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Vladimir Bruter. May 10, 2007.

Is It the Conflict of Identities?

The first question to ask about the present situation in Ukraine is the following. Where is the real beginning of the actual conflict between president Victor Yushchenko and the Governmental coalition of Victor Yanukovich?

Of course, the “Orange” revolution of 2004 cannot be named as the start point. 2004 presidential elections just fixed the situation of cleavage between two parts of the state: the Western and the Central on one part and the Southern and the Eastern on the other. So we must try to find out the background of this conflict.

1. This is the conflict of two Ukrainian identities: Ukrainian-speaking people with full Ukrainian identity on one side and Russian-speaking people with mixed Ukrainian–Russian identity on the other. The first group led by Yushchenko and Timoshenko was the engine of the “orange case” and now is the dominant force against the Governmental coalition, which is sponsored by business and political forces from the Donetsk region.

It is absolutely clear that there exists a diagonal cleavage of political preferences in the state. This cleavage has its historical background. We can determine very precisely its borders, which coincide with the boundaries between former Polish (Wright Bank Ukraine) and Russian gubernias (Left Bank Ukraine). We can easily see this cleavage in the Odessa, Kirovograd and Kherson regions, all of them partially consisting of both Left and Wright Bank territories. But… there are neither ethnical, nor linguistic differences between these districts.

We cannot give any comprehensive explanation to these differences based on the modern events. It is, certainly, very difficult to understand the differences between villages of the Sumy and Kharkov regions.

2. The modern time elections, beginning from 1990 onward, also pose more questions than we have answers. Indeed, this “diagonal” cleavage was not so obvious at the first independent elections (the spring of 1994). Later it was very noticeable at the first Presidential elections (the summer of 1994). Kuchma’s victory over Kravchuk was achieved with the help of votes of the South-Eastern regions and against voters in the West (Galychyna and Volyn) and partly in the Center of the country.

The events of 1998 and 1999 are the most interesting ones. At the Parliamentary elections of 1998 there is no sign of “diagonal” cleavage. The cleavage was small and only vertical, only five western regions being involved: three in Galychyna (Lvov, Ternopol and Ivano-Frankovsk) and two in Volyn (Volyn and Rovno (both only partially)). However, we had a lot of surprises. The Communist Party, the most powerful force of anti-Western identity in Ukraine, won elections in Kiev municipality, Chernovtsy region and in almost all other regions of the Center. Pro-Kuchma United Social-democrats (SDPU(o)) won the decisive victory in the Transcarpatia region, the most Western region of Ukraine.

The vertical cleavage of 1998 became particularly clear in 1999 (1.5 years after) at the presidential elections. Despite the main opponent of Leonid Kuchma was Petr Simonenko, the leader of the Communist party, we do not see any diagonal, but only similar (like in 1998) vertical cleavage. The best result of Simonenko was achieved in the Vinnitsa region (the most Western region of Central Ukraine). At the same time, Kuchma won in the Donetsk and Odessa regions, the largest regions of the South and West.

The diagonal cleavage, though weaker expressed than at the Presidential elections of 1994, was evident at the Parliamentary elections of 2002. But, in the course of the Presidential elections of 2004, this diagonal cleavage was becoming stronger and stronger, turning into the principal part of the Orange Revolution. The scenario of 2004 repeated precisely at the Parliamentary elections of 2006.

Therefore, we can assume:

1. This cleavage is variable, not permanent. The problem is that usual cleavages between “right” and “left” in politics do not exist in Ukraine even now. That is, the traditional cleavage is substituted by the regional one.

2. The cleavage between regions is not a political, linguistic or ethnical. This is the cleavage between two political cultures. These two political cultures are usually more concealed than included in real processes, but, beginning from 2002, they are becoming more and more actual. To a greater extent, they are likely to take the place of missing real events.

3. In 1998 and 1999, there were (thanks to Mr. Kuchma) more economic and social problems to decide, and diagonal cleavage gave its place to vertical. The second reason is that the Donetsk political team with Mr. Yanukovich as its leader has become very strong and quite consolidated, and its raise significantly actualized the difference between Western and Eastern Ukraine, turning it into the internal competition between different Ukrainian groups, in a way.

Therefore, though the cleavage between two parts of Ukraine does not seem permanent and transcendent, it is natural for political development of Ukraine. Moreover, we can suppose that the principal reasons, which made this cleavage more obvious, were the wasteful actions of top politicians. In their short campaigns, Ukrainian top politicians had to gain a huge number of votes. To decide this problem, they suggested “the complete set of pseudo-national and counter-pseudo-national mythology” to their eventual voters. And the Presidential political situation was no more than just a reaction of citizens to the political paradigm, more artificial than natural.

After the parliamentary elections of 2006, a new political configuration was created. The Party of Regions (Yanukovich) with the Communist and Socialist parties created the majority of the governmental coalition. At first they managed to achieve some common vision with President, which was fixed in the Universal of National Unity. Then, during the second half of 2006 and the first quarter of 2007, relations between President and the Government shifted from coexistence to direct confrontation. This confrontation was the main reason of presidential ordinance (issued April 2), which dissolved the Supreme Rada and appointed new Parliamentary elections for May, 24.

According to the Constitution of Ukraine, President cannot sack prime-minister; also he cannot dissolve Rada except the cases, indicated in the Constitution. Rada immediately sent the ordinance to the Constitution Court (CC), but President and his team declared they would not follow the CC decision in case it would be against the ordinance. Also he tried to disable the CC by several new ordinances. The situation is now very unclear and cannot be resolved.

The confrontation between President and Prime-minister never was the ideological one, being rather a clash of influences. Main divergence between them never lay with the political questions, being a mere competition for the “force to decide”. Reducing the presidential “force to decide”, the Government significantly worsened the conditions of their dialogue with the presidential team, and, especially, with some business teams, close to President. Thus, the presidential team, supported by the strong opposition (represented by Timoshenko) created a new attitude for President, which can be described by the following phrase: “If I do not dissolve them today, they will sack me in some days. I must be the first”.

There is very little politics and ideology in this conflict. This is, firstly and even secondly, the conflict of groups of influence, of different political charismas, of business teams and clienteles. All top Ukrainian politics have very unclear ideology and main political attitudes. Their wiliness for power is not the wiliness to create the effective European country, but wiliness to have power and to “decide”. Therefore, this conflict (regardless of how the actual one will be resolved) may become permanent. Ideology and even attitude have nothing to do with the clash of political wills. It is charisma and force, which are to play the main role in Ukranian politics.

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