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Arkady Grudzinsky


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What defines a nation?

I am closely watching the events in Ukraine these days. I think, Ukraine struggles to define itself as a nation. Some people in Ukraine have identity crisis. They were born in Ukraine, lived in Ukraine their whole life, but don't speak Ukrainian and identify themselves as Russians. Others strongly identify themselves with Ukrainian language and culture and feel closer to Europe than Russia. For the past 20+ years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine struggles to define its internal and foreign policy independent from external influences. However, there is still no political force inside Ukraine able to unite the country without pulling it to one side or the other and polarizing the society.

To form a nation, people must have something in common to hold them together. My question is, what is it that makes you identify with a nation?

- Language? Then what defines multilingual Switzerland or Canada as nations?

- Territory? Some nations are dispersed all over the world. Some nations have been forced to move from their historic land yet preserved their national identity.

- History? What is meant by that? Every region or city has its own history.

- Religion? Most large countries are have multiple religions.

I'd like to understand what holds a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-religious countries together, if anything. What creates a national identity?


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    Apr 15 2014: The people.
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        Apr 16 2014: On 9/11 the attack was perceived as coming from a totally different culture. In 1776, "we the people" was not as clear-cut. Many people felt British and didn't feel like fighting British soldiers at all. In 1861, all sides stood up for freedom. The North - to free the slaves. The South - to free their states from what they viewed as oppression of the federal government. Apparently, when South decided to secede, they did not want to associate with their fellow Americans in the North. What made them feel distinct?
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        Apr 17 2014: Things that *unite* one group of people also tend to *separate* these people from others. Sometimes, the feeling of unity is common to all people of the country, but often the same process tends to split nations.

        E.g. in Ukraine, people in the West are united in their aspirations for an independent country, free from corruption and from Russian influence associated with the Soviet past and dating back centuries to Russian Empire. But this also separates them from the people in the East who feel nostalgia about the former greatness of the Soviet Union and want closer ties with Russia.

        There are people in Ukraine who believe, Ukraine must be a unitary state, and there are people who believe that Ukraine must be a loose federation.

        So, my analogies with the struggles for Independence and the Civil War in the U.S. are not really "the past". In Ukraine, this is present-day reality. Same struggles with independence of the whole country from an imperialistic power and with independence of regions inside the country from the central government within the country. Different centuries, different parts of the world, same problems.
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        Apr 18 2014: We'll see about Ukraine. I'm sure, in 1861, it was not quite clear whether the United Stats will remain united. Mentality of Russian and Ukrainian people is different than American mentality. So, the resulting state will, for sure, be different. However, I do hope, Ukraine will remain united.

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