My Address Is The Soviet Union Cultural Studies Essay


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I consider myself a Russian-well not a Russian, actually, but a Soviet… I am a Soviet. I was born in the Soviet Union; I lived my entire life in the Soviet Union; I am a Soviet." [1] 

The above quotation, from one of the VIRTA colonels, may seem simple on the surface, but it points to interesting complexities. My respondents do not fall easily into the categories created and promulgated by theorists of nationalism. While it is perhaps natural for such scholars to boil things down to western-style national affiliations and geopolitics, the reality in Ukraine is more complex. By studying individual Ukrainian citizens, we can gain insights into these issues at a subterranean, personal level. We can ask questions like: How do real people grapple with these issues? How are nationalisms-as developed and transmitted by high-ranking politicians-internalized, transformed, or rejected by the rank and file? How did the ethnic and national identities of people in eastern Ukraine develop and change over time, and how does that process relate to the parallel nation-building projects pursued by the leaders of their country? The processes by which my respondents accepted or rejected various national identities were open-ended, fluid, and indeterminate. The various nation-building projects and national identities discussed in this chapter represent important historical discontinuities. However, because they are based on renewals of older national conceptions, they also contain within them significant continuities. My goal is to examine the situation at the level of the individual.

Although new nationalisms almost always draw from the past-and thus are reinscriptions or renewals of older versions-these are new inventions using old materials. [2] Following this insight, Anthony Smith advocates an approach, a methodology, which he terms "ethno-symbolic." This approach allows scholars to more accurately understand renewed nationalities. Where the materialist, modernist, and rationalist theories of nationalism tend to ignore discursive structures centered on memories, symbols, values, and myths, the ethno-symbolic approach sets just these nexuses of social understanding at the crux of national formation and the development of nationalisms. [3] Since 1991, several scholars who study Ukraine have followed Smith down this type of conceptual and methodological path. [4] One of the most insightful is Catherine Wanner, whose work on this subject-based on oral interviews-brings us much closer to understanding how national and ethnic identities work in Ukraine. My approach follows that of Smith and Wanner, even though my sources lead me to differ with both of them on one crucial point: the idea that "the political should be congruent with the national, that a nation should be united under its own state." [5] 

Among my group of interviewees, ethnic and national identities are layered and few people want the state to embody any particular nation. Indeed, for many, their transnational identities are the most important. They ignore the pushes and pulls of nationalism-except when government elites institutionalize one type of nationalism over another. For people who value both their own personal transnationality as well as the supranational, multiethnic, and multilingual traditions of the territories that are now Ukraine, institutionalized nationalism can become a threat to peace and political stability. [6] 

History and Historiography

In the realms of history and historiography as much as in geography, Ukraine is a borderland between East and West. The historiography on Russia and the Soviet Union tended to either integrate or ignore Ukrainian history, and thus the large theoretical schemes and grand narratives of nationalism produced on both sides of the iron curtain during the Cold War failed to account for Ukrainian realities. [7] Since the breakup of the USSR, studies of Ukrainian nationalism have become not only legitimate but fashionable. [8] 

However, according to Ukrainian historian Yarolav Hrytsak, "the sharp increase of academic production in this field has not yielded a satisfactory explanation of the current Ukrainian situation. Post-communist developments in Ukraine present a set of paradoxes that seriously undermine the major theories in nationalism studies." [9] For Hrytsak and many other Ukrainian citizens (my interviewees included), Ukraine's multi-national and multi-ethnic-but still relatively stable-situation belies the theoretical assumption that a state must equal a nation. Indeed, as Hrytsak concludes, "In the Ukrainian case, then, theories of nationalism do not work smoothly, even if state-seeking nationalism is replaced by the non-state-seeking types." [10] 

The Russian and Soviet empires both had multi-faceted descriptors of identity, and the state- and nation-building projects did not go hand-in-hand as they did in the West. [11] If one analyzes the situation free from inapplicable conceptions, it is clear that Ukrainian elites have seldom been driven (or supported) by domestic nationalisms, but rather by other events, pressures, and incentives. However, because of the weight of Western conceptions of the nation-state, as transmitted by people steeped in them, Ukrainian political elites have often pursued a Western style nation-building project. For example, although the openly pro-Russian Leonid Kuchma (President of Ukraine from 1994-2005) promised to make Russian an official language alongside Ukrainian, he reneged on that promise and even went so far as to write a "nationalist Ukrainian" book titled, Ukraine is Not Russia. Yet things are not as they might seem: even while he was the President of Ukraine, Kuchma wrote this book using the Russian language and had it published in Moscow. [12] 

Part of the issue in understanding, both linguistically and historically, comes from the terms used. In English, "nation" and "state" are often used interchangeably, as are "ethnicity" and "nationality." "Nationality" often connotes "citizenship," and when a person from the United States refers to herself as an "American," she is not including Canadians or Mexicans in her nationality. Such conflations and distinctions in Western Europe and much of the Americas stem from the fact that, at least in the modern Western world, the processes of state formation and nation-building evolved in tandem. Things are different in much of the former Russian (Soviet) empire, where it was the centralized state that created "nations." [13] 

