ON THE CURRENT SITUATION IN UKRAINE. WHAT IS AT STAKE?
ON THE CURRENT SITUATION IN UKRAINE. WHAT IS AT STAKE?
OPINION & COMMENTARY: By Stephen Velychenko
Action Ukraine Report (AUR) #725, Article 6
Although the Party of Regions is commonly called an "opposition" party this is a misnomer that carries with it erroneous implications and assumptions that will lead to erroneous assessments and judgments. The Party is rather a "restorationist" party that will destroy Ukrainian democracy and threaten European security if its leaders come to power again and turn Ukraine into another Belorus.
For all its faults, there is no alternative to the Orange Coalition who are trying to destroy Europe's second-last last imperial era "old regime" elite peacefully and therefore merit support.
Ukrainians reemerged on Europe's political map in 1991 after more than 200 years of direct foreign political rule imposed by military might. Between 1709 and 1711, then between 1918 and 1921, and again between 1944 and 1950 Russia invaded Ukraine three times in a series of bloody wars that tied Ukraine to the tsarist and then Soviet empires.
Under Russian rule Ukrainians got Russian-style serfdom, Siberian exile, governmental prohibition of publishing and teaching in the native language, terror, and famine-genocide. When in 1991 Ukraine emerged as an independent state there was no "liberation war." Consequently the imperial or "old regime" elites were not exiled or executed.
They remained in power until 2004 and since then have retained positions influence to such a degree that they can keep their own out of jail. Their constituency, meanwhile, is the product of Soviet migration policies that directed Russians into and Ukrainians out of Ukraine.
This immigration and "ethnic dilution", combined with deportations and millions of unnatural Ukrainian deaths between 1917 and 1947, created large Russian-speaking urban enclaves in the country's four easternmost provinces.
In addition, educational and media policies, channeled upwardly mobile non-Russian rural migrants into Russian-speaking culture and allowed urban Russians to live work and satisfy their cultural/spiritual needs without having to use or learn Ukrainian.
Second and third generation urban Russian immigrants and assimilated migrants spoke in Russian, lived in a Russian public-sphere and were Moscow- oriented culturally and intellectually. After 1991 most of the urban population accepted Ukrainian independence, but few changed their Russian language-use or intellectual/cultural orientation.
Since 1991 an increasing percentage of Russians and Russian-speakers see Ukraine as their native country. However, in 2005, whereas only 6% of Ukrainians still saw themselves as "soviet citizens," the percentage for Russians was 18%, and while 2% of Ukrainians still did not regard Ukraine as their native country, 9% of Russians in Ukraine did not.
This means that a percentage of the population in Ukraine today, of whom most are Russian, support foreign rule over the territory in which they live - much as did once the French in Algeria, the Germans in Bohemia and Poland, the Portuguese in Angola, and the English in Ireland.
This anomie and nostalgia for empire of some Russian speakers would be harmless if not for Ukraine's neo- soviet political leaders who exploit it to maintain their by-gone imperial -era power in a post-colonial state. Both would be manageable if leaders in Russia, the former imperial power, were able to resign themselves to the loss of their empire, and like the British, help the new national government rather than its imperial era collaborators. Putin is no DeGaulle --who realized in the end that French settlers had to leave Algeria.
Ukraine's neo-soviet leaders are organized in four major groups with varying degrees of support covert and overt from Russia and its government - whose ambassador in Kyiv is not know ever to have made a speech in Ukrainian. Ukraine's communists and Natalia Vitrenko's "Bloc" openly advocate the abrogation of Ukraine's independence and its reincorporation into a revamped imperial Russian dominated USSR.
The Russian Orthodox church, which claims an estimated 50% of Ukraine's Orthodox, is not only led by a Patriarch in Moscow, a foreign country, that sits in Putin's government, but is dominated by its chauvinist, anti-Semitic fringe. This church does not recognize Ukrainians as a distinct nationality, it publicly supports Ukraine's communists, and fielded priests to run in elections.
In June 2003 the Russian Patriarch gave the leader of Ukraine's Communist Party its "Order of Prince Vladimir." No more than 8% of Ukraine's voters back these old communist party leaders.
The more serious threat to Ukraine is posed by its fourth major neo-soviet group; the Party of Regions. Although 2004 and 2006 election results suggest approximately one-third of all voters in 2006 supported the Party of Regions, these returns are dubious.
First they are a product of documented coercion, intimidation and covert operations-albeit smaller in scope and scale than was the case in 2004.
Second, they are based on 'machine politics' in Ukraine's eastern provinces where, in control of the local administration and manufacturing , the party can offer people fearing poverty and insecurity short-term material incentives in return for votes.
Third they are based on a lingering soviet-style cradle to grave enterprise-paternalism, still stronger in eastern than western Ukraine, that allows managers and owners to politically blackmail their employees-- much as "company-town" owners did in nineteenth- century western Europe and America.
How strong the party would be in Ukraine's east, without the dirty-tricks, machine-politics and neo-feudal enterprise-paternalist based intimidation is difficult to determine. But it would have less than one-third of the seats in the country's parliament.
The party ostensibly supports Ukrainian independence in as much as its leaders regard Ukraine as a territory that they should control as a "black-mail state" -- just as they controlled it up to 2004. Yet, its anti-constitutional advocacy of Russian as a "second language" shows it wants to keep Ukraine within the Russian-language communications sphere and out of the English-language communications sphere.
While the Canadian and Polish ambassadors can learn Ukrainian before their appointments well enough to use it publicly, some Party of Region leaders have the unmitigated gall to speak in Russian in parliament. Some, like Azarov, have not yet managed to learn Ukrainian after fifteen years of independence.
But then how many French in Algeria learned Arab? How many English in Ireland learned Gaelic? How many whites in Africa knew Swahili or Bantu? How many Japanese learned Chinese or Korean? How many Germans in Breslau learned Polish? Its leaders, additionally, engage in symbolic colonial-homage type acts that pander to imperial Russian nostalgia and compromise Ukraine's status as independent country.
In November 2005 in Krasnoiarsk, for example, Ianukovych publicly gave the speaker of the Russian Duma a bulava - the symbol of Ukrainian statehood. While the party formally supports "eurointegration" - just like Putin supports the eurointegration of Russia - it has not explicitly stated that it is for "EU membership for Ukraine."
Given this omission there is every reason to believe that if they return to power they will first incorporate Ukraine into the SES and only then, via Russia, "integrate into Europe" just like Belorus.
Party leaders learned their politics under Shcherbitsky, ran Kuchma's "black-mail state," and employ criminal Bolshevik-style electioneering practices. They publicly belittle Ukrainian independence, are in constant contact with Russian extremists like Zhirinovsky, Zatulin, and Luchkov, and they want the Communist Party included in coalition talks.
All of which show that for all their chatter about laws, representation and committees, Ukraine's neo-soviet Party of Regions is no mere opposition party. It is more a restorationist party whose purpose is to destabilize the country.
If the Party of Regions' tactics succeed they will compromise Ukraine's post -2004 ruling coalition; they will strengthen those opposed to Ukraine's entry into EU and who think that it should remain in Russia's sphere of influence.
Foreign observers must ask themselves how a renewed Party of Regions led Kuchma-like "black-mail state" is supposed to fit into the EU? How is Russia, a resource-based autocracy, supposed to be "stable" when resource-based autocracy's everywhere else in the world are notoriously unstable?
Ukrainians, for their part, can be sure that Party of Regions leaders will not trouble Bill Gates about a Ukrainian version of Windows, or Hollywood Studios about Ukrainian dubbing and subtitles, or fashion magazine chains like Burda about Ukrainian translations.
NOTE: Stephen Velychenko is a Resident Fellow, CERES Research