Ukrainian Lessons

“The dramatic developments in Ukraine left Western media scrambling to explain a distant and complex country to an audience that could barely locate the places on a map or pronounce the names,” writes Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, in Transitions Online. He points to four bits of conventional wisdom about the country’s politics that Western media outlets have gotten wrong in their efforts to explain a complex situation simply.

“Binary thinking is lazy thinking,” writes Rutland, in the piece co-authored with Petra Stykow, professor of politics at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich. That is, Ukraine cannot be neatly split into east and west to illustrate divisions in public opinion. Moreover, they write, “Language does not equal ethnicity.” That is, “You cannot take language use as an indicator of ethnic identity or political loyalty. In the census, some Ukrainians claimed Ukrainian as their ‘mother language’ even though they may not actually speak it at home, as a way of expressing their identity. On the other hand, some Ukrainians who speak Russian at home express a desire for their children to learn Ukrainian. Moreover, the language options do not fall into simply two categories – Ukrainian-speaking versus Russian-speaking. There is a third category, people who speak surzhuk.”

Read more here.

Rutland is also professor of government, professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, and a tutor in the College of Social Studies.