In the Russian empire, the term narod (the people) had multiple (and often interchangeable) meanings, including humanity, ethnicity, and nationality. Beginning in the nineteenth century, narod also meant "the masses," while the phrase sovetskii narod [the Soviet people] came in the later twentieth century to mean the new supranational community that was the result of socialism's success. Narodnost' (which is now often translated as "nation") was a nineteenth-century invention by members of the Russian intelligentsia who were concerned with translating the concept, from the French, of nationalité. However, even though narodnost' became part of the Russian and Ukrainian dictionaries, the concept it denotes remained indeterminate throughout the imperial and Soviet periods; it is just as ambiguous today. In contrast, the words poddantsvo ("subjecthood" during the imperial period) and grazhdanstvo ("citizenship" during the Soviet period) referred exclusively to citizen membership-one's relationship to the state-and both words can therefore be translated unambiguously as "citizenship." [14] 

Although their closest semantic equivalents are "nation" and "nationality," the Russian words natsiia and natsional'nost did not designate nationality in the Western sense. Natsional'nost was primarily a designation of genealogical and religious ancestry that was independent of one's residence in a particular imperial territory or republic-whether under the tsars or the commissars. Simply translating narodnost' or natsiia as "nation" and natsional'nost as "nationality" elides the actually existing multiplicity of identities in the Soviet Union, when nationality and ethnicity were social categories distinct from statehood and citizenship. [15] In discussing identity-particularly prior to the breakup of the USSR-we should acknowledge that natsiia and natsional'nost are false cognates; both should be translated as "ethnic group" or "ethnicity." [16] This clarification is essential for studies of national and ethnic identity during the Soviet and post-Soviet periods.

Everyone living in the Soviet Union, in legal terms, had both a citizenship and an ethnicity. Beginning in 1932, both were designated by their internal passports, and the two identities were distinct from each other. The Soviet state promoted ethnic particularism and fixed objective ethnic identities to individuals through their internal passports, residence permits (propiska), and ethnically-based policies of nativization (korenizatsiia) in the ethnic republics. [17] Some experts describe this set of rules as a "regime of ethnicity" or an "ethnic regime." [18] 

At the beginning of Soviet rule, internal passports were not meant for everyone; they were only issued to urban residents. By withholding them from rural denizens, the regime severely restricted their movements, reminding many of tsarist policies of the past. However, at that time the Soviet regime was more interested in an individual's social position (sotsial'noe polozhenie; read "class") than her other characteristics, so if an individual was issued a passport, she could choose her own ethnicity. [19] 

In the 1930s, with National Socialism's popularity on the rise, Stalin's regime paid more attention to ethnicity. In April 1938, the new Passport and Visa Service of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) issued a decree directing registrars to write, on line five of the internal passport, the ethnicity of at least one of the recipient's parents-not the self-defined ethnicity of the recipient. If the recipient's parents were of different ethnicities, she could choose between those two ethnicities-but only those. If her parents were of the same ethnicity, she was stuck with that one. A passport recipient was henceforth required to provide, for verification, either a birth certificate (which included the parents' ethnicity) or other comparable official documents. [20] 

This change in the passport rules was part of a larger development. Starting in the late 1930s, the NKVD deported several groups with "foreign" ethnicities from the western territories to Central Asia and Siberia, including Germans, Poles, Bulgarians, and Koreans. [21] Of course, "internal passports that indicated every citizen's ethnic background enabled the systematic application of this policy at lightning speed." [22] During the second world war, a list of "punished peoples" who were alleged to have collaborated with the Nazis-including the Chechens, Crimean Tatars, and Meshketian Turks-were also exiled to the Soviet Far East. Thanks to the system of ethnic categorization in the census and internal passports (registered by both local and central authorities), it was possible for the NKVD to deport almost all ethnic Chechens in a single day. After the ethnic cleansing of "foreign ethnicities" and "punished peoples," a third and final wave took place with the "anti-cosmopolitanism campaign" of the late 1940s and early 1950s, through which many Jews were persecuted and purged. [23] 

It is important to note that these ethnic purges came at the time when Stalin's regime was well aware of the extremism of Nazi Germany: first their ideology, second their armies, and third the devastation that followed the war. As Timothy Snyder has convincingly argued, the German and the Soviet regimes assisted, mutually reinforced, and overlapped each other. [24] It was within this setting that the Soviet ethnically-based deportations occurred, and they subsided after Stalin's death. Even so, the potential for such atrocities was always there, and line five remained in Soviet internal passports until the end. As one political scientist has observed, "The Soviet experience is truly amazing in illuminating the devious potential of ethnic categories administered by the state." [25] 

Even during the late Soviet period, the system served to restrict movement, especially for certain ethnic minorities. However, because of both the ambiguous process by which one's ethnicity was inscribed in official documents and the range of options for overcoming territorial boundaries, there were usually ways around these rules; for example: bribery, forgery, intermarriage, and social connections, as well as military and party service. [26] 

