Saturday, November 27, 2004

A pessimist's screed

We may be witnessing the birth of a political nation in Ukraine. If true, it would set a mighty precedent for two of the neighboring countries. Almost a miracle. But two problems are there to stay. One is the reform movement associated with Victor Yuschenko is, to put it mildly, quite unpopular in the areas where the heart of Ukraine's economy is -- in the East (the Donets Basin or Donbass and the so-called Slobodskaya Ukraine) and the South (Novorossia). An ethnocultural, rather than purely political antagonism may be the main reason. Problem two: the opposition leaders are tainted by corruption, some of them oligarchs waiting to hijack the people's victory.

Number two is something we are well familiar with here in Muscovy. In August 1991, we took to the streets, too, though without much Western or oligarchic help. The West probably didn't believe we'd win, but we did. In October 1993, some of us -- actually of "them" -- went as far as take up arms against Yeltsin, who had blatantly violated the constitution. We can speak from experience; and if our experience be trusted, the spirited young people in the Independence Square may grow up to see the fruit of their victory wither, their leaders betray them, and themselves mature into embittered cynics.

Number one is a very Ukrainian concern. Russia, excepting its "ethnic" republic, seems far more geographically homogenous than its southwestern neighbor -- even regional accents are quite thin in Russia. It's amazing that the border between Yuschenko- and Yanukovich-supporting regions can be traced to the politics and demographics of the 17th and 18th century and the first half of the 19th. I've tried to reconstruct -- speculatively -- a Donesk voter's point of view:
1. Our region and its neighbors produce most of this nation's GDP -- let's just say wealth. Granted, our oligarchs syphon off most of this wealth but some trickles down to us, too.
2. The good people in the streets of Kiev want to break the oligarchs' monopoly on power. We wouldn't mind that, too. But we don't trust their leaders.
3. Their leaders are oligarchs from other parts of Ukraine who aren't satisfied with what they've got. When they grab assets from our local oligarchs, we'll be even worse off.
4. Also, when those new oligarchs from the West come to power, they'll spend the tax money -- and most of that comes from us -- on their cronies.
5. They'll try to Halycize Ukraine; we Easterners will become second-class citizens. Our kids will have a problem getting into Kyiv universities.
6. So you see, it's not about democracy, it's just us against them.
7. We'd rather become autonomous and deal with our oligarchs ourselves.
From this angle, there's no argument over values; it's Us vs Them. (Alas, I'm not quite impartial to this simple dichotomy, either.) The best I can say now is that I am hoping Ukraine becomes a federation, which would reflect its geographically-distributed cultural diversity. Let the people of the East take on their oligarchs without fear that outsiders will step in to grab the spoils.

There should be a re-run of the elections' second round, or both candidates will remain permanently hamstrung. I'm also hoping for some sort of coalition government.

Actually, I'm not in a position to dispense advice. I'm more worried about the consequences of Putin's gloriously shooting himself in the foot. It's time for me to shut up and move on to Culture High and Low.

No comments: