Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ethnic divides in Ukraine remain

By: Rick Bannan
Produced & Edited by: Katie Foglia
In the United States, ethnic divides are more about skin color than family heritage. Those divides date back to a point in the history of the nation where people were transported across the ocean to perform labor for free. In Ukraine, however, the suppression of minorities is much more convoluted.
Ukraine, spanning land from the Carpathian Mountains to the Sea of Azov, gained its independence from the United Soviet Socialist Republics barely two decades ago. Since then, the country has been in an identity crisis in terms of its allegiance to either the European Union or the Russian Federation.
Within the last few years, numerous bouts of “big fist fight[s],” as per BBC World News, have occurred within Ukrainian Parliament over issues such as whether or not Russian – slightly distant from the national Ukrainian language – should be given equal status as an official language in some parts of the country. 

Multitude of ethnicities in Ukraine

However, that is just the parliament, and not the ongoing struggle of the subalterns; that is, the peoples (indigenous and not) who have been subject to remain in the dregs of society.
Romani people in Lviv, Ukraine. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
There is a multitude of ethnicities present in Ukraine. While the nation is predominantly ethnic Ukrainian (or Russian, which constitutes around 17 percent of the country) there are still roughly 222,000 Crimean Tatars (the predominant minority in the Eastern reaches of the country, near the Black Sea) and anywhere from 40,000 to 400,000 ethnic Romani in the country of 44 million.
Given the sheer size of the population of the country, both groups would barely constitute one percent of the entire nation, regardless of what estimate is used. Compare that to the Native American population of the United States, which according to recent U.S. Census Bureau data is at roughly 1.6 percent of the total population (mixed ethnicities included). 
What that means is that there is a strong analogue of the Native Americans to these two particular groups, especially considering how, like Native Americans, many Crimean Tatars were removed from their ancestral lands. The most notable was during Stalin’s Great Purge in 1944 under the pretense that the Tatars were Nazi sympathizers.
Livadia Palace near Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons. 
The histories of the Crimean Tatars have a heritage dating back to the days of Mongol Conquest. While the Viking-founded Kievan Rus' was attempting a stronghold on first-millennia Eastern Europe, the people who would become the Tatars were half a continent away, in the steppes once populated (according to linguistic and anthropological records) by the progenitors of Turkish dominance.
Tatars share more in common – especially linguistically – with Turkey than their “home” country of Ukraine (in the sense of this article; Tatars are found throughout Eurasia).
The Roma, on the other hand, are hard to pin down geographically. If anything, this is due to their highly mobile nature. Even their national flag depicts a spooked wheel across an abstract background of green grass and blue sky, as a testament to their assumed right to moving about the continents. 
Supposedly “settling” in Ukraine around the 1300s, these folk had always lived on the fringe of what most western tongues would call “civilization.” Not content to put their foot down in territories including the Kievan Rus', nor the Halych–Volhynia (a Ruthenian [Ukrainian] kingdom from the High Middle Ages). The Roma moved across the landscape as a people embodying the notion of perpetual diaspora.

Push for Tatar independence

Both the Tatars and Roma are subjugated in the highly Slavic, highly divided state of Ukraine. The subjugation of the Tatars is an issue in Ukraine. As one of the most prominent ethnic groups, they have had their fair share of outings with treatment parallel to that of subjugated peoples like the Native Americans in North America.

There has been a recent push for Tatar independence in the Black Sea Peninsula. The issue is not so much from complete liberation, but one of keeping the Eastern Russian way away from the Tatar living.
Ultimately, those in the West can learn a lot from the situation existing in Ukraine regarding the small, dignified ethnic groups of the country like the Roma and the Crimean Tatars. 
Although the track record in the United States for dealing with native populations has not exactly been ideal, looking toward Ukraine would add a level of analogy to United States relations with minority populations that could take them out of the country’s limited mindset on their own peoples, and understand that the conflict exists across the globe.

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