In ideological (and propaganda) terms, each citizen also had a transnational Soviet identity, an identity that was simultaneously supranational in the present and universal in the ideologically-assured future. Even so, prevailing trends in the existing scholarship hold that the Soviet supranational identity was never fully developed, and that rampant nationalism in the republics was the primary cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union. A leading scholar of Soviet history and nationalism, for example, states that "ironically, despite the aims of Marxism-Leninism to move beyond the era of nationalism, the Soviet federal state, with its ethnic republics and regions, provided a nursery for nations that in turn became the focus of identity and loyalty for much of the Soviet population." [27] Furthermore, "the greatest threat to both the Soviet state and its potential for reform would be the emergence of mass nationalist movements." [28] 

Other scholars have challenged these conclusions, arguing that nationalism had little to do with the fall of the USSR. [29] My research supports the latter view, and suggests that the Soviet identity was in fact a viable transnational identity-especially among the military officer corps, but also in spheres of life that ranged from those of uneducated laborers to those of civilian academic professors. Indeed, Soviet citizens had multiple, multi-faceted national identities that should not be labeled using binaries such as "contrasting," "split," or even "spliced," or "hybrid." [30] It is only when scholars try to fit these identities into unsuitable Western categories that such terms get used. My interviewees appear to have consciously taken on politically-centered national identities (identities that do fit the Western models) well after the Soviet collapse-and only because political and social circumstances forced them to choose between alternatives. Indeed, for many people, the Soviet transnational identity still survives, coexisting comfortably with the "Ukrainian" and "Russian" national identities called into use by political necessity.

The Experience of Empire

Only twenty percent of my interviewees were born in the city of Kharkiv. [31] Indeed, on the list of my respondents' birthplaces nearly every Soviet republic is represented-from the Baltics to Kazakhstan, from Moldova to Tajikistan. Those born in Russia proper represent every major city and area-from Leningrad to Sakhalin Island. One of the interviewees was even born beyond the borders of the USSR, in Poland. This diversity is partially due to the military profession of the men in this group. The army recruited them from all over the Soviet Union and they travelled widely on military assignments, finally settling in Kharkiv on their last Soviet army posting before the breakup of the USSR. The officers often married women while on assignment in the other republics, so the mothers also tend to have diverse backgrounds.

All male citizens of the Soviet Union over eighteen were required to do military service for at least two years. [32] In addition, for both men and women, the "work assignment" (raspredelenie) system required all graduates of post-secondary educational institutions to serve three years on assignment, often in different regions and republics, as their "civic duty." Outside of the informal channels of influence provided by social connections, the graduate had no choice on where, or what, his or her job was to be. [33] In addition, because women usually relocated with their husbands, even to difficult Soviet locales, many of their children were born outside of Ukraine and Russia. The military factor was significant, but even though a higher percentage of my non-military interviewees were born in Ukraine, more than a third hail from diverse regions and republics throughout the Soviet Union. [34] 

In terms of their legal ethnicity (line five), my interviewees are less diverse than their birthplaces might suggest. Nearly all have at least one, if not three or four, "Russian" and/or "Ukrainian" grandparents. Most are either "Russian" or "Ukrainian" themselves. In practice, when a citizen's choice was between these two ethnicities, few gave much thought to which one they would choose to have on their passports. [35] "They asked us: 'What will you put for your ethnicity?' This smart girl who was in our group-Alla-said, 'We need to put down what our papas are. My papa's Russian, so I'm putting down Russian. Then I said, 'My papa's Ukrainian on his passport, so that's what I'll write-Ukrainian." [36] 

What, according to the interviewees, accounted for the lack of ethnic diversity among them? Their most frequent answer was simply to reference the commonly known demographics. "Well," Ekaterina Ivanovna [37] said, "despite the population explosion in the Central Asian areas, Russians and Ukrainians made up most of the [Soviet] population." [38] Official demographic statistics confirm this statement. According to the last Soviet census taken in 1989, ethnic Russians were the majority by far, composing 50.8% of the population (145 million). They were followed by Ukrainians, at 15.4% (44 million). Uzbeks were a distant third at 5.8% (16 million). [39] Together, ethnic Russians and Ukrainians made up two-thirds of the Soviet population; the remaining third was made up of more than a hundred other ethnic groups. [40] 

Within the military context, the academy's students came from everywhere in the USSR (young officers could usually choose their academy, and VIRTA was known as one of the best)-but most were either assigned back to their ethnic republics or petitioned to be returned there after graduation. Although officers were not able to choose their assignments, they were able to make requests of the chain of command; additionally, they were sometimes able to influence the situation utilizing their social connections. If given a choice, many of the young men with non-Russian/Ukrainian ethnicities chose to return closer to home. Elena Petrovna, who is herself from the Belgorod region in Russia just north of Kharkiv, said, "This only made sense-we all usually tried to go where we felt most comfortable, felt most 'at home.' In the case of my husband, he kept petitioning for a job here in Kharkov [41] because it was close to my family, close to my home. Not only did that make me happy, it made good practical sense as well. We could put the kids on the bus, and in two hours they were at their grandparents' house in the country. Many of our friends were in Kharkov-our support network was strongest here. [42] It was convenient for everyone. The same sorts of things were true for people from Tajikistan as much as they were for us…This was not easy to accomplish, however. If an officer was good at his job, like my husband was, his commander did not want to let him go. Because of this we were stuck in Azerbaijan for quite a while before we got to come back here." [43] 

