The crisis in and around Ukraine marks an important turning point in European security. The events in Crimea and Donbas since 2014 challenge the European security order as it was established in the end phase of the Cold War in 1989-1990. Almost five years after the violent outbreak of the conflict, the war in parts of eastern Ukraine still goes on and has led to more than 13,000 casualties as well as an enormous number of displaced people and massive physical destruction. If one looks closely at the roots of the conflict, it becomes clear that they are profoundly embedded in a much larger Russian-Western confrontation. In particular, it is not possible to understand the current tensions without having an in-depth look at the contrasting historical narratives to which different parts of the public in Ukraine, Russia and in the West subscribe. The competition between radically divergent historical narratives on Russian-Ukrainian relations and on the evolution of European security since the end of the Cold War is a major stumbling block in the way of finding an effective way out of the current confrontation between Russia, the West and Ukraine and a return to diplomacy, dialogue and cooperative security. The perception and interpretation of the related events does not happen in a historical vacuum but is inherently shaped by narratives in which historical and political events, media discourses as well as personal/family experience are intertwined.
This paper is based on the understanding that a civil society dialogue, moderated in accordance with a mediative approach, is possible and needed in order to achieve a better understanding of the contested narratives and their respective gaps and overlaps. This can be done in parallel to the political process and can help to pave the ground for more constructive official negotiations.
The authors of this report, which was drafted in a consensus-based process, are a group of 18 experts from academia, think tanks and NGOs as well as journalists and dialogue practitioners. Besides their expertise in e.g. security, international affairs, sociology or discourse analysis, many members of the group have a Russian-Ukrainian family background. Many have been affected themselves by the events discussed in this report – be it the violence on the Maidan square in Kyiv, the war in Donbas, political repression or family separation due to the existing conflicts – or their ancestors have been victimized, e.g. by the Great Famine/Holodomor or the persecution under Stalin. The group was selected in such a way that different political beliefs and attitudes and professions from all three involved countries would be represented.
Our dialogue process started with a visual reconstruction of a timeline of events going back in history for more than 1,000 years. In an interactive process, it was agreed to focus on the following five events seen as most relevant for fostering an in-depth understanding of the narratives regarding Ukrainian-Russian-Western relations: Holodomor/the Great Famine of the 1930s and its impact on the idea of Ukrainian independence; 1991 – different perceptions on the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Ukrainian independence; attempts and failures of cooperation with NATO; competing narratives on the Euromaidan of 2013/14 and the events in Crimea and Donbas since 2014.
In intense group work, we reconstructed the most relevant narratives regarding those events, trying to grasp their inherent inner logic. We considered not only the mainstream narratives, but also the diverse variety of narratives held by different parts of society in the respective countries. This paper shows the results of these group discussions and outlines gaps and overlaps between the respective narratives.
The first chapter, on methodology, briefly outlines the main aspects of the specific approach to narrative work applied in this project, the Mediative Dialogue Approach. The subsequent chapters, ordered chronologically according to their historical reference points, outline the gaps and overlaps between the different narratives.
Holodomor or the Great Famine of 1932/33 is one of the most controversial events in Ukrainian/Soviet history. Ukrainian and Russian narratives as well as a German “non-narrative” which frame it as genocide, tragedy, a crime against humanity or propaganda, respectively, are outlined in Chapter 2.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union and Ukrainian independence in 1991 trigger very strong andoften contradicting emotions and political discussions in Ukraine and Russia because they are directly linked with the existential topic of identity. Paradoxically, this underlying issue of identity could be quite easily understood empathetically by both sides, as described in Chapter 3.
Attempts and failures of cooperation with NATO are at the heart of the Russian mainstream perception of being “encircled” and the Ukrainian frustration at “having missed the last train.” Three main narratives, from Ukraine, Russia and Germany, are discussed in Chapter 4.
Gaps and overlaps between three main narratives regarding the Euromaidan of 2013/14, Maidan as a revolution of dignity, Maidan as a Western plot and Maidan as a fascist coup, are analysed in Chapter 5.
Our discussion about Crimea and Donbas, rather than analysing the conflicting interpretations of what happened, how and why, focused on developing an overview of the opposing approaches to conflict resolution and their respective patterns of argument. These are presented in Chapter 6.
Citation: Gaps and overlaps: Navigating through contested German-Russian-Ukrainian narratives (2020). Report. 2020. Moscow: Inmedio Peace Consult; Institute for Law and Public Policy
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