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Ukraine’s main challenge: to solve its identity crisis

Ukraine’s main challenge: to solve its identity crisis
Article by: Vitaly Portnikov
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Each time we do a review of any given year, we try to determine the number of successes, failures, “betrayals,”‘ and victories.  But when we discuss Ukraine, this approach is fundamentally wrong. On the one hand, our country is going through the same processes that the Central European countries and the Baltic states experienced in the 90s, even with the 20-25-year delay. The changes in the economy, the fight against corruption, the reforms, the decentralization — all these were topics that journalists wrote about 25 years ago when we informed our readers about Poland or Latvia.

For a person with a good memory, life in Ukraine resembles a return to a distant past. Modern Ukrainians themselves resemble Romanians or Lithuanians from that past. Their reactions are easy to predict, as are the results of all these processes that began in 2014 and continued throughout 2017. In some 20-30 years the so-called reforms will work. Ukraine will become a normal part of the “larger Europe” with all its problems and will disappear as a crisis zone from the front pages of newspapers . That will be the entire story — understandable and boring like any recovery after a long illness.

Ukraine will not become Ukraine without its own culture and language

But there is something that makes Ukraine unlike all the other countries where reforms have taken place. I would call it an identity crisis. It is our main problem and the reason for decades of delay and the actual collapse of our state institutions in 2014.

The economic transformations, the fight against corruption, and the political changes will be of no importance if Ukraine does not become Ukraine — if the Ukrainian culture does not develop, if the Ukrainian language does not prevail, if the Ukrainian cinema does not expand, if the theater does not modernize, if education is not conducted in Ukrainian, if Kyiv, Dnipro, Odesa and Kharkiv do not begin to speak Ukrainian. If all this does not take place, Ukraine after all the reforms will simply become a successful colony of neighboring Russia, a land of the fatherless. And if Russia overcomes its own crisis and instead of a criminal authoritarian medievalism begins to build a new democracy again, this successful colony will simply unite with such a Russia. As they say, “what difference does it make.”

For me, 2017 is significant because it marks the beginning of decisive changes in the cultural sphere in Ukraine: in cultural and informational policies, in education, in the approach to history. Without these changes all the other reforms are not worth the paper on which the laws and regulations are written. Do not believe those who argue that that main  thing is simply to live well. It is possible to live well almost anywhere, especially since neighboring countries are ready to receive hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians. But our task — yours and mine — is to live well in Ukraine. In a Ukraine with its own identity.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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