For a long while I have been intrigued and concerned by what is going on in Ukraine. For months I have read articles that have tried to explain, in layman’s terms, what is going on for those who do not understand the deep roots of the division within that troubled country . Although I am no expect on the problems of that country, the same patterns that Ukraine has to deal with are problems that are dealt with by other nations and also problems that other people (myself included) have to deal with in the course of our lives because of our similar positions around boundary lines and divides. If this does not make the problems of that divided nation, or our other divided institutions, easier to solve, at least it ought to give us some insight into what is going on.
As I have commented on many times before, I tend to be a person whose life has been deeply fraught by the existence of various divisions and divides that happened to be around me. My entire life I have either lived near boundary lines (including right now near the city limits of Tigard and Beaverton, just on the Beaverton side), or have wrestled mightily (and often unsuccessfully) with a huge host of boundary issues . I have witnessed the tragic divides that exist between and within nations, families, communities, institutions, and even individual people. These divides tend to manifest themselves in conflict and turmoil, as people do not handle division very well.
In the case of Ukrainian division, what we have is a nation with a short history as an independent nation and a long tradition as the borderlands of other empires, whether we are talking about Poland-Lithuania or the Ottoman Empire or the Mongols (and their successor states like the Crimean Khanate) or the Russian Empire. What we have is a country that has only been independent for about 22 years, and that for more than two centuries endured a deliberate attempt to assimilate part of the area into Russia while the other part remained stubbornly attached to its own culture and language despite legal pressure and hostility that included mass murder and starvation . There never has been ‘one’ people in that area, and there is still no unity between them.
In light of the violence that has embroiled Ukraine for the past few weeks, there have been proposals for a federation between the two halves of the country, so that there could be some sort of loose union with there being a Russian-dominated Eastern half and a pro-European Ukrainian speaking eastern half. While it would be lamentable to see another nation crumble, clearly federalism would help to minimize the conflicts over spoils between the two nations, and might make it possible for each part of the country to develop enough cohesion to become a stable and viable state, on an East Ukraine, West Ukraine sort of basis. Sometimes, that is the best that can be hoped for in such circumstances where there is no overall cohesion but there is strong cohesion on a regional basis.
This sort of lesson ought to be instructive for more areas than just Ukraine. Most experiments in some kind of federalism, including the United States, were done because there did not exist sufficient unity (nor does there still) for a consolidated government to have the legitimate support of the people as a whole but there existed enough unity (with one tragic exception) for there to be unity against external threat and enough unity to keep a central government going that had limited boundaries of competence. Part of knowing what is possible in terms of government and authority is knowing the sort of situation one is dealing with. Sometimes there is sufficient unity where there can be a united people with the same language and culture and outlook, within narrow ranges. At other times there is somewhat of a united identity, but not extending very deep, which requires there to be a separation of powers to preserve harmony by requiring consensus, which over time may build the trust to allow deeper unity. At other times, there is not even that level of unity and there must be an agreement to peacefully and amicably separate if disaster is to be avoided. Politics is the art of the possible, and in our own lives and situations we must know what is possible for us to achieve and what is beyond our abilities.
 See, for example:
 Some of which I am foolish enough to write about: