Not for the first time, the question arises of the Ukraine possibly splitting into two parts… West and East. It seems that history itself gives the answer to this question. Despite the fact that Ukrainians voted for different candidates and that their cultural differences are clearly visible today, the Eastern Ukraine, which earlier belonged to the Russian Empire, and the Western Ukraine, which earlier was under Austria-Hungary, Poland, and Romania, have lived in peace in one state for 20 years now. This state of affairs was to the liking of the post-Soviet Russian élite; in fact, they gave up claims to the Crimea, which wasn’t part of the Ukraine until the time of Khrushchyov, for the sake of stability and calm in the neighbourhood. The Ukraine’s unity wasn’t called into question by its citizens either… nationalists living in the Western Ukraine regarded the Ukrainian nation’s unification into a single state… the result of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact… as a benefit, and Eastern Ukrainian businessmen had nothing against “Europe” and “independence”.
From the first, the EU and the USA didn’t stop reminding the Eastern and Western Ukraine about their differences, about their alleged irreconcilability. During the second round of the Maidan events (the first round was in 2004, when supporters of Viktor Yushchenko went on protests, to make him the President of the Ukraine), this confrontation reached its peak. However, before that, EU and American media outlets, supposedly civilised, pictured Eastern Ukrainians as not fully human. Once, Newsweek even used the term ‘homo sovieticus’, which Aleksandr Zinovyev, a Russian academic, invented for other uses. Denis Kiryukhin, a specialist at the Kiev Centre for Political Studies and Conflict Management, said, “Now, the success of its propaganda frightens the EU… feral sorts came to the fore in the Western Ukrainian opposition, who can cause the EU much trouble if there were ‘European Integration’. The ideological intention of the ultras and radicals is to conduct a thoroughgoing revolution in the country, to establish a dictatorship based on nationality, and not carrying out a state coup. Their ideology posits an ethnocracy, with ethnic Ukrainians lording it over all others”.
Sowing seeds of discord between Russian-speakers and Ukrainian–speakers in the Ukraine was a very difficult, but achievable, task, as the events of the past 10 years showed. The “Orange government” of Yushchenko and Timoshenko, as well as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich‘s behaviour to please local nationalists added much to the discord-sowing process. At the least, Yanukovich was several years late with his statement about extremists in the country, which he made some time ago. The point is that the young people who threw Molotov cocktails at the cops, and who occupied Kiev with neo-Nazi slogans written on their banners, needed time to mature. They studied at schools and institutes… now, it’s clear why the opposition offered a fierce resistance to the reforms of Education Minister Dmitri Tabachnik. His attempts to return Russian classical literature to Ukrainian schools hampered the maturing of all those who fight now under the slogan, “The Ukraine Above All!” This is nothing but the Nazi slogan “Deutschland über alles” translated into Ukrainian. As you might remember, during last year’s heated debates about the language law, both the EU and the USA took the side of the Ukrainian nationalists. Thus, figuratively speaking, they drove a wedge into the Ukraine, where relative ethnic peace reigned supreme for many years, but the Ukrainian authorities ignored it.
Today, the Nationalists strive for absolute power over the entire Ukraine. They don’t merely want to run the cabinet of ministers or even to take over the presidency. They want to control both the legislative and the executive power. To meet this aim, they want new elections and they wish the reinstitution of the 2004 Constitution, as nationalists believer it’ll weaken Yanukovich. However, there’s a complication… the Ukraine is a centralised state; officials in Kiev decide almost everything. Therefore, if ethnocentric nationalists seized absolute power in Kiev, the Russian-speaking eastern regions would secede. Professor Valery Solovey, of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, noted, “The presidential side can try to federalise the Ukraine now. Even though it’s a risky affair, it can end beneficial. It isn’t a slavish return to the 2004 Constitution, but it adds amendments to the Constitution establishing the Ukraine as a federal state with a corresponding restriction of central authority in the regions”.
In 2005, when the EU and the USA pulled out a victory in the presidential election for Viktor Yushchenko, the Party of Regions attempted to establish autonomy in the eastern regions. Then, they weren’t successful because the Ukrainian élite and Ukrainian oligarchs struck a bargain to divide power and capital. It’s very doubtful whether they’d be able to do the same now. Oligarchs can enjoy power only when the grassroots are relatively passive. Like ships in olden days, oligarchs can pour oil on troubled waters, and, in this way, smooth out small waves around their business liners. However, when the masses roil into a rage, no oil can save anyone’s life from the waves on this ocean, and the oligarchs with all their capital and all the corrupt officials could end up on the rocks. That’s the exact situation gelling now. The genie of Ukrainian nationalism is out of the bottle… it’s impossible to push it back in.
In conclusion, we can say the following. At present, centrifugal forces in Ukrainian society aren’t strong enough yet to pull the state apart. Both western and eastern regions realise that if the country split, the east would immediately fall under EU and American sanctions, and the west would fail as a state without eastern subsidies. Russia takes a neutral and balanced position in this conflict between the Ukrainian west and east, but still the European media accuse Russia of interfering in the situation. Nevertheless, centrifugal forces might receive a strong impetus from nationalists on the Maidan, from the EU dallying with nationalists, and from Yatsenyuk and Klichko trying to ride on the nationalist wave. If the Ukraine falls apart, it’ll be on their conscience.
5 February 2014
Voice of Russia World Service