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Who is Ukrainian? Crimean Tatars and Contemporary Discourses of Ukrainian Nationhood

Authors: Austin Charron*, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Topics: Eurasia, Ethnicity and Race, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: Ukraine, Crimea, ethnonationalism, civic nationalism, internal displacement
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Ukrainians was lauded in the West for their expression of an inclusive, multicultural civic nationhood during and after the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, but in recent years media coverage has increasingly focused on the supposed rise of Ukrainian right-wing ethnonationalism. While there are certainly grounds for concern regarding the spread of far-right ideologies and neo-Nazi sympathies espoused by Ukrainian nationalist groups such as the Azov Battalion and National Corps, their social and political capital nevertheless remains weak and their influence overblown in both the Western and Russian media. Despite these misperceptions, mainstream discourses of national identity in Ukraine continue to follow the civic model established on the Maidan, and one group in particular has become emblematic of this ascendant notion of Ukrainian nationhood. The Crimean Tatars—Turkic Muslims indigenous to Crimea but deported en masse to Central Asia in 1944—had rapidly developed a Ukrainian civic identity upon their return to Crimea on the eve of Ukrainian independence, and emerged as the staunchest opponents to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Now internally displaced in large numbers to mainland Ukraine, the Crimean Tatars are widely celebrated for their patriotism and for their contributions to a multicultural, territorially-framed Ukrainian nationhood. Based on extensive fieldwork among internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Crimea, this paper situates Crimean Tatars within contemporary discourses of Ukrainian nationalism, challenging directly the narrative of Ukraine’s backslide into right-wing ethnonationalism.

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