Now *Open Access*: What Does it Mean to Be a Kin Majority?

My recent article for Social Science Quarterly, What Does it Mean to Be a Kin Majority? Analyzing Romanian Identity in Moldova and Russian Identity in Crimea from Below, is now open access. You can read and download the article freely on SSQ’s website.

Abstract:

This article investigates what kin identification means from a bottom-up perspective in two kin majority cases: Moldova and Crimea. The article is based on ∼50 fieldwork interviews conducted in both Moldova and Crimea with everyday social actors (2012–2013). Ethnic homogeneity for kin majorities is more fractured than previously considered. Respondents identified more in terms of assemblages of ethnic, cultural, political, linguistic, and territorial identities than in mutually exclusive census categories. To understand fully the relations between kin majorities, their kin-state and home-state and the impact of growing kin engagement policies, like dual citizenship, it is necessary to analyze the complexities of the lived experience of kin identification for members of kin majorities and how this relates to kin-state identification and affiliation. Understanding these complexities helps to have a more nuanced understanding of the role of ethnicity in post-Communist societies, in terms of kin-state and intrastate relations.

View on Wiley Online Library

Citation: Knott, E. (2015). What Does it Mean to Be a Kin Majority? Analyzing Romanian Identity in Moldova and Russian Identity in Crimea from Below. Social Science Quarterly, 96(3), 830-859.

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Identity in Crimea Before Annexation: A Bottom-Up Approach (Video)

As part of the Danyliw 2015 seminar, I spoke on my research unpacking the meaning of Russian identity in Crimea before annexation and the (lack of) sentiments of pro-Russian secession. Videos from other participants in the seminar are also available on Danyliw Seminar’s YouTube channel.


I summarised the ideas from the presentation in a previous post on Russian identity in Crimea before annexation

Identity in Crimea Before Annexation: A Bottom-Up Perspective

This week I’ll be presenting at the 2015 Danyliw seminar about identity debates in Crimea before Russian annexation of the peninsula in 2014. This blog article, originally posted on Krytyka, discusses the argument of the piece I’ll be presented, where I scrutinize existing ways in which Crimea has been framed and argue instead that identity debates in Crimea, and hte idea of being Russian, were more fractured than previously conceived by scholars and observers.

A YouTube video of the presentation is also available.


What does it mean to be Russian in Crimea? This should now be phrased in past tense because, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in February 2014, being Russian in Crimea has become a different experience. It is now associated with being not only ethnically Russian but also with a political status, of “becoming” a Russian citizen, in a territory which is situated in the no-man’s land of international law as a de facto annexed territory.

Rather I now ask: what did it mean to be Russian in Crimea (in the period preceding the 2014 annexation)? I’m interested in this question because it has been a largely taken for granted idea that Crimea is a region populated by a Russian ethnic majority population. Many of whom, preceding annexation, were seen as more loyal to Russia than Ukraine, if not holders of Russian passports (although in 2012 and 2013 I could not find anyone with Russian citizenship and/or a Russian passport), supportive of Russian nationalism and pro-Russian sentiment, if not separatism.

Since annexation, understanding what it means to be Russian in Crimea has become more salient because ethnic Russians are often the overlooked community, as presumed endorsers of the annexation. I acknowledge, of course, that Crimea’s ethnic minorities—notably Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians—have faced increased, and horrendous, discrimination since annexation, from the closure of schools, to arrests and violence. However it is often presumed that ethnic minorities are the only losers of annexation. Aside from the social difficulties, for example the everyday disasters of bankingproperty rightspassports, Russia’s ban of methadone for (former) heroin usershuman rights, democracy, ethnic Russians in Crimea now exist in a territory where they have, culturally, ethnically and politically, to be Russian. However, the data that I collected in Crimea shows a much more fractured picture than the notion of a Russian ethnic majority, and the mutually exclusive categories of “ethnic Russian” and “ethnic Ukrainian” can explain. Instead I am interested, in everyday terms, in how being Russian is experienced, negotiated and subverted, and combined, or related, to ideas of being Ukrainian and Crimea, and situated vis-à-vis Crimea, Ukraine and Russia.

The most ardent supporters of being Russian and of Russia—who I label Discriminated Russians—as individuals who feel threatened by Ukraine and victims of post-Soviet policies of Ukrainization. They felt marginalized within Crimea, and Ukraine more broadly, feeling that more prominence was now given to Ukrainian language, culture and interpretations of history, at the expense of Russian language, culture and interpretations. However these individuals were both a minority of respondents, and were politically active, associated with pro-Russian organisations, such as Russkaia Obshchina Kryma (Russian Community of Crimea) and Russkoe Edinstvo (Russian Unity). Hence, they were quite different to those respondents (i.e. the majority of those I interviewed) who were not members of these organisations.  Rather, most identifying as ethnically Russian were able, and happy, to reconcile being Russian to belonging, politically, to Ukraine. As they described, having to watch cinema in Ukrainian (as was mandated across Ukraine) was not a “strangulation” of Russian language and culture, but just a “bad law”.

There were also many respondents who subverted ideas of being Russian, either rejecting ethnic categories in favour of emphasising their political membership to Ukraine—who I label Political Ukrainians—and those who combined their identification as Russian, and with Russia, with their identification as Ukrainian, and with Ukraine, by identifying as Crimean. These two categories as I conceptualize them—Political Ukrainians and Crimeans—do not fit neatly with the mutually exclusive labels. This is precisely what makes them interesting and challenging to the idea that Crimea was populated by an ethnic Russian majority: how would these individuals, who hybridized their sense of ethnicity or rejected ethnic labels, identify in a census? This is why it is vital to engage with notions of ethnicity, and identity more broadly, in everyday terms, i.e. in terms vernacular individuals use to describe themselves, and to unpack the rationale of this identification.

I emphasize in my research the complexity of being Russian in Crimea and problematize the idea that being Russian determined identification with Russia, and much less, support for the Russian regime under Putin. However, the story I tell of support for territorial reconfiguration, in other words support for secession or annexation, is much simpler. In the period preceding Crimea’s annexation by Russia there is a tragic irony to the evidence from my respondents which demonstrates the lack of support for secession and annexation. Simply put, most supported territorial status quo because they considered Crimea to be a legitimate part of Ukraine while others, primarily Discriminated Russians, preferred peace to war, believing that secession and/or annexation could only result in “bloodshed” and “conflict”, a cost they were neither willing to bear nor support. They conceived also that Russia did not want Crimea.

However, just because there was a lack of ethnic instability, to the extent that most respondents supported territorial status quo, this did not mean that there was not political fragility. Rather respondents, regardless of identification, were antipathetic to the Yanukovych regime, and to Kyiv more broadly, who they saw as taking more from Crimea than they were willing to invest. In this scenario, Crimea’s autonomous status appeared more fiction than a political reality because Crimea could neither make it initiate its own legislation nor hire locals to positions of power, subservient to Donetsk-based clans and interests.

There were clearly tensions existing in Crimea preceding annexation. However these can be explained more by the broader issues of political fiefdoms and a culture of endemic corruption, issues that continue to plague Ukraine, than by ethnicity. The greatest illustration of this is that, in spite of the diversity of identities within the ethnic Russian majority, there was relative homogeneity of concerns: socio-economic, corruption, disempowerment vis-à-vis Kyiv and support of territorial status quo. From this, Moscow should take note that Crimean residents neither like to be governed by corrupt, if not criminal, vested interests as post-annexation authorities exemplify nor from afar, whether by Kyiv or by “snooty Muscovites”.

New Publication: What Does it Mean to Be a Kin Majority? Analyzing Romanian Identity in Moldova and Russian Identity in Crimea from Below

I’ve just published an article in the September 2015 issue of Social Science Quarterly analysing kin identification from the bottom-up in Crimea and Moldova, based on fieldwork interviews that I conducted in 2012 and 2013. The article is part of a special issue in Social Science Quarterly which investigates the New Frontiers in the Comparative Study of Ethnic Politics and Nationalism.

In the article, I analyse the phenomenon of kin majorities, which I define as kin communities that comprise a local majority in the state or sub-state in which they reside and are claimed by an external state. I argue these kin majorities to be more fractured than expected, where respondents do not identify with neat mutually exclusive census categories, but instead in terms of ethnic, cultural, political, linguistic, and territorial forms of identification. For example in the Moldovan case, I find multiple ways of combining being Moldovan and/or Romanian, while in Crimea, I find multiple ways of being Ukraine, Russian and/or Crimean.

Overall, I argue both for a bottom-up approach to analyse kin-state relations where it is necessary to unpack how individuals identify with their home-state and kin-state, and how these identifications can be reinforcing or in competition. Moreover, understanding these complexities helps to have a more nuanced understanding of the role of ethnicity in post-Communist societies, in terms of kin-state and intrastate relations.

An ungated pdf of the article is available here.


Knott, Eleanor (2015) “What Does it Mean to Be a Kin Majority? Analyzing Romanian Identity in Moldova and Russian Identity in Crimea from Below”, Social Science Quarterly, 96(3): 830–859. doi:10.1111/ssqu.12193

Researching Moldova: the Everyday Politics of Identity / Cercetând Moldova: Politicile de Identitate Cotidiene

Articolul e in limba romana de mai jos.


I first came to Moldova in 2008 to conduct research for my undergraduate dissertation. I was, and remain, fascinated by Moldova and its politics and culture, its mix of Soviet and Romanian history and its welcoming atmosphere. I was fascinated too by the lack of knowledge and understanding in the West about the state.

Shortly before my first visit I remember reading Stiglitz’s book, Globalization and Its Discontents, where Stiglitz discusses the lack of streetlights in Moldova as a sign of poverty. It came as some surprise, arriving in Chisinau late at night, that there was in fact street lighting. In this sense, my motivation for researching Moldova comes from trying to improve understanding about a state and society that is too often described in overly simplistic terms: either as the “poorest country in Europe” or as torn between east vs. west.

I was able to return in 2010, 2012 and 2013, again to conduct research, each time witnessing a very different political climate from previous visits. I witnessed the transition from PCRM and Voronin’s government to the Alliance for European Integration, and the increasing apathy, if not antipathy, towards the “hungry wolves”, aka the pro-European political elites.

Everyday Identity Debates in Moldova

But politics, for me, and my interest in conducting political science research (now for my PhD research at the London School of Economics), have always been much more than about studying political elites and institutions. I’m more interested in everyday politics and, in particular, everyday dimensions of identity and ethnicity debates. I think this too is reflected by Moldovan society, in the visibility of these debates in everyday life, not least in the street art on the streets of Chisinau: “who are we?”, “we’re Moldovan”, “we’re Romanian” and “Bessarabia is Romanian land”.

Starting from an awareness of the complexity of identity debates, my interest was to collect data to gather insights on how people define themselves and why they identify in these ways. In particular, I argue that censuses and sociological surveys in Moldova have (deliberately) overlooked these complex debates, requiring individuals to align with mutually exclusive categories (e.g. Moldova, Romanian or Russian) without considering, I think deliberately, the way in which these categories fail to capture what’s really going on: that there are individuals:

  1. who feel Romanian,
  2. who feel both Romanian and Moldovan,
  3. who feel only Moldovan,
  4. who don’t know how to feel…

Fascinating too has been discovering how identity can work, and be disputed, within families and across generations, where the younger, more Romanian-identifying, post-Soviet generation, want to re-educate their more Moldovan-identifying parents who grew up during the Soviet Union. Yet, regardless of how people identified ethnically, what remains fascinating for me is the extent to which this reinforced by strong ties to Moldova, as a state and as home.

Looking Beyond Identity Debates in Moldova

Identity, culture and language have clearly been a topic of intense debate in post-Soviet Moldova but, paradoxically, I also think identity has dominated Moldova’s post-Soviet politics too much. It’s an important part of the story that many people in Moldova don’t want to talk about identity and don’t need to talk about identity. It might matter for a few what the official language of the state is but for others, it’s just politics: on the everyday level, they can speak whatever language they want.

Identity debates also structure Moldova’s political schema, defining party politics. This masks how far political parties are actually clientelistic networks, built on personal relations, that make parties into wealth and power machines, while disconnecting them from having to appeal to electorates beyond the politics of popularism and symbolism: pro-EU vs. anti-EU. This dominance of identity debates has allowed the political elite to focus on symbolic and geopolitical questions at the expense of political and economic reform.


