The recent presidential elections in Ukraine (Feb. 7th) saw the return to power of Victor Yanukovych, the pro Russian oligarch backed candidate who falsified elections in 2004 inspiring the mass demonstrations now known as The Orange Revolution. (www.OrangeChronicles.com) He narrowly won over fiery, revolutionary Orange Revolution icon and current pro West/European Prime Minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, who herself proved more effective at rallying people than governing the country. International election observers were quick to tout the election as "free and fair". Western press has repeatedly mentioned that this election was a "victory of democracy" and speak in terms of "The Ukrainian people rejected..."
But they seem to be overlooking some serious nuances. For one, the election was split along very clear geographical lines that were the same in 2004. There wasn't much switching sides or rejection of idealogy, Yanukovych's electorate largely remained the same, the fact is that many of the people who participated in the Orange Revolution, were now so discouraged with politicians that they either didn't bother to vote, or voted against all, as was encouraged by the current President and former Tymoshenko ally, Victor Yushchenko. Yushchenko in fact paved the way for Yanukovych to return to power, by supporting last minute changes to election law that allowed for less transparent methods of counting votes, and personally voicing opposition towards Tymoshenko, thereby eroding her natural base of support. Irrationally he made a conscious decision to support the man that had stolen the election from him in 2004, thereby jeopardizing Ukraine's westward orientation, and also opposing many of the pro Ukrainian decisions that Yushchenko established in regards to historical memory. This betrayal of the greater interest of Ukraine conflicts with Yushchenko's intention to portray himself as a Ukrainian "patriot". Ukrainians in general were so fed up with the petty infighting of their leaders that they stopped feeling as if they had any influence in the democratic process. So in essence the young people who were most active in defending their right to vote five years ago, now voluntarily decided to stand on the sidelines. This to me does not appear to be "a victory of democracy."
The electorate that did come out in the heavily Russified and densely populated eastern regions of Ukraine, still primarily watch and inform themselves by watching Russian based television channels, (which are heavily biased and slanted "anti West", even more extreme propaganda than Fox News!) and base their worldviews accordingly. Many wanted "poryadok" or order, and believed Yanukovych was the man who would straighten things out. In the least, he was "their guy" and that was good enough!
Also, many potential voters in western Ukraine complained that Tymoshenko and Yanukovych, were essentially "odnakovi" or the same, and that there were no genuine options. This was a very short sighted and narrow view, yes they both represent business interests, but there are significant differences between the two! And they seemed not to realize that one of them will have to become President. Many failed to comprehend how a vote "Against All" was a vote for Yanukovych. I learned this lesson myself when I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, and oh what a different world it would be today if Gore had won! In the end, the final 4% "Against All" votes would have been enough to sway the election in Tymoshenko's favor.
Tymoshenko has many of her own issues as far as honesty, but at least on the surface her image is that of a Ukrainian patriot, which is a huge difference from Yanukovych, who has no pretenses about his anti-Ukrainian perspectives. She has European aspirations while still being able to have a dialogue with Moscow. Incidentally it is the European election observer missions that buried her by next day declaring that elections were largely free and fair. My personal issue with that is how can anyone truly fairly assess elections in a country so large? Observers visit a small percent of election districts, and their presence there is easily noticed, manipulations may happen in the final count of data, when no observers are present and it is difficult to provide evidence of any ballot count inconsistencies.
I feel as though Ukrainians in general are awaiting some messianic figure who will one day swoop in and save their country. But the fact is that politics draw very particular personalities and the only way to compete is to have some serious finances. So by this alone, a "normal" person does not have a chance to participate. This is not just true in Ukraine, as many there tend to think it is something unusual, business and politics have always gone hand in hand, even in America. (thanks US Supreme Court for allowing corporations to finance candidates without restriction, that's really leveling the playing field and separating business and politics!)
So rather than vote, enough of the Ukrainians who have some sense of identity or patriotism, by voting against all or abstaining from participating, have let their country come to be ruled by old clan of oligarchs, men who cheated and stole and know no other satisfactions in life. Western press says Yanukovych is now a changed man, but after 50 years of living life a certain way and finding success, I don't think any fundamental change is possible. And so Ukraine now has a president who is considering to sell off part of Ukraine's gas pipeline to Russia, initiate making Russian a regional language; thereby eclipsing need for Ukrainian schools in these regions, and allowing the Russian Navy and KGB to have a stronghold in Crimea. So the eastern Ukrainians got their man in power, and the question many analysts are asking is how much power will he be able to exert in Parliament? What many are not asking is how will local people react when Dontesk goons are in the streets of Kyiv attempting to assert their authority over businesses and people? What tends to remain unspoken is that Yankovych does come from a "clan/gang" world where husky, young lads are in the streets enforcing the imperatives of "the boss". To what degree will they attempt to exercise physical dominance and what will locals tolerate?
He may indeed bring some much needed order which in turn would stabilize the economy, but at what cost? As a member of the Ukrainian diaspora my biggest concerns are with the language and cultural issues. Already it is being said that Russian is being spoken more frequently in Lviv, and in Kyiv I had one person retort to me "Why are you speaking in Ukrainian, Yanukovych won!" And indeed Yanukovych gave his victory speech in Russian, the first President in Ukraine to do so, as well as inviting Putin loyalist and Moscow patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox church to be present at his inauguration ceremony. All this while speaking of "uniting" Ukraine.
Western press and analysts should realize that yes the elections might have been fair, but that's because Yushchenko was president. Yanukovych has come to power by using whatever means he was able to get away with, and once he has control of state resources, he will not relinquish them as easily as Yushchenko. So all the this hoopla about Ukraine having free and fair elections, and a thriving democracy, I believe is quite premature and naive. Yanukovych only knows how to consolidate power, and has been playing the democracy game for now, but I doubt he has any deep belief in the ideology of democracy. What will remain to be seen is just how much of his promises can Yanukovych fulfill? Over time, will eastern Ukrainians become disillusioned? I personally hope they do as it will perhaps force them to reassess their preconceptions.
I know for myself, I feel much more detached from a Ukraine I don't recognize, from a nation that fought one day and then stood by the next. I feel less attachment, much in the way I felt when Bush was re-elected in the states, a failure to relate and understand or agree to the majority perspective. And again, I have no influence and can only focus my energy towards projects in my own life.
I believe, however unpopular it is to say, that I see Ukraine benefiting from a split/secession; the Donbas region has a completely different mentality and interpretation of history and constantly pulls Ukraine in a direction against which the majority of the oblasts (states) desire. Better to cut off and lose a limb now than allow the entire country to be submerged under mafia type businessmen who have kinship to the mafia in Moscow.