An attempt for an objective perspective about the events in Ukraine
As a Socialist, and as a person who hates the way most countries in this world are operating today (especially in the post-Soviet sphere), when I hear about a revolution my first reaction is excitement in the sight of people ripping off the metaphorical blindfold and lashing out at an oppressive corrupt regime.
At the end of the day, no one can deny to what an extent the regime which Yanukovich and his Party of Regions stood for was corrupt. Can any member of that party actually tell me what they stand for? Seriously, are you left, or are you right? Do you support Socialism, or Capitalism? Are you socially liberal, or conservative? Do you even give a damn about any issues which concern those who don’t belong to the corporate elite? The Party of Regions was created for one purpose only, to represent the interests of the Oligarchs (like Rinat Akhmetov, its main patron). Yanukovich was nothing more than a puppet. I shall discuss later in this post how such a corrupt party got to power in the first place.
One of the first things I do when I see a revolution, is try and understand who are the ideological forces behind it. Who are the leaders, and to what extent are the leaders of the revolution actually representing the people who are literally putting their life on the line for a better future for their country. The moment I did it, my feelings of excitement and joy quickly faded away and were replaced by suspicion and fear. The Euromaidan started as a grassroots movement, a long awaited awakening, and yet a closer analysis indicates that someone is cynically playing on people’s despair with no plans to actually uphold the noble values those people fight for. Like in the War of the Roses, it’s the simple folk dying for the financial interests and big egos of the ruling elite.
A figure whose name was brought a lot by some of the political figures attempting to hijack the revolution is the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, Oligarch Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko by every poll has a very low approval rating in all parts of the Ukraine due to the controversial nature of her activities in the gas industry before entering politics, and due to her failure as a Prime Minister, most notably betraying some of her allies for personal political gain and appointing former business partners to prestigious political posts. Even though she was not openly involved in the first stage of the revolution, many of the political “leaders” of the revolution were in fact people who for two decades were an integral part of her close circle (usually the same people being her political allies and business partners, talking about crony capitalism and corporatocracy). A prime example of that is the man appointed to be acting President after the revolution took place, Oleksandr Turchynov. According to WikiLeaks, Turchynov, as a business partner of Tymoshenko during the 90’s, was the one in charge of destroying documents which were proving the alleged “business” connections Tymoshenko had with the organized-crime boss Semion Mogilevich, also known as “Don Semyon”. One thing is sure, Tymoshenko really knows how to return a favour.
A big part of the frustration that led the people of Ukraine and Kiev to the streets is the first place is the fact that the government was nothing more than a corrupt tool in the hands of Oligarchs. Considering that, it is very alarming that those who came to power immediately after the revolution are the mafia-connected Oligarchs the revolution tried to get rid of in the first place. While the Party of Regions led by Yanukovich was nothing more than a greenhouse for a bunch of Oligarchs from my beloved hometown Donetsk, the Yulia Tymoshenko block was nothing more than a fraternal organization for Tymoshenko’s former business partners.
Ukraine today is crushed by political turmoil and a collapsing economy. Both sides of the country are distracted from real issues through the propaganda of hate and fear. When people are afraid, when people hate, it’s easy for those with the wrong intentions to manipulate them (and that comment is relevant for both sides). I never met a person from Donetsk or Crimea who said they actually like Yanukovich or the Party of Regions or didn’t see them as corrupt, and yet they voted him in, the reason being “at least Yanukovich protects the Russian language”. The situation is in no way better with people from Lviv or Vinnytsia who will never vote for a candidate whose Ukrainian does not sound “pure of Russian elements”.
The residents of East and South Ukraine made a huge mistake by not joining the Euromaidan. If they would join the protests in the first place, or even better initiate them, they could have played a role in a true national uprising against a corrupt regime. That means they would have leaders rising from among them and playing a role in shaping the post-revolutionary Ukraine. In all fairness, and even though nothing justifies racism or cultural persecution, many of those from West Ukraine who dislike the Russian speaking parts of Ukraine dislike them because they associate them with the pro-Russian corrupt government formerly represented by Yanukovich. What the people from West Ukraine fail to realize is, the pro-NATO government that just came to power is equally corrupt and dangerous, and in fact might spark a civil war by demonizing and antagonizing the Russian-speaking population. The paradox is, if the people of East and South Ukraine would join the protests, those protests might have been the beginning of a united Ukraine. Through common goals it would create a sense of solidarity among the majority of people from both parts of the country, and push the nationalist views aside.
To understand why Ukraine is so divided based on language it is important to understand the historical background to such a division. While the predecessor of the Ukrainian state was the Cossack Hetmanate, the Russian-speaking areas Donbass, Crimea and Odessa were never a part of that state. Those areas were a part of the Crimean Khanate, and later were colonized by the Russian Empire, where the Russian language and culture dominates since. Those areas became a part of Ukraine during the Soviet times, and it was only done for administrative reasons. The equivalent being England granting Tyneside to Scotland as “we are all one country”, without considering the option of future independence. During Soviet times a Russification policy followed amd the regime attempted to suppress any remains of an independent Ukrainian identity, eventually resulting in the Holodomor. The Holodomor was a state engineered famine aimed at the farmers who rebelled against collectivization, and most of all against the Ukrainian population who also had the national factor mixing with the opposition to collectivization. When the Soviet Union collapsed many Ukrainians wanted to “shake off” the Soviet legacy, and the Russian-speaking population suddenly became a hostile “Soviet ” element.
In my opinion, the best solution to resolve the situation is separation. Ukraine is not united, no one except the upper class in that country actually benefits from a united Ukraine (like Akhmetov, for example, whose business investments spread all across the Ukraine). Those who became the upper class in any system, even in the most failed system, will always try and preserve the system under which they thrive. The Euromaidan was a rare opportunity to unite both parts of the country based on mutual understanding and common goals, but that historic opportunity was missed.
Once Ukraine will be divided into two countries, the language issue will no longer be a central topic, and people could finally elect candidates based on their position on real issues. The Party of Regions will lose all of its power in what is now East and South Ukraine, simply because they will be irrelevant in the new reality of the area (in fact, that’s why Yanukovich and other top members of the party would never support the plan to divide Ukraine). Same thing will be relevant to west Ukraine as the residents of that area will finally get what they were asking for, a Ukraine which is not a vassal state of Russia.
Some people suggested to turn Ukraine into a federation where the Russian speaking regions will get a status of autonomy and will be able to decide for themselves on issues like language, education, etc. As much as this resolution is tempting, and it might make sense at first thought, I feel like the perception of the “other” in both parts of the country will “secure” that people will continue voting for the old political forces, out of fear that the other side might “expand” into their habitat.
At the end of the day, if two groups of people are in constant confrontation and clearly have differing views on such crucial issues as language and identity, the best option is separation. Those who will benefit more from such a separation in the long run, in my view, are the Ukrainian-speaking parts of the country. Their political system will no longer be polarized by language, an that will be an opportunity for a healthy political system to evolve with a variety of parties representing a variety of views. I am more worried about the Russian-speaking parts of the country, as the proximity to Russia makes it very likely they will become Putin’s puppet state rather than a sovereign state ruled by and for the people living there.