Especially for people with Russian and Ukrainian ethnicities (but also for others), Kharkiv was also widely considered "a quality of life" choice. VIRTA was one of the top military educational institutions in the USSR, and thus provided both its graduates and its professors with prestige and other professional benefits. In terms of the comforts of everyday living, Kharkiv-which had been almost entirely destroyed by the Germans-had more new buildings and fewer communal living situations than many other cities. In contrast, Moscow had "the absolute limit of people, and then some more, and even more." [44] Many of my interviewees also cited the weather in Kharkiv, which "was sunnier than Leningrad and warmer than Moscow." [45] A few even mentioned the mentality of the city: "I had heard that Kharkov was also more relaxed, and since that turned out to be true, I stayed." [46] Almost everyone who self-described as either Russian or Ukrainian pointed out, at least once during their interviews, that they liked Kharkiv because it was/is "a Russian city."

The above reasons notwithstanding, one of the most important explanations for the apparent lack of ethnic diversity among my group of interviewees was something that they did not verbalize. During the interviews, I asked a series of questions that led up to asking them what the "line five" designation (ethnicity) had been in their passports, followed by some questions about ethnic identity intended to get subjective responses. But to begin the interview (right after asking them their birthplace and date of birth), I specifically asked about the birthplaces, backgrounds, and lives of both of their parents, all four of their grandparents, and sometimes even more ancestry-as far back as they had knowledge.

What I found is perhaps not surprising, but it does seem significant. In every case (going back in every interviewee's family tree), when a person had the choice between either a Ukrainian and/or Russian ethnicity (based on the ethnicities of their parents) and a non-Ukrainian and/or Russian identity, they chose to be designated as one of the two main ethnicities-or at least their descendants classify them that way. Thus, the "core imperial" ethnic identities (Russian and Ukrainian) had a very strong attraction. While both the Russian and Soviet empires had quite a bit of fluidity to their "ethnic regimes," it seems that the identities they produced tended to flow in the direction of the metropole.

This observation has important implications both in terms of simple demographics and in terms of the complexities of empire. However, between the two core imperial ethnicities, Russian and Ukrainian, there seemed to be very little difference. Again going as far back as possible in the genealogies of my interviewees, nearly half of those who had both a Russian and Ukrainian parent chose the Ukrainian ethnicity over the Russian. As for the last two Soviet generations, most of my (non-Jewish) [47] interviewees remember being completely unconcerned-and uninterested-about their "line five" designation prior to the 1990s.

This is likely due to the fact that none of the ethnically "Russian" or "Ukrainian" interviewees remember ever "feeling" a real distinction between the two ethnicities in the context of the Soviet Union. These were not "Russified" Ukrainians-at least not among those that I interviewed. As one of my interviewees said: "Well, being Russian in the Soviet Union created more comfort than any other ethnicity, but being a Russian-speaking Ukrainian didn't make a difference." [48] As another put it: "The Russians were the first among equals in 'The Friendship of Peoples,' but we Ukrainians were a very close second-it simply didn't matter." [49] In terms of collective identity, what mattered most to them-and still does, outside of political exigencies-was their transnational Soviet identity.

The Soviet Identity

Many of my interviewees were at great pains to explain how their primary national identity was actually the transnational Soviet identity-and several explicitly connected that identity to the supranationalism of official ideology. "I truly internalized the ideological line," Oleg Vladimirovich said, "I was Russian in ethnicity but Soviet in nationality-and I felt Soviet, I still do." [50] From the beginning, the leadership of the USSR was supposed to protect both its "alien" ethnicities and its nationalities. At the end of 1922, Lenin wrote his famous letter "On the Question of Nationalities or 'Autonomy.'" In it, he declared that "the question of the union of soviet socialist republics" could be boiled down to this: "It would be unpardonable opportunism if we, on the eve of the debut of the East and the beginning of its awakening, were to undermine our authority among them by even the slightest rudeness and injustice to our own aliens. The need to rally against the imperialists of the West, who are defending the capitalist world, is one thing... It is another thing when we ourselves lapse, even if only in trifles, into imperialist attitudes towards oppressed nationalities, thus undermining all our principled sincerity, all our principled defense of the struggle against imperialism." [51] 

In the 1930s, the ideological line became "USSR: Fraternal Union of Peoples," with "the blossoming of the national cultures of the USSR, national in form and socialist in content." "Soviet patriotism" was supposed to be the unifying force. [52] Then, in 1961, speaking at the 22nd Congress of the CPSU, Khrushchev declared: "In the USSR, there is a new historical community of people of diverse ethnic groups that share common characteristics. It is the Soviet people [narod]." [53] 

With the Resolution of the 24th Congress of the CPSU in 1971, "the Soviet people" was declared to be the result of the strong unity of all classes and strata, nationalities and peoples. To the all-encompassing Soviet entity was now attributed many of the characteristics that official doctrine had formerly ascribed to its varied ethnicities. Russian was recognized as the "core ethnicity" and the common language, in recognition of "the role played by the Russian people in the fraternal family of Soviet peoples." [54] However, "the Soviet people" was a "new historical, social, and international community of people having a common territory, economy, and socialist content; a culture that reflects the particularities of multiple nationalities; a federal state; and a common ultimate goal: the construction of communism." [55] 

In support of the new ideological definition of supranational Soviet ideology, a pop song was released in 1971 (following the 24th party congress) that proved to be quite popular, titled, "My Address is the Soviet Union." The repeated lines that conclude the refrain are as follows: "My address is not a building or a street. My address is the Soviet Union!" [56] In answer to my questions about ethnicity and national identity, several of my interviewees referenced, quoted, or even sang, this song. [57] This is an excellent example of how ideological positions taken by the leadership were projected by the regime through propaganda and consumed (and often internalized) by the people.

However, the ideology was often transformed through that process as well, becoming something other than what was originally intended. As an example, for one of my respondents, the lines of this song's refrain are "ironic." Even though the point of the song was to inculcate a communist supranationalism unbounded by territory, for him they actually represent a dual meaning, which includes both a motherland and a larger community. In his words: "There is a kind of irony here in these song lyrics. Because my mother-my biological mother-and my motherland, that's the same thing, with no problems. And so one can say that my mother is the mother earth. Can you say that about the Union and at the same time say that it has no address, that is, no building and no street-that it is everywhere? Well, we do say so." [58] 

A few of my interviewees gave me a glimpse into one of the primary differences between the military officers and those that had minimal or no military experience. Like Oleg Vladimirovich-who "truly internalized the ideological line"-when speaking about ethnicity and nationality during the interviews, the officers were more likely to reference ideology, ideological texts, or propaganda. An important insight into this difference came not from an officer, but from one of their daughters. "The officers were always more aware of the currents of ideology. This was because of the presence of the political officers [zampolit], [59] which were there-always there-even at the platoon level. Soldiers were therefore more up-to-date-and more thoroughly indoctrinated-in ideology than the rest of us, even those of us who are the children of officers." [60] 

While many interviewees identified their national identity as "Soviet"-juxtaposing it with their Russian or Ukrainian ethnicity-others, especially in the younger generation, thought in terms that are reminiscent of Great Russian imperial transnationalism. "Well, for me it was not essential [at age 16], to register my Russian ethnicity [on line five]." Aleksandra said, "At that time, I lived in the country of the Soviet Union. I was brought up on Russian literature, Russian history, and in general I am Russian-I always was Russian, until suddenly Ukraine appeared." [61] It is interesting to note that Aleksandra's mother was from western Ukraine and spoke Ukrainian as her first language. Furthermore, Aleksandra's older brother chose, for his line five, to identify himself as a Ukrainian.

In the words of Inna, another colonel's daughter: "When I received the passport I was already living here in Kharkov. Still, my ethnicity is Russian. I could choose. My mother is a Russian; my father is a Ukrainian. I chose Russian. Because Russian is my native language. I understand Ukrainian perfectly, but I think like a native Russian. Yes, this comes from my relationship to the great country where we were born-at least my family. I thought I was Russian. It was more about social status, I think, than the national. And anyway, we were all Russian. Well, at least I can see myself so." [62] The younger generation-particularly people who were born in the late 1960s and 1970s-often spoke in these terms during the interviews. Perhaps, for them, the Soviet transnational identity has been transformed back to the Great Russian identity under the pressures of living in an independent Ukraine. However, several individuals from the older generation had similar perspectives.

Valentina Viktorovna, for example, was born and raised in Azerbaijan with parents of mixed ethnicity. Even though she also considers herself Russian, she has a slightly different perspective than Alexandra and Inna. "On this subject [ethnicity/nationality], I never became a Ukrainian, and my position on this is never going to be extinguished. In mindset, I am a person with a real Eastern Russian upbringing. That's how we say it, yes. Russian with elements of Eastern upbringing. And in some ways, I have a sort of an Eastern cultural identity. Yes, that is present in me. The crux of this is the Eastern part. But I like to say that I love the Russian people, it is a proud culture, I know her well, and I know her literature well-I have done a lot of reading. Since childhood, I have done a lot of reading in her books and I am proud of my people and I love my people. I am a true patriot-to the Russian culture and people. [63] 

Others of the older generation have a view of ethnicity that also brings to mind a Russian imperial gaze, but from a different vantage. In response to the question: "And you consider yourself to be Russian?" one colonel replied, "Well, I guess so. The fact is, the very notion: 'A Russian, not a Russian'-in general this is a vague notion, indeterminable. When I was a kid and I went to visit my grandmother, I learned the Karelian language. One time, I was even able to speak with some Finns because the Karelian and Finnish languages are similar. There was even, at one time, a Karelian-Finnish Republic. This was even before the revolution. So in general, what is my notion of who I am? Am I Karellian, or Russian, or, as they say, 'a mixed person'-a mix? This, in general, is my opinion-that this does not matter. If we have a search for a clean, pure Russian, we might find one and say: 'Here's an ethnically Russian man.' But if we investigate deeply into his roots, it is my guess that it would be hard to find such a man. Because there have been so many mixed relationships, so many mixed marriages. How can we find such a man? If you look at all the branches of his roots, you'll find two tribes, three tribes, and on, and on. I think that it doesn't really matter what was written there [on line five], and it had no effect on my life. None." [64] 

