it interesting to be, say a Russian-cultured Ukrainian. We did not construct complex balanced identities, and the simple ones are frequently breaking today at the first signs of conflict.
All of this because identity in political and social discourses is most frequently and instrument of division and creation of simple groups – oppositions: Russian because not Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar-Muslim because not Orthodox, Ukrainian because not Russian.
It is easier to unite such groups, they are consolidated, and the internal diversity of identity is seen as a threat.
One nation – one faith – one culture – one language is the idea of simple national identity from the XIX century, which gives us the Romantic impression of a uniform type of nation. Such groups are easily and conveniently controllable. Because if an identity is complex, if it reflect reality, any dialogue about who is more numerous on a territory – genuine Ukrainians or genuine Russians, has no sense, as there is no simple division.
Together with our simple fortified identity, we have learned to accept the narrowness of the world, deny ourselves and others the right to be different. And this means that we are not ready for a civic nation.
Because the division and modeling in simple unified groups cannot be stopped easily. We continue dividing, forming the impression of good and bad Ukrainians, insufficient Ukrainians and over-Ukrainians, we impose this categories on Donetsk, Luhansk, Kyiv, Lviv citizens. The division on principle of simple uniformity is the best support for any conflict. And it is not our power at all, it is our weakness. To wit, a common one, on both sides of the undeclared war.
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina