The politics of language, identity and education and the current conflict in Ukraine

The politics of language, identity and education and the current conflict in Ukraine 

Guest Speakers: Olga Cara and Germ Janmaat, UCL IOE

Date: Tuesday 29th March 2022
Time: 13:30-14:30
Location: Room 728, IOE Main Building, 20 Bedford Way, London, WC1H 0AL

In this presentation, the speakers will examine the role that identity politics has played in sparking the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Has Putin drawn on Ukraine’s nation-building policies to develop a narrative about a cultural genocide on the Russian-speaking population? Has he used such a narrative to justify the invasion?

We start by providing an overview of the politics of identity in the post-Soviet world to assess the kind of national identities that the Soviet successor states are trying to build – exclusionary ethic, assimilatory cultural or inclusive civic ones – and the role these nation-building projects have played in initiating or sustaining international conflicts. We then examine the history of Ukraine’s nation-building policies and Russia’s response to them from the break-up of the Soviet Union to the present. We will argue that Ukraine’s identity project can be characterised as an assimilatory cultural one, motivated, in first instance, by a concern about the extinction of the Ukrainian language, culture and identity. This cultural project is characterised by a prioritization of the Ukrainian language in public spheres, particularly in education, and by a rewriting of national history. Although Putin has repeatedly accused Ukraine of committing genocide on the Russian-speaking population in the Donbass, we have not found evidence of him explicitly invoking Ukraine’s identity politics to support this accusation and justify the invasion. 

About the speakers:

Olga Cara is a Lecturer in Sociology of Education at UCL Institute of Education. She isa quantitative and mixed methods sociologist exploring the relationship between ethnicity, language, and education as well as identity production. She has published a range of academic articles on these topics. Her geographical area of expertise is Latvia and Russian speaking population in post-Soviet space. Olga’s PhD looked at Russian- speaking children’s identity construction in the context of bilingual education in Latvia.

Germ Janmaat is a professor of political socialization at UCL Institute of Education. He is interested in how education, broadly conceived, can influence civic competences, values and behaviours. He is currently working on a Nuffield funded project on post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement. His PhD research focused on Ukraine’s nation-building policies in education and the response of the Russian-speaking population.