During the keynote speech at the Kyiv Post Tiger Conference held on November 27th, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili labeled identity as the most important component to promote the democratic process in Ukraine. He defends this statement by declaring the Ukrainian, Georgian, and Moldovan identity as European.
Although identity does influence behavior, Saakashvili places a stronger power in the European root rather than the national identity. Society needs to focus on the inherent European values to encourage and enable a more democratic system. This attention to a European identity can manipulate a nation into becoming more European. However, the creation and use of identity has its limits.
In her book The Politics of Becoming European, Maria Mälksoo discusses the ideological gap between Eastern European nations and their Western neighbors. Mälksoo asserts that the East is conceptualized as inferior – as ‘Europe, but not quite Europe’. History has created a distinct division in the middle of Europe that countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Baltic states have attempted to bridge. But, overcoming the past means reconstructing their identities. In order to gain accession into the EU, the symbol of achieving ‘Europeanness’, one must embark in identity or security politics. Reorienting Europe has less to do with geography as it does with civil liberties, economics, and education. Aligning ideology within the Western framework has been the standard for the past decade to ‘become’ European.
Although Saakashvili is accurate in advocating the development of a more European identity, unfortunately Ukraine is ‘feeling’ less European. Surveys conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and Russian Research from 2000 throughout 2010 show that a European self-identity is declining. Significantly, the media has also noted the shift in democratic values. Former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, warned in an interview that Ukraine was moving backwards and branded recent movements in the government as undemocratic. The compelling correlation highlights the relationship between identity and democracy.
These conclusions lead me to wonder if Ukraine can become more democratic by building a European identity.
“Saakashvili Talks Up EU Integration Path.” KyivPost. 29 Nov. 2012.
“We Have to Be in the European Family.” KyivPost. 29 Nov. 2012.
Maria Mälksoo. The Politics of Becoming European: A Study of Polish and Baltic Post-Cold War Security Imaginations. Routledge: New York. 2010.
Stephen White and Julia Korosteleva. “‘Feeling European’: the View from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.” Contemporary Politics. Volume 12(2). 2006. 193-205
Stephen White, Ian McAllister, and Valentina Feklyunina. “Belarus, Ukraine and Russia: East or West?” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations. Volume 12. 2010. 344-367.
Natalya Humenjk. “Стівен Пайфер: «На Заході є загальне бачення, що сьогодні Україна вже не демократична держава»” (Steven Pifer: “In the West there is a general view that today Ukraine is already not a democratic government”). Тиждень. 19 November 2012.