For several others, their Russian identity was a matter of linguistic practicality. "I currently live as a Russian person in Ukraine, just as I lived as a Russian in Kyrgyzstan. Although it is now becoming difficult, before [the breakup of the USSR] it was not. We did not notice. Because we all spoke in Russian, it was the official language…Somehow, even the Georgians spoke to us in Russian. This is why the Chechens, who live here [Kharkiv] now, they also speak with us in Russian, the Armenians speak in Russian, and the Latvians who live here, they also speak in Russian…it was the international language, just as English is today. Right now, English makes more sense than Russian. We taught ourselves Russian because we knew that we needed to know it to communicate…Now we have our grandchildren instructed in English, even though it is difficult and expensive to do so. I suffer in order to have them taught in English because I know that they will need that language now." [65] 

Viktor, one of the younger interviewees-a man who now carries a passport from the Russian Federation but also has an official residence in Ukraine and does business internationally-was quick to see political overtones in the question: "So, you think like a Russian?" His answer speaks volumes, both about the Soviet period and about ex-Soviet citizens in the twenty-first century: "That's a provocative question!...Yes it is, and not just a little bit, it is provocative. I always answer this question, even if just with humor. Yes? We have a good song: [singing aloud] 'My address is not a building or a street, my address is the Soviet Union!' Yes, I am Russian, but I was born in a particular country. And I do not, even now, think that there is a Belarus, a Russia, a Kazakhstan-out there. Yes? I do not think that they are different countries. So just consider me a citizen here, of this particular territory." [66] Notice how Viktor shifted meanings during his answer, from ethnicity to transnationality to citizenship as tied to the land. He is expressing a position common to many of my respondents-a transnational identity grounded in the supranational Soviet experience.

Post-Soviet Identities

With the breakup of the USSR, all Soviet citizens suddenly became residents of smaller countries-and some of those countries, Ukraine included, had never had independence in the form and within the borders as they were set in 1991. Shortly thereafter, in January of 1992, VIRTA was reorganized as the Kharkiv Military University of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and its officers had to decide either to swear allegiance to the newly-formed Ukrainian national army or to quit their jobs and find work elsewhere. Since they were high-ranking military officers, those who chose to resign or retire could become either Ukrainian or Russian citizens. [67] However, their family members, like the majority of the Ukrainian population, did not have that option, so among my group of interviewees are several families in which the father is officially a Russian citizen while the mother and children are now citizens of Ukraine. In all of these changes, their legal ethnicities were quite irrelevant. In 1995, the government removed ethnicity from Ukraine's internal passports altogether; the Russian Federation followed suit in 1997. [68] 

Even so, subjective ethnicities do continue to play an active role in society. For many of these new citizens-both within and without the military academy's community-their new international passports do not make them "Ukrainians." The approximately 11 million Ukrainian citizens who today identify themselves as "Russian" (about 22% of the population, depending upon the statistics followed), [69] make up the largest minority group in Europe-at least when ethnicity is cast in the Western mold of nationality.

Eleven years ago, when I first interviewed people in Kharkiv, I asked the question: "Are you Russian or Ukrainian?" The answer I received was universal; people thought this a meaningless question without a valid answer. Indeed, I often received the answer: "Pshaw! I am Soviet." [70] During my latest round of interviews, I asked the same question and discovered a radical reversal in the answers; a mere decade later, the vast majority of my respondents now had a definite answer, one way or another. Many still told me that they used to be Soviet, and still think of themselves that way, but most had also adopted a definite ethno-national identity-in the Western sense of the term-during the intervening years (Ukrainian, Russian, Lithuanian, Armenian, etc.).

Sergei will never forget the point at which the ethnic and the political started to coincide. Born in 1975, he got his internal passport in 1991, just before the breakup. "At age sixteen, I went to get my [internal] passport. It was still the Soviet Union then, but this whole mess and state-building had already started. I just instinctively wrote [on line five] that I am Ukrainian. This is what every Ukrainian [resident] thought at that time: we knew that something was coming. So, I had to write 'Ukrainian.' And it was not in vain…because we still have a separate state. And why have problems when I felt that it [ethnicity] was a non-issue for me, personally? Well, in the Baltics-well, there were problems…in Latvia and Estonia, the ethnic Russians who had that ethnicity recorded in their passports-all of them were denied citizenship. In Ukraine, too, it could be like that. That's it, that's why I chose 'Ukrainian.'" [71] 

