Ukraine, Putin and Linguistic Nationalism


President Vladimir Putin’s recognition of breakaway republics in Ukraine’s east has strong and frightening parallels in the West and has widespread precedents in nineteenth and twentieth century actions that forced millions of peoples to relocate. They have been described as separatists but are better described as linguistic nationalists.

The basic idea is that difference in language demands political or national difference and realignment into new unities. This need not be so.

In the West, the nineteenth century and twentieth century saw constant redrawing of boundaries along linguistic lines. All German speaking peoples belong to one state and nation; hence national boundaries will be broken to annex or liberate the German speakers. Others in those regions shall leave. Or, following World War I, Greek speakers shall leave ancestral homes and move elsewhere to ‘the true Greek nation’. All Turkish speakers must leave here and go to Turkey. The Subcontinent must be divided into India and Pakistan.

Linguistic nationalism will always split and try to divide into units of national sameness, or draw same-speakers into one dominant and exclusive national power. It is taken as ‘natural’. But it is an artifice.

No one today thinks that all English speaking peoples belong to one nation, state, or empire and the rise of ‘multiculturalism’ is one attempt to embrace difference within one larger political entity.

In Australia, many languages hang in the meta-peg of ‘speaking english’. Perhaps English still holds India together. This does not begin to make any English speaker a member of the English State.

Canada has survived with a core bilingualism of French and English.

I am reminded of the nineteenth century maxim ‘war is politics by other means’. wars of separation and national purity are also driven by an inability to embrace linguistic and other difference within one political entity.

My thoughts on this topic are driven by close readings of the Iraqi scholar Elie Kedourie and his seminal work Nationalism – etymological, historical, exemplary and wise. 

6 thoughts on “Ukraine, Putin and Linguistic Nationalism

  • Adam J says:

    It is perfectly natural for speakers of a language to be lumped in together. That is literally how all languages and peoples and cities got started. It is the multiculturalists that are going against nature and that is exactly why multiculturalism can only go so far.
    No one believes that all English speakers share a state, but the commonality of countries that were originally English colonies is well recognised and referred to as the Anglo word, the Five Eyes of the UK, US, AU, CN, NZ. And there are moves for greater cooperation not more separatism: see AUKUS.
    The conflict in Ukraine is a Cold War 2 conflict. Ukrainians and Russians are ethnically related, and Ukraine has always been dominated by Russia. NATO is an American-led military alliance set up to oppose Russia/the Soviets. The analogy would be New Zealand wanting to join a Chinese-led military alliance against Australia. Where we would strongly condemn their betrayal of our shared history and nothing else, Putin is prepared to fight for it, to dominate Ukraine and keep it in orbit. That is a Russian interest.
    How naive must Western leaders be if they did not see this coming!

  • Petronius says:

    It is perhaps a bit reductionist to align peoples too much with language. Putin in his televised address said: “Ukraine is not just a neighbour. It is an inherent part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,” As Spengler wrote, “For me ‘people’ is a unit of soul. The great events of history were not really achieved by peoples; they themselves created the people. … Neither unity of speech nor physical descent is decisive.” And as we know Russians are a soulful people.

  • Tony Tea says:

    “Ivan” hey? Have you signed a treaty to recognise Quadrant?

  • rod.stuart says:

    “Canada has survived with a core bilingualism of French and English.”
    It is probably pertinent to include a note that in 1995 this very nearly led to a civil war over the potential separation of La Belle Province (Quebec). The referendum that was to ratify the Quebec declaration of independence (essentailly the American declaration of 1776 translated into French) lost by a handful of votes. Had that handful of votes swung the other way, the situation in currently in Ukraine mimics that in Canada in September 1995. France had built an airstrip on the French island of Miquelon, a scant 20 miles from Newfie. This was of sufficient size to take the largest French troop transports. Qui Bono?

  • pgang says:

    My my, hasn’t the media jumped on Putin. This is one of the greatest all-ins I think I’ve ever seen, with so much hand wringing that you could probably see it from space.
    So what does this tell us?
    1. Nothing about Putin or the Ukraine. We still haven’t a clue what’s actually going on there.
    2. Nothing in context with the previous invasion of Crimea, which apparently was pre-history.
    3. Nothing about what the Ukrainians themselves think or are doing.
    4. Nothing about what Germany thinks or are doing.
    5. Nothing about what Biden thinks, because he doesn’t.
    6. That the media are desperate for a scandal to deflect from their past two years of ineptitude.
    7. That politicians are desperate for a scandal to deflect from their past two years of ineptitude. (Case in point: why isn’t ScoMo saying harsh words in his embarrassingly child-like manner about Trudeau, where a genuine Western crisis is occurring?)

  • Peter Marriott says:

    I’ve been reading that the European Union have been meddling in Ukraine politics for years, with the express purpose of getting a pro western government installed, thereby prodding and intimidating the Russian bear very much. I also read that the Ukraine is riddled with corruption at the government level, and that much cyber crime can be sheeted home to the place, all of which tells me that that there’s probably right and wrong on both sides and also the whole Biden family seems to have have been meddling in there somewhere. Also I’d still like to know just who the air-traffic controllers were who gave the ok for the Malaysian Airlines passenger plane to fly over what was an obvious war zone.
    I flew to England twice that year via Sing Air and we went up via Russia, not as usual across the Ukraine, if the flight path in the computer on the back of the seat in front of me is anything to go by ?

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