24.12.2012 | Halya Coynash

Dividing Tactic


Moves are afoot to reinstate a distasteful relic of Soviet times - the “fifth point” in ones passport indicating “nationality”. The term fully warrants the inverted commas since in Soviet times the fifth point identified a person as “Ukrainian” OR “Russian” OR “Jew”, “Crimean Tatar” etc.  Try imagining something similar in the USA and the full weight of this notion becomes clear.  

This time the dangerous initiative is from the opposition, but it could be passed if the Communist Party chooses – for old times sake or other reasons -  to add their support..

A bill just tabled in parliament by MP from Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party, Oleh Kanyvets, proposes only amendments to the Family Code allowing parents to “voluntarily indicate nationality on the birth certificate”.  As is so often the case, the author asserts, rather questionably, that this is “generally accepted European practice” The same MP is also planning to table a bill which would return the nationality point to the internal passport or identity document.  

Two parties made its reinstatement a party promise during the election campaign: the rightwing VO Svoboda Party and the Batkivshchyna Party.

VO Svoboda’s line is well-known however Batkivshchyna’s commitment was unexpected.  BBC Ukrainian Service interviews of people on a Kyiv street perhaps shed some light. Most saw the issue as being one of affirming their Ukrainian identity and were therefore largely positive.  With the current regime’s strongly pro-Russian line, this may be a natural reaction.

The answer from one woman, however, highlighted the underlying point.  She asked, rhetorically why hide that you’re Ukrainian, Russian or Jewish?

Why be asked to decide whether you’re Ukrainian or Jewish?  Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar? 

VO Svoboda’s newly elected MPs are making (some) efforts to give their views an acceptable coating.  The new Deputy Speaker from the opposition is VO Svoboda member Ruslan Koshchylynsky.  He told Radio Svoboda that a Georgian he knows well voted for VO Svoboda. The latter explained that when his children, who were born in Ukraine, turn 16 and get a Ukrainian citizen’s passport, he wants to take them to visit their grandparents in Georgia with their nationality on the passport written as Georgian.

Touching, if not overly credible, especially since VO Svoboda’s xenophobic and anti-Semitic views are not concealed at local level.

It is disturbing that Batkivshchyna should have also followed this line.  Even if it did not lead to actual discrimination against people with certain “nationalities”, and there are no grounds for optimism, the move must by definition be divisive.  It is profoundly offensive to effectively be told that you are either Ukrainian or Jewish; etc.

The move would lead to (or accentuate) artificial dividing lines and create tension between ethnic groups.  It would be gleefully exploited to death by those seeking to present opposition to the current regime as racist, anti-Semitic, fascist, etc. Observers in other countries would, unfortunately, be likely to agree.

The move would quite simply do the opposite of what its supporters want by undermining Ukrainians’ shared identity as citizens of one country. 

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