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November 22, 2000

Donetsk and Lviv:
Convergence or Divergence? 

By Nataliya Chernysh

In 1994, a sociological survey was undertaken as part of a project to compare social attitudes in western and eastern Ukraine, with Lviv and Donetsk designated as representative centers of these two regions. The project, titled "Lviv-Donetsk: Identities and Social Loyalties," consisted of two surveys held five years apart. Overall, 800 interviews were conducted in the two cities before the parliamentary elections of 1994, and 1,600 were conducted in 1999, prior to and shortly after the presidential election. The project was supervised by scholars from the United States (Oksana Malanchuk, Michael Kennedy, Arthur Miller) and Ukraine (Yaroslav Hrytsak, Natalia Chernysh, Viktor Susak).

In 1994, the research team noted the following general characteristics of the Lviv population: 1. The vast majority were ethnic Ukrainians who spoke Ukrainian as their mother tongue; 2. They overwhelmingly identified themselves with Ukrainian culture; 3. The population was far less Russified and pro-Soviet than that of Donetsk; 4. There was a general orientation on the West and Western-style democracy; 5. There was a high level of Ukrainian national consciousness.

In Donetsk, we noted the following characteristics specific to the region: 1. Russian was the native language not only of ethnic Russians, but also of most ethnic Ukrainians; 2. The vast majority identified themselves with Russian culture or with the culture of Russophone Ukrainians; 3. The population was far more Russified and pro-Soviet than that of Lviv; 4. There was a general orientation on the East and the former Soviet political system; 5. There was a low level of Ukrainian national consciousness.

How could two such divergent regions coexist within the borders of a single state? Did populations holding such radically diverse attitudes present Ukraine with the threat of destabilization or even disintegration as a political unit? In order to answer these questions, we must examine the survey results in detail, noting changes observed over the five-year period of the project in the hierarchy of social identities typical of Lviv and Donetsk residents. It is important to compare the structure of social identities, establish the salience of the most widespread and prominent ones, and assess the potential impact of cleavages between Ukraine?s western and eastern regions.

The interviewees were asked to choose as many identities as they wished to describe how they thought about themselves. We found that for Lviv respondents, the hierarchy of major social identities has remained stable over the past five years. Of these, ethnic and territorial/regional identities (i.e., identification as Ukrainians and residents of Lviv) are primary markers of identity. As one would expect, gender identity is also near the top of the list. Very significant as well is religious and cultural identity (i.e., identification with the Ukrainian Catholic Church and with Western-oriented Ukrainian culture). Political identity is not particularly salient: support for democratic parties has decreased, and there has been a slight increase in support for nationalist parties.

For Donetsk respondents, by contrast, the identity hierarchy has changed very considerably. Only one identity (territorial/regional) has remained salient over the last five years: people prefer to think of themselves as residents of Donetsk first and foremost. Ukrainian identity, however, has moved into second place from fourth. Gender identity also remains important. Two new identities?cultural (Orthodox) and social (pensioner)?have appeared in the hierarchy. The so-called "Soviet" identity has suffered a great loss of popularity (in 1994 it stood at 40%; by 1999 it had declined almost by half to 20.4%). Ethnic Russian identity has also become less salient, although even in 1994 it was not among the top six identities reported. Political identity is not salient in the Donetsk region: in 1994 and 1999 alike, the most popular political identity, that of democrat, was relatively low on the scale of preferences.

To generalize, then, our survey revealed a strong axis of stable and salient identities in Lviv, with a fairly narrow range of variance over five years, while the inhabitants of Donetsk, who are in search of a new identity, showed a considerable shift in their hierarchy of preferences. Two further conclusions emerge from the survey data: 1. Social identity in the Lviv region tends to be ethnically based, while in the Donetsk region it is mainly civic; 2. Despite these contrasting emphases, there is a slight but consistent tendency toward the diminution of regional cleavages: Lviv identity is drawing closer to the civic model, while Donetsk identity is becoming more ethnically oriented. This drawing together is apparent in every category of social identity.

In Donetsk, the old ?international? Soviet identity is acquiring a clear ethnic dimension, providing a basis for the development of two new identity models?ethnic and civic.

The language issue continues to divide the population of the two regions and is quite salient among all ethnic identity components. During the last five years, however, the ethnic orientation (in Lviv) and the civic one (in Donetsk) have been moving in the direction of a broad consensus: we have found that it does not matter what language people speak, as long as they support Ukraine.

Despite continuing tension between the Lviv and Donetsk regions, the vast majority of their residents agree on two important matters: both regions share a common destiny with the rest of Ukraine, and further division of the country into smaller units would be contrary to its best interests. When respondents were asked their opinion about the proposition that ?The unity of Ukraine is more important that the needs of individual regions,? they tended to answer in the affirmative, giving further evidence of gradual rapprochement between ethnic and civic models of Ukrainian identity.

Two main assumptions may be made about the religious component of cultural identity: 1. The increasing number of believers in Donetsk means that this element of cultural identity is becoming salient, moving to the top of the hierarchy of social identities; 2. The decreasing number of believers who belong to Russia-oriented churches in Donetsk and the growing number of those in Ukraine-oriented ones are bringing the Donetsk model closer to that of Lviv.

Our research data show that political identity is not a salient component of social identity in Lviv and Donetsk. Consequently, the significant disparity of political attitudes in the two cities may be considered insignificant, given the low level of political activity?especially in Donetsk. It appears that people in Ukraine are weary of the successive political experiments to which they have been subjected and do not believe that political activity can change their social circumstances. Their political preferences depend on specific political situations. Our research showed increasing support for democratic parties and a declining number of Communist Party adherents in Donetsk, as well as a slight increase in support for socialist parties in Lviv. There were minor shifts of opinion on relations with Russia and on Ukraine?s foreign-policy orientation, as well as deepening pessimism about Ukraine?s development prospects.

All these changes in the hierarchy of social identity in both regions show that respondents disapprove of factionalism and tendencies toward the disintegration of Ukraine along ethnic, regional, cultural, and geopolitical lines. This in turn offers good prospects for Ukraine?s integration as a social and political unit.

Professor Natalia Chernysh of Lviv National University (Department of History, Ethnology Section) is the first scholar to obtain a doctorate in sociology in independent Ukraine. Currently she is a visiting exchange scholar at the Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Kansas; her visit was made possible by a grant from the USIA (now State Department) Newly Independent States College and University Partnership Program (NISCUPP). This article is based on a seminar presented at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta, on 26 September 2000.


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