Through hundreds of comments, a majority of my interviewees made it abundantly clear that it was not until they were confronted with Western-style nationalism that they took on either a "Ukrainian" or a "Russian" national identity. And even so, these new identities exist alongside their previous ethnic identities and their transnational Soviet (or Great Russian) identities. Tatiana articulated these feelings most clearly and concisely: "I never thought of myself as 'Russian' politically-not until those damn western Ukrainians (zapadentsy) [72] started shoving themselves down our throats. For four hundred years, this [Kharkiv] was a Russian city in terms of language, culture, and ethnicity. Our signs were in Russian, our school classes were in Russian, our books were in Russian, our rallies were in Russian, our thoughts were Russian-in Russian. Why the hell does that all suddenly have to change, just because we now live in an 'independent' country? And yet I am just as Ukrainian as I am Russian. They're not incompatible [a Russian city/person and the country of Ukraine]! They're not!" [73] 

In many ways, these feelings of frustration are in response to nation-building initiatives that are an annoyance to people who are ethnically and/or linguistically Russian-things like replacing the Russian-language signs in the public transit systems with Ukrainian-only (or bilingual Ukrainian/English but not Ukrainian/Russian) signs. Between 2006 and 2008, the government gradually made the dubbing of all movies into the Ukrainian language compulsory, and if subtitles are included, they must be in Ukrainian. Before these government initiatives, residents of Kharkiv could watch movies in Russian, in Ukrainian, or in the original language (e.g. English). Movies also often had Russian or other language subtitles, which are currently prohibited. [74] Several of my respondents-regardless of their own ethnic identity-mentioned that Pushkin is now taught in Ukrainian translation in schools throughout the country. For many of my interviewees, this is considered the height of absurdity. Several, particularly those who had been Soviet officers, deplored the efforts by former President Yushchenko to grant veterans' benefits to Ukrainians who fought against the forces of the USSR during the second world war.

Indeed, the officers were the first to experience the new nation-building efforts emanating from the central government in Kiev. The January 1992 renaming and reorganization of VIRTA into the Kharkiv Military University of the Ukrainian Armed Forces was mentioned by many of my respondents, and none of them remember it fondly. Several spoke at great length about this topic, and the following quotations are representative. These responses leave little doubt that Kharkiv's military elites often had a much closer encounter with institutionalized Ukrainian nation building in the early 1990s than those outside of the army:

"After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a process that led to the end of the academy. In Ukraine, there are two vectors of economic and social policy development: the Western vector and the Eastern. The Western vector-that is Lviv, western Ukraine-was joined to the Soviet Union and converted to the Eastern vector just before the [second world] war. So [after the collapse of the USSR], the presidents and politicians of [independent] Ukraine tried to convert all of the military capabilities and potential from the Eastern to the Western vector…This is how the academy was destroyed by the first and second presidents of Ukraine-it was all destroyed. There was no funding for us…And that same thinking, that same process, applied to the social strata here, to the officers and their wives. They found themselves in conditions of economic transition, knocked down by the trajectory of Westernization…This came first at VIRTA, when we were forced to take an oath-an oath in the Ukrainian language-to the Ukrainian army. I took it, and after that, I continued to teach at the academy…Then, the process of-let's call it the process of nationalism-set in…soon after the reorganization of the academy, I began to feel humiliated by the junior officers…they mocked us, they demanded to be taught in the Ukrainian language…I was forced to resign [by this process, not by his superiors]. This is my deepest, most purely psychological self that I am telling you about now, letting you see. This is why I retired in 1994 from the army. I was disgusted, disgusted. [long pause] I'm a little bit overwhelmed at the moment-why don't we take a break?" [75] 

After the break, he resumed: "And that was the problem. What was the biggest blow for us at the academy, and for the academy itself? Before the collapse, before the nationalism process, we had as our commander a Lieutenant-General who had graduated from VIRTA with a gold medal [perfect grades]; he had also graduated from the Academy of the [Soviet] General Staff with a gold medal; [76] he had been the high commander of the entire army beyond the Urals. And he was an extraordinary leader, an intelligent man. When the question arose whether to reappoint him as the head of the reorganized [Ukrainian] military university or to appoint a man named Tolupko, who knew the Ukrainian language but was absolutely not on the same level in terms of education, intelligence, and leadership…they chose Tolupko, because he knew the Ukrainian language. Он там поехал к зам.The Deputy Minister [of Defense] came and made the decision. Ему понравилось как он на украинском языке розмовляє, все.He liked everything to be Ukrainian. When he arrived, I was present at the meeting. '«Так все, теперь я буду командовать парадом сам.That's all [he said after the announcement of the change in command], now we'll constitute the parade. I won't accept anything else.' The generals were humiliated, and after this meeting, twenty percent of the generals and officers wrote their resignations. Immediately." [77] In the words of one of the younger military officers, "These issues arose primarily because of a hysteria on the part of the government, which makes [nationalism] the root of all life-well, they are trying to make it so, anyway." [78] 

The post-communist process of nation building was somewhat different outside of the military, at least in the 1990s. As one of the civilian professors told me, although the domestic process did have an effect on her, it was primarily the experience of travelling abroad that changed her perspective. "My self-identification, in terms of nationality, changed during the nineties because I am very much a part of the [civilian] university and of the city. But no, probably it was communicating with foreigners that first made me aware of my nationality as Ukrainian-my self-identification…So probably that was the first push…I think that made me aware of my nationality…Please understand that when I was communicating with people of a different nation…being a representative of Ukraine, I came to identify myself as a Ukrainian. I am now an 'ambassador' of a country. From being a Russian, this process changed me into a Ukrainian. [79] 

