“War made the state, and the state made war” declared Charles Tilly. There may be a fair amount of truth in this claim, but Ukraine must ensure there isn’t. Since its independence, Ukraine has been in the throes of ideological confusion, vacillating between liberal democracy, communist nostalgia, and ethno-territorial beliefs. Post-Maidan Revolution and in the build up to the present war, Ukraine emerged as an ethno-territorial state built on the idea of the Ukrainian nation and the Russian ‘Other’, locking itself in a zero-sum ideological battle with Russia. The current war will eventually end, and a new Ukraine will emerge – with a reinforced Ukrainian identity and occupied territories. This is where Ukraine’s ideological predicament will lie.
The pre-war ethno-territorial ideology will not suffice post-war. Given the current course of the Russian invasion, it seems likely that Russia will attempt to annex and hold some Ukrainian oblasts, how many – time will tell, that Ukraine will view as occupied territory. A post-war ideology built around the idea of a Ukrainian nation will be detrimental to Ukraine’s legitimate claim over the occupied territories and might end up lending credibility to the Russian invasion. Ukraine, therefore, like its EU allies, must not transform into a nation state. If it does, it will inadvertently live up to Tilly’s dictum. A post-war Ukrainian ideology must incorporate local languages and non-Ukrainian ethnicities. The implications of such an ideology cannot be overstated. It will lead to a state with an ideology far wider than its borders, deep into the Russian and Belarusian heartlands.
The present war will end in the near future, but the conflict won’t. Post-war Ukraine, a state with belligerent neighbors and occupied territories, will need to prioritize a strong military. Therein lies the catch. Ukraine must resist the urge for a Soviet inspired state ideology. This will only lead to a perennially paranoid garrison state with democracy as its first prey. A state where institutional hegemony increases, and civil liberties decrease over time. Such a conception may help Ukraine to survive but never thrive.
It won’t be long after the war before the resistive zeal subsides, and financial reality takes the center stage. Western money and weapons will pour in, and trade routes will open. When that happens, Ukraine must learn to swim against the tide of oligarchic capitalism. Economic inequality and social segregation will only renew Soviet nostalgia and undermine Ukrainian unity. President Zelensky must not allow the pictures from the Sri Lankan presidential palace to slip his mind. After all, Rajapaksa too was a war hero in the good ol’ days.
Ukraine has a tight rope to walk on. Post-war Ukraine must not be built on the idea of contradictory negation with Russia as the ultimate ‘Other’. This will restrict Ukraine’s national and international policy-making freedom and afford Russia an implicit sway in Ukrainian affairs. But Ukraine must also not walk away from the challenge, Russia will pull it back anyway. A prolonged war on the ideological front is what Ukraine must prepare for. The battleground is not limited to Ukraine but will also include Russia and Belarus. In the days to come, the idea of “mythical Russia” will be put to test and Ukraine’s role might prove to be decisive. President Putin has taken a gamble and the bet is not on Russia’s success, but on Ukraine’s faltering. He once wrote, “Let it (Kiev) be the mother of all Russian cities.” The throne is now up for grabs, does Ukraine have the will to pounce on it? Slava Ukraini!
[Photo by Shamil Khakirov, via Wikimedia Commons]
Shiraz Gulraiz is an academic author, freelance writer, and engineer by profession. He holds a Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.