Samuel Huntington and Ukraine, Part II
The other day Ian Bremmer tweeted: “Russia vs #Ukraine is pretty much the polar opposite of a Clash of Civilizations”, in reference to the famous 1993 Samuel Huntington article in Foreign Affairs.* That article later became a book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, which contains the following passage:
If civilization is what counts, however, violence between Ukrainians and Russians is unlikely. These are two Slavic, primarily Orthodox peoples who have had close relationships for centuries and between whom intermarriage is common. Despite highly contentious issues and the pressure of extreme nationalists on both sides, the leaders of both countries worked hard and largely successfully to moderate these disputes.
So on the face of it Bremmer seems to be right and Huntington seems to have been wrong. According to the latter civilization is what counts, and obviously the former is correct in suggesting that this has nevertheless done little to stop Russian from invading Ukraine.** But if you evaluate “civilization” at a level deeper than that of surface markers like religion or linguistic or migratory categories (Slav, in this case), I think the Huntingtonian thesis looks much better than Bremmer gives it credit for. The Euromaidan protests have frequently (and I think in the main, correctly) been framed as erupting in response to the perception that Ukraine faced an, “existential choice between a corrupt and authoritarian post-Soviet system of governance and a European one.” In that respect, Russia vs. Ukraine has entirely been a “Clash of Civilizations”, and it is Ukraine’s desire to extricate itself from the grips of the Orthodox/Slavic sphere which has prompted the current confrontation.
From an analytical perspective, it’s not clear to me how much a category like Orthodox or Slavic is a useful descriptor or proxy when what we really mean is something like, “corrupt, autocratic, authoritarian, anti-democratic, perhaps occasionally unnervingly ethno-national”, but insofar as the countries to Ukraine’s left represent one way of doing things and the country to its right (directly above it, too) another, the Clash of Civilizations label doesn’t seem so far fetched.***
*An article which, Wikipedia tells me, was developed out of a talk given in 1992 at AEI
**If you were feeling pedantic you might note that in fact there hasn’t been meaningful violence between Russians and Ukrainians, but only between Ukrainians of various stripes. I would respectfully submit that even a bloodless invasion counts here
***It would be counterproductive to essentialize Slavic-ness or Orthodoxcy and assume that the presence of either or both in itself tells us anything about the likelihood of corrupt autocracy operating on a given territory, for example. On the other hand, insofar as either (or any other similar descriptor; Protestant, Catholic, American, etc.) is likely to underpin populations’ common understanding of or experience in the world they may do some amount of analytical work