The War in Ukraine and The Fate of Liberal Nationalism

1 If nationalism sounds like a dirty word, then Ukrainian nationalism has sounded even worse. In the imaginations of many, it is associated with extreme xenophobic violence. Even those who sympathize with Ukraine are not free from this image. Michael Ignatieff, for example, an eminent Western liberal intellectual, wrote shortly after visiting independent Ukraine: “I have reasons to take Ukraine seriously indeed. But, to be honest, I’m having trouble. Ukrainian independence conjures up images of embroidered peasant shirts, the nasal whine of ethnic instruments, phony Cossacks in cloaks and boots, nasty anti-Semites.” This stereotype is not totally groundless, and it has various roots. Indeed, xenophobic overtones can be found in one of the earliest formulations of Ukrainian identity, in an early modern Ukrainian folk song: There is nothing greater, no nothing better, than life in Ukraine! No Poles, no Jews, No Uniates either.   The funny thing is that a few hundred years later Ukrainians and Poles have managed to reconcile, and Ukraine ranks among the leaders of pro-Israeli sympathizers, and Uniates — present-day Greek Catholics living mostly in western Ukraine — display the highest level of Ukrainian patriotism.   The song makes no mention of Russians. At the time, in the early modern centuries, Russian ethnicity was not widely familiar to Ukrainians. And even later, when it was, for a long time it did not feature in the common inventory of Ukraine’s historical enemies. That list comprised Poles, Jews, and Crimean Tatars. Now former enemies have turned into allies, and Russians are the ones who have launched a full-scale war on Ukraine.   This radical transformation in Ukrainian identity can also be illustrated by a video taken in Kyiv during the first days of the Russian-Ukrainian war. It depicts Volodymyr Zelensky and his men standing in the courtyard of

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