Am venit pentru prima dată în Moldova în 2008 pentru a efectua o cercetare pentru teza mea de licență. Am fost și rămân fascinată de Moldova și politica și cultura sa, de amestecătura de istorie sovietică și de atmosfera sa primitoare. Am fost fascinată, de asemenea, de lipsa de cunoștințe și înțelegere despre acest stat în vest.

Îmi amintesc că la scurt timp după vizita mea am citit cartea lui Stiglitz, Globalizarea și neajunsurile ei, în care Stiglitz disccută despre lipsa de iluminare stradală în Moldova ca semn al sărăciei. Am rămas surprinsă, atunci când am ajuns noaptea târziu în Chișinău, că există de fapt iluminare stradală. Din acest punct de vedere, motivația mea pentru cercetarea Moldovei vine din încercarea de a îmbunătăți înțelegerea despre un stat și o societate care este adesea descrisă în termeni simpliști: fie ca “cea mai săracă țară din Europa” sau ruptă între est și vest.

Am avut posibilitatea să revin în 2010, 2012 și 2013, din nou să efectuez cercetări, de fiecare dată fiind martoră la un climat politic foarte diferit. Am fost martoră la tranziția de la PCRM și guvernul lui Voronin la Alianța pentru Integrare Europeană și la apatia crescută, dacă nu chiar antipatia, față de “lupii flămânzi”, adică elitele politice pro-europene.

Dezbaterile Identitare Cotidiene în Moldova

Însă politica, pentru mine, și interesul meu în efectuarea cercetărilor în științe politice (acum pentru doctorat la London School of Economics), au fost întotdeauna mai mult decât studiul elitelor și instituțiilor politice. Sunt mai interesată de politica cotidiană și, în particular, dimensiunile cotidiene ale dezbaterilor de identitate și etnie. Cred că asta e reflectat în societatea moldovenească, în vizibilitatea acestor dezbateri în viața de zi cu zi, și nu mai puțin în arta stradală din Chișinău: “cine suntem?”, “suntem moldoveni”, “suntem români” și “Basarabia Pământ Românesc”.

Începând cu o conștientizare a dezbaterilor identitare, interesul meu a fost să colectez date despre modul în care oamenii se definesc pe ei înșiși și de ce se identifică așa. În particular, argumentez că recensământele și sondajele sociologice din Moldova au omis (intenționat) aceste probleme complexe, obligând indivizii să se alinieze în categorii mutual exclusive (de exemplu moldoveni, români sau ruși) fără a lua în considerare, cred eu intenționat, modul în care aceste categorii eșuează să reprezinte ceea ce se întâmplă cu adevărat: că există indivizi:

  1. care se simt români,
  2. care se simt atât români cât și moldoveni,
  3. care se simt doar moldoveni,
  4. care nu știu cum să se simtă.

A fost fascinantă, de asemenea, descoperirea modului în care poate funcționa identitatea, și cum poate disputată în familii și între generații în care generația tânără, post-sovietică, care se identifică mai des ca română, vrea să reeduce părinții lor care se identifică ca moldoveni și care au crescut în perioada Uniunii Sovietice. Totuși, indiferent de modul în care oamenii se identifică etnic, ceea ce rămâne fascinant pentru mine este măsura în care asta e consolidat de legături puternice în Moldova, ca stat și acasă.

Privind Dincolo de Dezbaterile Identitare în Moldova

Identitatea, cultura și limba au fost în mod clar un subiect de discuții intense în Moldova post-sovietică, însă, paradoxal, cred că identitatea a dominat politica Moldovei post-sovietice prea mult. Este o parte importantă a poveștii că mulți oameni din Moldova nu vor să vorbească despre identitate și nu au nevoie să vorbească despre identitate. Poate conta pentru unii care este limba de stat, însă pentru alții asta e doar politică: la nivel cotidianm pot vorbi orice limbă vor.

Dezbaterile identitare de asemenea structurează schema politica a Moldovei, definind politicile partidelor. Asta maschează cât de tare partidele politice sunt de fapt rețele clientelare, construite pe relații personale, care transformă partidele în mașinării de bogăție și putere, deconectându-le de la necesitatea apelului la electorat dincolo de politica populismului și simbolismului: pro-UE și anti-UE. Această dominare a dezbaterilor identitare a permis elitei politice să se concentreze pe întrebări simbolice și geopolitice în detrimentul reformei politice și economice.


