“Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism” is a cliché of Soviet phraseology. According to Soviet ideology Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism was a specific form of bourgeois nationalism and was recognized the superiority of national interests over class interests.
The term has appeared in 1920s at first in documents of the Communist Party, then it transferred into journalism and science literature. It performed functions of ideological request. Another ideological request in Soviet historiography was equating Ukrainian nationalism with fascism and with nazism in particular. This was conducted despite the fact that racism and cult of personality were extrinsic to Ukrainian nationalism, which was its distinction.
Today I heard a member of the Russian parliament use the same Soviet phraseology. He was addressing the pro-European Ukrainian nationalists as “Neo Nazi bands” The nazis were the biggest enemies of the Soviet Union, and anything associated with it must be evil, threatening, and should be destroyed with every means, preferably military means.
The truth is a different thing all together. Of course, you will find small groups of neo nazis in almost every country in the world, and it won’t be difficult to find some pictures of Ukrainian neo nazis on the internet. The myth of Ukrainian nationalists being fascists, or nazis, came to being with the outbreak of war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1941. Initially, the Ukrainian nationalists thought that this was an opportunity to break loose from the Soviet Union and become independent. Very soon, however, the Ukrainian nationals were fighting against the Germans, the Soviets, and the Polish. Ukrainian nationalist leaders were imprisoned by the Nazis.
Ukrainian nationalism is much older than the Soviet Union. The medieval state of Kievan Rus’ is the cultural basis of Ukraine, also claimed by Russia and Belarus. Kievan Rus’ was founded by the Rurik Dynasty, the founding fathers of Ukrainian and Russian aristocracy. The ancestry of many Ukrainian and Russian princes, like the Obolenskys and the Bariatinskys, directly lead back to Rurik.
While the center of political and military power was Moscow, and later St. Petersburg, ruled by the Romanov dynasty, of lower aristocratic descend (they were grand dukes, not princes), the center of culture and religion was Kiev. The Byzantine Empire was the most important cultural and trading partner of Kievan Rus’. With the decline of Constantinople, the loose state of Kievan Rus’, consisting of principalities, fell to the Mongol invasion of the 1240s.
The majority of the Ukrainian population are Ruthenians. Only a small minority of the Russian population belong to the Ruthenian people. During the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth the country was called Kijowskie, and it was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which fought against Habsburg Prussia, Sweden, the Ottoman Empire, and Muscovy Russia. Commonwealth troops entered Russia and managed to take Moscow and hold it from September 27, 1610 to November 4, 1612, until driven out after a siege. Between the 1650s-1680s Kijowskie was lost to Muscovy Russia, and the Ukrainians once more tried to regain their independence.
So you can see that the desire for independence is not a new thing in Ukraine. You may call that nationalism, but then you shouldn’t forget that “nationalism” was almost a swear word during the era of the Soviet Union, and that the Soviet phraseology is still very much alive in today’s Russia, especially in Russian politics.
And then there’s Crimea. From the 18th till the 20th century, Crimea belonged to the Russian Empire, which included Ukraine. But it was part of Kievan Rus’ many centuries before it was occupied by the Byzantine Greeks, Kipchaks, Ottoman Turks, Golden Horde Tatars and the Mongols. If any country is entitled to Crimea, it’s definitely Ukraine.
Yes, it’s true that Crimea was the “Côte d’Azur” of the Russian and Ukrainian aristocracy, and that it was the stronghold of the White Russian anti-bolshevik army, until years after the Russian Revolution. But this also shows the strong anti-Soviet sentiments in the area. And of course the Soviet leadership made sure that the original population was removed from Crimea and replaced by loyal Soviets, because they wanted to feel safe in their very own “Côte d’Azur”. And yes, it was Stalin himself who decided that the Conference of the Big Three (Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt) would take place in Yalta.
The problem with Russia is that many Russians and Russian politicians know very little of Russian history. They know all the dogmas and lies of the Soviet era, but very little about what happened before. Ukrainians, however, do know a lot about their rich cultural inheritage. They have every reason to preserve that inheritage and keep as far away from today’s Russia as possible.
P.S.: Russification during Soviet occupation will lead to the desire for derussification after the occupation. Sooner or later. The Baltic states are a good example. It’s only logical.