What’s On recently featured a What’s Up story on population decline. This was accompanied by the Publisher’s Provocations acknowledging the subject from a personal perspective, starkly stating the majority of the population believe “this is Ukraine” as reason to bail out. Neil Campbell, author of the piece, considered this “a shame...instead of wanting to leave... (Ukrainians) should change themselves, and do their best to change the people around them...” Are we seeing a nation undeniably wealthy in history and culture about to flounder?
European UNI0N Policy For Ukraine’s Prosperity
The Association Agreement may be a stepping-stone for Ukraine to maintain its people and its future. However the months leading up to the summit have been nothing short of chaotic. Most of the controversy has been caused by two opponents: Russia and the European UNI0N; who have been clawing at one another for Ukraine’s attention. Unsurprisingly, Ukraine has been shrugging off the power struggle. Following EU conduct, the nation has been policing its borders from illegal immigration from other former post-Soviet republics and neighbouring regions alike. As a prospective associate of the European UNI0N, this policy is top of the list, second only to the Yulia Tymoshenko affair. All of this, however, is taking a back seat to Russia’s dishonourable and selfish behaviour.
While, the European UNI0N understands Ukraine’s post-Soviet state, it is unclear if Russia takes this matter seriously. Following one of the biggest political turns in modern history – the collapse of the Soviet UNI0N – the condition of Ukraine seemed inevitable. After World War II, Ukraine’s population rose drastically – from about 37 million, to its peak, of 52 million in 1993. Since then, the population has been of concern.
Prior to the economic crisis of 1999, a mere two years later, fertility rates had declined to a miniscule 1.1 births per female – one of the lowest in the world. Rates have risen today to 1.5 births, but this isn’t high enough to stabilise such a rapidly declining population. Extremely low fertility rates are linked to financial insecurity, and low wages throughout Ukraine are yet another rationale for leaving the country. As former EU links have demonstrated, Ukraine could only prosper with the Association Agreement.
Poland As An Example
While subtle in other post-communist countries like Poland, the depression brought on by the post-Soviet 1990’s was and is more evident in Ukraine. Poland’s suffering in the years preceding its entrance to the European UNI0N was significant. There was evidence of death rates due to alcoholism, and poor environmental and working conditions in Poland, but in Ukraine that evidence is stark. The ever-despised class system returned, creating sharper contrasts between the rich and poor.The EU Association Agreement is something that can better the situation, and, in the long run, the country does have potential.
As a Slavic relative, Poland has gone through as much if not more historical turmoil as its Eastern neighbour, Ukraine. Both nations having been occupied by the Imperial Russian Empire at one point or another and both nations are also deemed as the most highly oppressed within Europe. If this is not enough, they “shared” the territory marked as the Curzon Line, which today runs 200 kilometres eastward into Ukraine from its western border. It is not farfetched to foresee Ukraine’s future will follow the footsteps of its Polish relative.
Poland is easily comparable to Ukraine, similarly liberated from communism in 1989 and the latter in 1991 – the common ground is infinite. Poland’s 1990’s atmosphere was still powdered with a communist aura, not far from the 1980’s food queues. The changes were hardly seen unless one took a tour of the rynok (market): where it was once abundant with Russian products, the shelves had now been stocked with German goods, and consumer’s pockets were still empty. The all too familiar flashy Italian fashion and pop music remained ingrained in the culture until recently, and remnants of this nostalgia still infuse Ukrainian streets. In this post-communist era, the Polish population also significantly declined.
Poland was therefore “lucky” to join the European UNI0N in 2004. The EU not only funded Polish highways for the Euro 2012 games but the majority of its infrastructure, helping to shape its economy while creating a more pleasant living space in the process. Poland’s entrance to the European UNI0N opened a new “western” world-aesthetic that resembled its other neighbour, Germany.
Loss Of People, Loss Of Traditional Culture
Today’s Poland holds little of its traditional culture. Pensioners can hardly fathom the changes, continuing to speak of the 1980’s and continuously live life as if it was still 1989. Today, however, we need to think of the future. Poland does not regret its EU membership – it is a booming nation. The culture may not be what it was from memory, but that unfamiliarity is the smell of something progressive and ever evolving in coherence to its non-repressive political structure. The Association Agreement could thus offer this to the Ukrainian population, providing a life more comfortable to live.
Ukraine’s “Soviet isolationism” validates Ukraine’s strong sense of traditional culture. It offers a nostalgia, which could be argued as being oppressive to the people, but is perhaps fetishised. Ukraine’s prospective agreement with the EU could bring it out of this post-Soviet condition, and that is not to say that Ukraine would lose its cultural individuality. Ukraine would grow.
This isolation can be seen in the small amount of foreigners entering the nation. The country is deep rooted with traditional Ukrainian culture as well as the remnants of the USSR. The barricades separating Ukraine from the remainder of Europe are to blame. Other former “Eastern-bloc” countries no longer offer this nostalgia. Ukraine on the other hand, demonstrates through literature, such as works by Bulgakov or Shevchenko, the strength of Ukrainian tradition in the face of oppression, and it can still be traced to its original settings. The vyshyvanka evolving into something modern, remains Ukrainian; the vinok is still worn by girls and women alike, and not in a nouveau fashion sense, but in a traditional way. It is something which was once common in Poland, but is no longer the case today. The loss of population in any nation is a loss of culture.
Slowly, as people fade away, culture does too. The Association Agreement can perhaps warrant changes necessary to provide better living for residents, and this space can and will influence culture and have it evolve alongside a new system. The culture in Ukraine remains genuine, and so do the people. Sure, there are hints of kitsch directed at tourists – but authenticity lingers throughout the streets. Its population decline on the other hand is forlorn.
Watching Poland’s population scurry away to more prosperous countries is reflected in a lack of traditional culture, which is upsetting, but indisputable. The EU gave Poland space to evolve alongside its western neighbours. Today’s Poland no longer holds a nostalgia for many of us who grew up there, but it does offer a new evolved “Polish-European” Culture.
In Ukraine, one can still bask in what was once familiar in Poland. If the people of Ukraine remain true to themselves and allow the Association Agreement to bring them prosperity, the country definitely has a chance at a bright future. Watching and learning from its neighbour is great – though we do not live in an ideal world. The Ukrainian populous has to figure this out themselves, what it is they want – for some, a country with people, history and culture is all we dream of.
by Agnieszka Marcinek