Eng: This article follows from a recent article published by Eleanor Knott in East European Politics and Societies: Eleanor Knott (2015) Generating data: studying identity politics from a bottom-up perspective in Crimea and Moldova, East European Politics and Societies, 29:467-486, doi:10.1177/0888325415584047 [ungated pdf].

RO: Eleanor Knott este un candidat la doctorat (așteptat în 2015) în științe politice la Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science. Teza sa explorează politicile românești și rusești în Moldova și Crimea printr-o perspectivă de jos în sus, folosind abordarea naționalismului cotidian. Interesele sale mai largi de cercetare includ studiul întrebărilor științei politice în zona post-sovietică de jos în sus, folosind tehnici ale etnografie politică, inclusiv identificarea, cetățenia și politicile de educație, pentru a studia relațiile stat-societate dintr-o perspectivă internațională.

Acest articol urmează un articol recent publicat de Eleanor Knott în East European Politics and Societies: Eleanor Knott (2015) Generating data: studying identity politics from a bottom-up perspective in Crimea and Moldova, East European Politics and Societies, 29: 467-486, doi:10.1177/0888325415584047 [ungated pdf].

Not all ethnic Russians in Crimea have a political affinity with Moscow

This article was originally posted on EUROPP.
Throughout the Ukraine crisis, Crimea has been described as a region with strong sympathies toward Russia. Based on her own research in the region, Ellie Knott takes issue with the prevailing view that ethnic Russians in Crimea necessarily have a strong Russian identity. She notes that much of the empirical evidence in this area is outdated, given it derives from 2001 census data. Citing interview responses, she argues that while a significant number of ethnic Russians do exhibit a Russian identity, there is evidence that this is not the case for many younger citizens who grew up after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In a comment article last month I resisted labelling Crimea as “the next South Ossetia”, Ukraine’s “Achilles heel” and “Russia’s next target.” In recent weeks, a connection has been drawn between Crimean violence in the 1990s and its call to secession with the idea that it “has a strong Russian identity”. However, the lack of engagement with people on the ground means many observers miss much of what has happened since 1991. Hence, while Russia might see Crimea as their next South Ossetia, acting to protect their citizens and compatriots, the situation in Crimea is very different.

However, as Gwendolyn Sasse and Jim Hughesindicate, the Russian nationalist movements reached a crisis point in 1994 from which they never recovered because of their conflicting aims. They may have been successful in the last week at seizing power, but to have any idea about the depth of this nationalist sentiment it is necessary to talk to those outside of the Russian separatist movements, and in particular with everyday normal people, to see how far this idea resonates.The logic that Crimea is comprised of those with a “strong Russian identity” uses the 2001 census as evidence to suggest that the majority of the Crimean population identifying themselves as ethnically Russian (almost 15 years ago) is an indication of the state in which the majority would like to live. This has further entrenched the notion of Crimea as a peninsula of hotbed Russian nationalism waiting to secede. An article in RFE/RL recently tried to suggest that Russian nationalist separatism was increasing in Crimea based on an interview with a long known, and infamous, Russian nationalist Sergei Shuvainikov.

Interestingly, in around 50 interviews I conducted in Simferopol, the capital of the Autonomous Region of Crimea, in 2012-2013, I discovered that there was a general feeling that the chaos of the Russian nationalist movements had never really subsided. Organisations like Russkaia Obschina Kryma (Russian Community of Crimea) and the Crimean party, Russkoe Edinstvo (Russian Unity), continued to fail as a result of the infighting between their contrasting characters, some wanting to use the movements in support of their personal aims against their rivals, but less against mainstream politics. Local election results support this, with Russkoe Edinstvo consistently winning few seats (and just 4 per cent of the vote in the 2010 Crimean parliamentary elections), placing them far behind the majority Party of Regions, and even the Communist Party.

