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    The Negotiation of Ukrainian Ethnic Identity in Two Multiethnic Settings : The Former Soviet Union (Armed Forces) and Canada

    Anna Fournier

    Abstract :

    This paper looks at the negotiation at the individual level of Ukrainian ethno-national identity. Two experiences in multiethnic settings are analyzed : that of the compulsory military service in the former Soviet Union, and that of immigrating to Canada. Fieldwork in the form of ethnographic interviews is conducted in order to answer the following questions regarding multiethnic settings:

    1. whether ethnic self-awareness emerges at the individual level;
    2. I question the assumption by scholars writing on the multiethnic experience in both the Soviet military and in Canada that the experience of plural settings brings not homogenization (i.e. ‘Sovietization’ or assimilation), but rather an increased ethnic differentiation and awareness, and that this increased awareness is the result primarily of ethnic antagonism and discrimination.

    3. whether ethnic self-assertiveness follows from ethnic self-awareness;
    4. It is believed that in the Soviet military context, ethnic self-assertiveness automatically follows from self-awareness, and that it does so because of perceived persecution by the dominant group. In the Canadian context, ethnic mobilization is thought to arise when an ethnic group faces unequal power relations and is dissatisfied with its position in society.

    5. and at which level the individual integrates into the particular setting.

    I examine the degree to which the individual adapts to a particular setting in terms of ethnic identity. Using existing models, I examine whether integration takes place at a deep or superficial level, and what that says about the flexibility or rigidity of ethnic identity.

    Drawing extensively on material collected in ethnographic interviews, I come to the conclusion that ethnic self-awareness does not always emerge in multiethnic settings, but that when it does, it can be brought about not only by one’s negative perception by an Other, but also by one’s positive affiliation with one’s ethno-national group. As for increased self-assertiveness, it tends to arise when one’s ethnic identity is experienced as a form of resistance to the dominant group, and is a response to perceived oppression and threat to one’s distinctness. Finally, there are many possible levels of integration in each multiethnic context, but individuals agree that although ethnic identity is malleable, it cannot be lost or replaced - a ‘primordial’view of ethnic identity.

    Methodology :

    I have chosen to gather information by conducting lengthy semi-structured interviews. My informants are Ukrainian men (born and raised in Ukraine by Ukrainian parents) between 27 and 35 years old who served in the Soviet armed forces between 1979 and 1986, and immigrated to Montreal between 1991 and 1996. I used ‘snowball sampling’ to select them, following a network of acquaintances through community institutions. My interview schedule consisted of two parts, the first addressing the informant’s experience in the Soviet army, and the second referring to his experience of immigrating to Canada.

    Honours Thesis
    Department of Anthropology
    McGill University
    Montreal, Canada
    September 1997

    60 pages including bibliography.

    Copies may be requested:


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