Ukraine at Another Crossroads Part II
4: Even steeper opposites
This made little impression on the protesters. The introduction of new emergency laws , which prohibit protests in Ukraine (January 16, 2014), made the political fronts even steeper. To avoid a full confrontation, talks were opened between leaders of the protest movement and the Ukrainian government. On January 25, 2014, Yanukovych made an offer to the opposition – the prime minister would go to Arseniy Yatsenyuk and the deputy prime minister to Vitaly Klitschko, two of the most visible protest leaders.
They rejected the offer because the current political system in Ukraine gives the president almost unlimited power, and they had little room for maneuver. Instead of joining the government, the opposition demanded that Yanukovych resign. Possibly, they could agree to speed up the next presidential election in Ukraine, which is scheduled to be held in 2015. On January 28, 2014, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned. With that, the prospect of finding a political solution to the crisis has become even paler.
Ukraine has no government, the president is paralyzed and the opposition does not have enough power to take over responsibility for the country. At the same time, important powers are trying to interfere in how the crisis in Ukraine will be resolved. The situation seems deadlocked .
5: Historical causes
How the crisis in Ukraine will develop is an important question. Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe with almost 45 million inhabitants and with a central location. What is happening there may affect the situation throughout Europe and the relationship between the West and Russia. In order to be able to say something about Ukraine’s future, it is therefore important to understand some fundamental reasons for the current situation.
- Ukraine is a divided society. The division is reflected in all elections in the country since it became independent in 1991. Although almost four out of five residents identify themselves as Ukrainian and just over 17 percent describe themselves as Russian, the political divides divide the country into two almost equal parts .
- The western part supports parties that are concerned with strengthening Ukrainian identity, with an approach to Europe and the EU and towards closer cooperation with Russia. Such cooperation is perceived as a possible threat to the country’s independence. In the eastern part of Ukraine, where most of Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population lives, support for “Europeanisation” of Ukraine is much lower. There, support for closer integration with Russia is stronger.
According to BUSINESSCARRIERS, the division of Ukraine is most visible in nationwide elections: In hardly any presidential election after 1991 has the difference between winner and loser exceeded 8 percent. The exception is the election in 1999 when Kuchma beat the communist opponent by a much larger margin.
This dichotomy is largely due to historical circumstances . The western part of Ukraine was under Poland between 1654 and 1772. Parts of this area fell under Austrian rule until 1918, and were then – between 1918 and 1939 – re-incorporated into Poland. It was in this area that the Ukrainian national awakening took place in the 19th century as well as in the interwar period. The first attempt to form a modern Ukrainian state was made in 1918.
The rest of what is today Ukraine was in two rounds – after 1654 and after 1793 – incorporated into the Russian Empire and subjected to strong Russification. Among other things, this contributed to almost fifty percent of today’s Ukrainians using Russian as their first language. Later, the whole of Ukraine suffered great human losses, first as a result of politically created famine known as Holodomor in 1932 and 1933 – a consequence of Stalin’s collectivization policy . Secondly during World War II when several million Ukrainians lost their lives during German occupation. At the same time, tens of thousands of Ukrainians fell in battle against the “own” Soviet state power and in what they believed was a struggle for a free, non-Soviet Ukraine.
It is not just different historical experiences that affect the current situation in Ukraine. Also different interpretations of Ukrainian history leave their mark today. The leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists OUN Stepan Bandera is hailed as a hero among Ukrainian nationalists in Western Ukraine. In the eastern parts, he is branded a traitor and Hitler’s accomplice . In the East, those who fought against the fascists are hailed as the nation’s best sons.
6: In which direction should integration take place?
The dichotomy is also reflected in the Ukrainians’ different attitudes to European integration . The support for such integration is greatest in the West, which has a historical experience of being part of the West. From there, many travel to Poland, Germany, Austria and other parts of Europe to speculate on low wages. At least the support for integration is in the west in eastern parts of Ukraine. There, people have always had close ties to Russia. Many of Ukraine’s “Russians” also live there, and from there many choose to go to Russia to earn more than in Ukraine.
According to opinion polls in the months before the last crisis broke out, there was relatively strong support for strengthening cooperation with the EU. Between 40 and 49 percent supported this idea, while about a third were against. The turnout was highest in western parts of Ukraine where 74 percent were in favor. It was least in the east, where 29 percent were in favor, while as many as 43 were against.