Apart from the "Ukrainization" efforts of politicians, all of the individuals I spoke with-regardless of ethnicity, generation, or profession-see no problems in their interpersonal relationships arising from differences in nationality, ethnicity, or language. As one of my interviewees put it: "We have no problem with national differences. It is not as if, here and now, Ukrainians don't understand the Russian language and Russians don't understand the Ukrainian language. There is no problem with this. It is only a problem in the political world. Among the people there are no problems in this regard. We are all-one people-Ukrainians, this country is Ukraine. We were born here; this is ours. They can say what they want, but we don't care-we are one people. [80] 

The nationwide and regional polls confirm that those from my interview group who still self-identify as "Soviet" are far from alone. In a set of polls developed by an interdisciplinary and international team of scholars and conducted in 1994 and 2004 in both Lviv (western Ukraine) and Donetsk (eastern Ukraine), respondents were asked to choose one identity-from a list of four-with which they would prefer to identify themselves. The four choices were "Ukrainian," "Russian," "Soviet," and "other." One of the scholars on that team has written that since some earlier research [81] had suggested "that Russians in large cities outside the Russian Federation tend to identify themselves in just such terms [Soviet]…it was natural to expect that such an identity would also find adherents in these two cities. In the case of Donetsk this expectation was greatly exceeded by the survey results. Indeed, in 1994 Soviet identity proved most popular, certainly more so than Ukrainian or Russian identity." [82] Although this popularity was reduced in the 2004 survey, "Soviet" was still a significant identity. Even in Lviv-the bastion of Ukrainian nationalism-the Soviet identity did have a few adherents. [83] 

The political group that is currently in power, led by President Yanukovych, seems to understand this situation well. "Anti-nationalism" has been one of its platforms since 2004. However, the present government is proposing a return of Imperial Russian and Soviet historical narratives, Soviet memorializations, and anti-Ukrainian Russian mythologies [84] -and this suggests a fundamental flaw in the logic of their "ethnic regime." The educated citizens of eastern Ukraine that I spoke with are not Soviet or Russian nationalists; neither are they anti-Ukrainian. Indeed, they often describe themselves as "Soviet," "Ukrainian," or "Russian" with the expressed reason of avoiding nationalist politics altogether. Overall, they want a harmonious Ukraine, not a "Russian" or "Soviet" Ukraine. "Well, of course, I think in the Russian language" one interviewee said, "but sometimes I am beginning to think in Ukrainian. I myself am not Ukrainian, in the same way that I'm not Russian, Lithuanian, or German. I am a man of peace. What matters is what we do to others." [85] 

My conclusions lend support to the position that Western-style nation building may not be the most productive route to building a stable and unified Ukraine. [86] In the words of one of my younger respondents: "I believe that the Ukrainian people, as a group, are aimed at happiness. There is even a saying, 'I'm happy, because I am a Ukrainian.' In fact, this is true. The very mentality of the people-it is a very good-natured and very tolerant people. Therefore, I would personally like to have all of our ethnic groups come together. Ukraine is a very good country, a country with positive energy. And it is at the center of Europe once again, with all of the possibilities that entails. People just need the desire to change something. Then everything will be fine." [87] 

Additionally, although there is apparently no difference in ethnic identities between the sexes, I find that there is a generation gap: the youngest members of my interviewee group-those who lived the Soviet identity for less time-seem to be more committed to a new, chosen national identity (whether Ukrainian, Russian, or other) than do those born before the late 1970s. In contrast, my oldest interviewees were the least committed to any post-Soviet national identity.

When asked his nationality, Andrei, my youngest male respondent, said "Russian-of course!" and waxed eloquent on the subject of "Russianness." [88] Elena, my youngest female interviewee, explained: "I refer to myself as a Ukrainian…I think of myself as a Ukrainian woman." [89] However, even these young respondents registered some ambivalence. Although he cannot speak Ukrainian himself and was quite critical of people from western Ukraine, Andrei believes that "pure, literary Ukrainian is a beautiful language." [90] For her part, Elena was quick to point out that "I'm probably never going to go out there with flags to defend [Ukrainian] independence. It's just that, well, I decided for myself: If I was born here, then this is my country. Even so, my grandmother told me that her great-grandmother was a Polish girl, and my grandfather was Roma." [91] 

In contrast to the new (albeit vague) nationalism of my youngest respondents, my oldest interviewees-especially those who were born before the second world war-have complex identities that have much less to do with today's political realities. When asked what his nationality had been on line five of his Soviet passport, Boris Anatol'evich replied with a smile. "In the Soviet passport, I was Russian," he said. "But now I do not know what I am, because today there is no such line [in current passports]…At the academy, we all felt that it was all-Union, of course-the locality we came from didn't matter." [92] 


Ukraine is truly "a laboratory of transnational identity." 

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