The EU Model's Weakness: The Ukrainian Example
The EU, founded in the aftermath WWII, is based on the ideals of liberalism: economic interdependence, diplomacy (a focus on treaties with fellow member countries), an internal and external promotion of human rights, and a focus on transparent and democratic institutions.
In 2016 the Pew Research Center conducted a survey, measuring the percent of individuals who say democracy is preferable to any other kind of government. Both young and old in Eastern and Central European countries responded with tepid support for democracy.
A May 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center was conducted to analyze the convergence of religious and national identity in Central and Eastern European countries.
Ukraine serves as case study to unpack the EU’s problems in Central and Eastern regions. In Ukraine about 78% of the population identifies as Eastern Orthodox, which is a sharp rise from 39% in 1991 after its independence from the Soviet Union.
In most of the Eastern and Central European countries who identify as Eastern Orthodox, simultaneously view this affiliation as strongly associated with national identity and look to Russia to counter the West. Yet uniquely, in Ukraine, only 51% of respondents say that being Orthodox is very or somewhat important to truly be a national of their country.
Most notably, Ukraine diverges from fellow Orthodox nations in foreign policy. Out of the countries surveyed, on average, 66% completely or mostly agreed with the statement “A strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West”. Only 22% of Ukrainian respondents adhered to this statement.
Thus, Ukraine is a political and cultural anomaly in the region; a majority Orthodox country, which moderately ties religion to national identity, only holds tepid support for democracy, yet unlike its Orthodox neighbors, starkly does not look toward Russia for foreign policy support.
Ukraine’s politically tumultuous decade, beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 has witnessed different waves of political unrest between individuals seeking further government alignment with Europe versus those who were satisfied with Russia’s patronage. This climaxed in 2013, when Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych was forced out of office. A main grievance was Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an agreement with the EU that would have provided funds to Ukraine for liberalizing reforms. In 2014, Crimea was annexed by Russia and fighting has continued.
Ukraine, exemplifies a country that is not culturally, politically or geographically rooted in Western or Eastern Europe. This internal ambiguity has driven unrest within Ukraine over the course of the 21st century. Consequently, Ukraine depicts the barriers to successful spread of EU idealism; its principles should have the ability to transcend ethno-cultural, historic boundaries. The EU’s difficulty in fully accessing Eastern and Central European regions is indicative of a narrow perception of ‘Europeaness’ that are universal throughout the continent.