I also found a plethora of different opinions regarding what it meant to be Russian. Indeed, many young people preferred to identify politically as Ukrainian instead of any ethnic identification. These young individuals described a large shift between themselves and the older generation including their parents, who identified as Russian. In comparison, these young people identified as “more Ukrainian” and “Ukrainian citizens first” because they had been born in Ukraine, so to them Russia was somewhere foreign. They indicated that while at one time those in the peninsula would have identified themselves as being Ukrainian only if they were ethnically Ukrainian, and had probably been born elsewhere in Ukraine; the post-Soviet generation would tend to identify themselves as Ukrainian based on their citizenship and place of birth.

There certainly were a significant number who identified as ethnically Russian, but in my research I split this between two categories: ethnic Russians and discriminated Russians. The discriminated Russianswere a small group, mostly aligned with the Russian nationalist organisations discussed above, who identified themselves not just as Russian, but as anti-Ukrainian and as victims of ‘Ukrainisation’ policies. In contrast, there were a far greater number who identified as ethnically Russian but without any sense of discrimination by Ukraine. These individuals were able to reconcile their ethnicity with residing in Ukraine, feeling that they were part of a normative project in which they wanted to be able to speak Ukrainian, as the state language, more proficiently.

Generally, the overwhelming feeling of those outside the discriminated Russians was that the feeling of discrimination in the peninsula and in Ukraine was unjustified given that Russian could be spoken freely. Moreover, there was the feeling that ethnicity and language were not related to quality of life, because in Crimea and Ukraine “everyone lives badly”. Using the 2001 census is therefore tenuous because of the amount of change in the peninsula, in particular among the post-Soviet generation, and because of the fuzziness of identity which does not pair neatly with the hard and mutually exclusive census categories of ethnically Russian and ethnically Ukrainian.

On the issue of passports, during my first trip to Crimea in 2011, I expected to hear that everyone was acquiring Russian citizenship. However, in my interviews no one indicated that they had acquired Russian citizenship, in part because both Russian legislation and Ukrainian legislation prohibits it and because interviewees had no interest or need for Russian citizenship.

Therefore in 2012, I turned to look at the use of the Russian Compatriot policy, which facilitates migration to Russian regions and offers a few scholarships in Russian universities. The story was largely the same: a lack of interest and knowledge of what Russia was offering, outside of those involved with Russian organisations, and an absence of identification with the discourse of the policy. As two interviewees discussed, they did not identify as “compatriots” of the Russian Federation but rather compatriots of each other because they were from Ukraine.

One reason that Crimea should therefore not be compared to other ‘frozen conflicts’ is that there has not been wholesale passportisation such as in South Ossetia. It has only been since the situation in Crimea intensified that the passport issue has resurfaced and focused mostly on the quick acquisition of Russian citizenship by Berkut (the now disbanded special units of the Ukrainian police) returning home from Kyiv.

There should be caution with regard to how evidence is used about Crimea and what conclusions are drawn from this. I would argue that the biggest issue facing Crimea, and southern and eastern regions of Ukraine more generally, is the vacuum that has been left from the disappearing vertical power of the Party of Regions, which allowed the previously weak Russian separatist movements, with Moscow’s support, to seize power.

A Crimean referendum has been called for 30 March and as Jim Hughes argues, the phrasing of the referendum question will be a crucial factor. However with the current militarisation of the peninsula, it is questionable how far ordinary people will be free and able to voice their opinion. The views of ordinary people may not therefore matter in the short-term, as they are subsumed by a geopolitical struggle and possible armed conflict. However in the medium term, Russia will have difficulty converting the majority in Crimea to their cause.

This text draws on material in a previous article on Vostok Cable (@vostokcable).

Are Crimeans really Russian nationalists and separatists?

With Ukraine’s protests apparently lacking the support of much of the country, attention has again focused on Crimea – an ethnically Russian region described by some as ‘the dog that didn’t bark.’ According to Ellie Knott, who studies the region, concerned journalists are only telling half the story.

The majority of the news pieces written about Crimea follow the same logic. Following the 2008 crisis in Georgia, Crimea was described as “the next South Ossetia”, Ukraine’s “Achilles heal” and “Russia’s next target.” Similarly in recent weeks, there has been a connection drawn between Crimean violence in the 1990s and its call to secession with the idea that it “has a strong Russian identity”. However, the lack of engagement with people on the ground means many observers miss much of what has happened since 1991.

