Ukraine Push for Nationalism Threatens Relations with Moscow and the EU

An education law enacted by the Ukraine government in September has continued to stroke tensions between the country, Moscow and its counter-parts in the European Union.

Ukraine adopted a law that obligates its schools to teach only in its national language. The move aggravated Moscow and member countries of the EU because it was seen as discriminatory to their own nationals.

Other than ethnic Russians, Ukraine hosts communities of Romanians, Hungarians, Poles and nationalities from other Western European countries.

Reactions were fast, divisive and threatening.

President Klaus Iohannis of Romania cancelled a visit to Ukraine as a show of protest. Meanwhile, Hungary which had been experiencing a strong surge in nationalism reportedly plans to block Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU.

Relationships between Poland and Ukraine had turned sour in 2016 when the Polish parliament reopened a historical dispute over the World War II massacre of thousands of Poles by Ukraine. Its parliament officially recognized the atrocity known in history as the “Volyn Massacre” as an act of genocide.

Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszcykowski also banned two Ukraine officials from traveling to Warsaw because they were believed to have adopted an “anti-Polish stance”.

Tensions have likewise increased between Ukraine and the ex-Soviet nation of Belarus and Serbia.

Early in November, Belarus had accused a Ukrainian journalist of spying and declared a senior diplomat from Kiev a persona non grata. In retaliation, Ukraine expelled a diplomat from Belarus.

Serbia was displeased with Ukraine’s declaration that Serbian nationals had fought with pro-Russian rebels in 2014. The conflict with Russia led to the deaths of more than 10,000 people. Serbia responded by recalling its ambassador to Ukraine.

Political analysts believe that the rise in disputes and heightened tensions were consequences of increasing nationalist sentiments within Ukraine.

Daria Gaidai, a researcher for the Ukraine-based New Europe Centre, shares the opinion that the nation is searching for its post-Soviet identity while trying to impose its vision on domestic politics to the rest of the world:

“Ukraine is trying to understand what it is and what its national politics should look like. This naturally provokes tensions as Ukraine was until now an amorphous state.”

These disputes with its Western Europe allies have taken its toll on Ukraine which had already been weakened by the conflict in its eastern region.

Oleksander Sushko of Ukraine’s International Renaissance Foundation believes tensions between Ukraine and its neighbours could last for a long time:

“This is not some kind of one-off scandal. It is a historical phase that has replaced the post-Cold War era when attempts were made to erase the differences between neighbours. Now things have turned the other way.”