European Western Balkans

Narratives on the threat of “Ukrainization” found in Serbia and other European countries

Ukrainian refugees; Photo: Wikimedia

The fear of “Ukrainization” is present in Serbia, though more seldom than in other cases. A new report published by partner organisations from Poland, Hungary, Romania and Serbia focuses on the presence of the narratives on Ukrainization in their respective countries.

The research is a part of a wider project that aims to check out how Ukraine-related disinformation is reflected and used within the far-right, ultra-nationalist and extremist communities to advance goals consistent with Russian interests.

The report highlights that the initial, obvious, meaning of the term “Ukrainianization” refers to the treatment received by ethnic minorities in Ukraine. This “Ukrainization” narrative is present in very similar forms in Poland, Hungary, and Romania since all three nations have significant diaspora in the country. It targets not only assimilationist policies but also post-2014 politics of limiting Russian influence and strengthening the Ukrainian language and culture. It is also present in Serbia but not prominently, due to the lack of a significant Serbian diaspora in Ukraine.

A second meaning refers to the dissolution of the fundamentals of the state including its territory. This is presented in very different ways in Poland and Romania and seems less present in Hungary and absent Serbia.

In Poland, for example, the narrative evolved into a conspiracy theory about the looming unification of Poland and Ukraine at the expense of Poles losing their national identity and sovereignty.

Meanwhile, in Romania, the narrative now also refers to the alleged actions of Budapest to undermine the rule of law in Romania by arming paramilitary groups of ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania and encouraging them to claim territorial autonomy.

Serbia: “Ukrainization” also used to describe threat of ethnic conflict and civil war

Due to the geographical distance between Serbia and Ukraine, but also the fact that there is no sizable Serbian minority in Ukraine that would be a target of such a policy, the term “Ukrainization” is seldom found in Serbian sources, the report highlights.

The other definition of “Ukrainization”, found in other countries, which refers to the presence and influence of Ukrainian refugees and their effects on the society is entirely absent, as the number of Ukrainian refugees in Serbia remained much lower than in countries neighbouring Ukraine and never represented an important topic among the Serbian public.

The research in Serbia concluded that a common aspect of most articles mentioning Ukrainization is that they describe the term negatively and that they were published during the Russian invasion or weeks earlier in anticipation of a possible Russian attack. During the War, there were several mentions of the “violent” Ukrainization in recent years which is linked with Ukrainian Nazism.

There was one other use of the term in the years prior to the 2022 war that was not related to Ukrainian government policy, the report found. Namely, since at least 2014 “Ukrainization” was used to describe destabilization and threat of ethnic conflict and civil war. Threats of Ukrainization in that sense were mentioned both in reference to events in Bosnia and Herzegovina and (North) Macedonia. In the latter case, the term was even used by the then-PM and currently the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić.

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