People living in the Americas are, by default, Americans. Presumably, that would include everyone in the Americas, from Canada to the southern tip of South America. But to break it down even further, people living in Canada refer to themselves as Canadians, folks living in Mexico are Mexicans, and so forth. Except that people living in the United States frequently refer to themselves as Americans. I think they tend to do this because “United Statesian” sounds stupid. If people living in the United States don’t refer to themselves as Americans, they usually identify with their states. They become Texans, Californians, Floridians, Virginians, Minnesotans, and so forth.
There are people living just to the west of Germany (along the seacoast) known by several names: Dutch, Hollanders, and Netherlanders. Netherland means simply “low lands.” Holland actually only refers to two provinces of the Netherlands. The word “Dutch” comes to us from an old English expression attempting to explain that these people were speaking “Deutsch” (a Germanic language). After Germany formed as a single nation, it became conventional to refer to them as Germans and people living in the Netherlands — well, they remained Dutch.
Once more, turning to convention, the word Ukraine means “border.” Ukrainian, therefore, denotes someone who lives in the borderlands. The question then becomes, Borderland to what? This is the problem we have today in this place — this borderland. And, if you happen to confer with someone like Vladimir Putin, the answer is, “The borderland of Russia.” And, if that’s true, then the borderland of Russia must belong to … Russia.
It occurs to me that unless these borderland people re-identify themselves as something more than people living in Russia’s borderland, which they could do by re-examining their ancestorial roots, they will be forever known as Russia’s borderland people. For several hundred years, these border people were known as Cossacks. Cossack means “free man” and also “adventurer.” In the Turkic languages, Cossack becomes Cosac, Kazak, and Kazakh. Since Kazakhstan is already a country, we need to pull that one off the table.
Perhaps Ukrainians will stop thinking of themselves as the people living in Russia’s borderland and instead begin to form a new national identity — one that is distinct from ethnic Rus (Norsemen from present-day Sweden). Maybe they could return to a time when they called themselves Kyivan. I don’t know. But what I do suspect is that the question of national identity for Ukraine will continue to be muddled for as long as they continue to think of themselves as Russia’s border people.
How do you see it?