Such a logic uses the 2001 census in support to suggest that the majority of the Crimean populace (almost 15 years ago) identifying as ethnically Russian is an indication of the state in which the majority would like to live. This has further entrenched the notion of Crimea as a peninsula of hotbed Russian nationalism waiting to secede. An article in RFE/RL recently tried to suggest that Russian nationalist separatism was increasing in Crimea based on an interview with a long known, and infamous, Russian nationalist Sergei Shuvainikov.

However, as Gwendolyn Sasse indicates, the Russian nationalist movements reached a crisis point in 1994 from which they never recovered because of their conflicting aims. Therefore to have any idea about the depth of this nationalist sentiment, it is necessary to talk to those outside of the Russian separatist movements, and in particular with everyday normal people, to see how far this idea resonates.

Interestingly, in around 50 interviews I conducted in Simferopol, the capital of the Autonomous Region of Crimea, in 2012-2013, I discovered that there was a general feeling that the chaos of the Russian nationalist movements had never really subsided. Organisations like Russkaia Obschina Kryma (Russian Community of Crimea) and the Crimean party, Russkoe Edinstvo (Russian Unity), continued to fail as a result of the infighting between their contrasting characters, some wanting to use the movements in support of their personal aims against their rivals, but less against mainstream politics. Local election results support this, with Russkoe Edinstvo consistently winning few seats and far behind the majority Party of Regions, and even the Communist Party.

I also found a plethora of different opinions regarding what it meant to be Russian. Indeed, many young people preferred to identify politically as Ukrainian instead of any ethnic identification. These young individuals described a big shift between themselves and the older generation including their parents, who identified as Russian. In comparison these young people identified as “more Ukrainian” and “Ukrainian citizens first” because they had been born in Ukraine, so that to them Russia was somewhere foreign. Yet they described how once in the peninsula you would identify as Ukrainian only if you were ethnically Ukrainian, and probably born elsewhere in Ukraine, whereas for the post-Soviet generation they would identify as Ukrainian based on their citizenship and place of birth.

There certainly was a significant number who identified as ethnically Russian, but in my research I split this between two categories: ethnic Russians and discriminated Russians. The discriminated Russians were a small group, mostly aligned with the Russian nationalist organisations discussed above, who identified not just as Russian but as anti-Ukrainian and as victims of Ukrainisation policies. In contrast, there were a far greater number who identified as ethnically Russian but without any sense of discrimination by Ukraine. These individuals were able to reconcile their ethnicity with residing in Ukraine, feeling that they were part of a normative project in which they wanted to be able to speak Ukrainian, as the state language, more proficiently.

Generally, the overwhelming feeling of those outside the discriminated Russians was that the feeling of discrimination in the peninsula and in Ukraine was unjustified given that Russian could be spoken freely (indeed, in 2012 Russian became a second state language in a parliamentary vote that invigorated Ukrainian nationalist movements in Kyiv and L’viv). Moreover, there was the feeling that ethnicity and language were not related to quality of life, because in Crimea and Ukraine “everyone lives badly”. Using the 2001 census is therefore tenuous because of the amount of change in the peninsular, in particular among the post-Soviet generation, and because of the fuzziness of identity which does not pair neatly with the hard and mutually exclusive census categories of ethnically Russian and ethnically Ukrainian.

On the issue of passports, during my first trip to Crimea in 2011, I expected to hear that everyone was acquiring Russian citizenship. However, in my interviews no one indicated that they had acquired Russian citizenship, in part because both Russian legislation and Ukrainian legislation prohibits it and because interviewees had no interest or need for Russian citizenship. I shifted therefore in 2012 to look at the use of the Russian Compatriot policy, which facilitates migration to Russian regions and offers a few scholarships in Russian universities. The story was largely the same: a lack of interest and knowledge of what Russia was offering, outside of those involved with Russian organisations, and an absence of identification with the discourse of the policy. As two interviewees discussed, they did not identify as “compatriots” of the Russian Federation but rather compatriots of each other because they were from Ukraine.

There should be caution with regards to how evidence is used about Crimea and what conclusions are drawn from this. I would argue that the biggest issue facing Crimea, and southern and eastern regions of Ukraine more generally, is the vacuum that might be left from the disappearing power vertical of the Party of Regions, and not from weak Russian separatist movements.

This article was originally posted on Vostok Cable and cited by The Washington Post.