Monday, November 29, 2004

Secession, Ukraine style 

Isn't it wonderful how the left tends to spit the dummy whenever things don't go their way? But in a reverse of Marx's dictum, history might just repeat itself, the first time as farce, the second time as tragedy. When disenchanted Democrats contemplated secession of the red states after their November 2 debacle, we knew it was all just venting off some steam among the tolerant elite which can't tolerate to share the country with the "intolerant" masses. But when the eastern, pro-Russian regions of Ukraine are starting to talk about secession from the western, opposition-dominated part of the country, we know it might turn ugly.

"Mr Yushchenko, who delivered an impassioned speech to more than 100,000 of his supporters spending their seventh day braving the freezing weather in Kiev's Independence Square, was furious. He said politicians pushing for independence were criminals and should be prosecuted."
The coal-mining and heavily industrialized region of Donyetsk as well as Luhansk province to the north of Donyetsk and bordering Russia, among others, have declared they will conduct referenda over the next two weeks to decide on the question of autonomy, independence or perhaps amalgamation with Russia.

BBC has
a good orange/blue map of which regions of the country went for which candidate.

Note however on
this map in the Polish press that five of the provinces around Kiev which voted of Yushchenko have nevertheless pushed for autonomy referenda (in orange are the regions, which recognize Yushchenko as president, in blue the regions which on Sunday called for the referenda).

As I look at it, it strikes how much the opposition orange areas overlap with the furthest reach of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of Nations. Names like Lviv (Lwow), Volyn (Wolyn), Ternopil (Tarnopol), Zhytomyr (Zytomir), or Vynnitsia (Winnica) have such resonance to me because they are such a big part of both Polish and Ukrainian history. As I said before, the best thing that Poland can do to help heal the wounds of past centuries - and to destroy the hateful and outdated stereotype that Poles and Ukrainians are traditional enemies - is to help Ukraine finally achieve democracy.

I hope that the whole Ukraine can get there in one piece. But if another alternative is a bloody civil war, then perhaps what's fast becoming known as the peaceful "Czechoslovakia solution" might be the next best option. Let's hope that some of the over-heated talk on both sides is just a momentary brinkmanship and that cooler mood will descend on the decision-makers soon. Polish president
Kwasniewski (own translation), who is readying himself for another trip to Kiev to help the negotiations, is fearful of the break-up - yet sounds to me almost resigned to some such eventuality:

"There is a dangerous, real threat of a break-up. The more so, if it were to find support from outside of the country [i.e. Russia - AC]. I hope that there will not be such support, but we can't downplay the threat by any means. Ukraine is fractured between the West and the East, not only in the light of recent events, but also in the cultural, linguistic, historical and economic sense. Even if Yushchenko becomes the president, which is quite probable, it's difficult to believe that eastern Ukraine will come to love him. Just as it's difficult to imagine that the west of the country will accept anyone else but Yushchenko."
In the Russian-language media monitored from Poland, mixed messages: the cynical Western game using Ukraine as a mere pawn to get at Russia, radicals and adventurists surrounding Yushchenko, influence of foreign elements in fomenting trouble, but also criticism of Putin for overplaying his hand, and the observation that oligarchs who control the eastern Ukraine might threaten to join Russia but none of them are actually keen to do so, having seen how Putin deals with his own. Update: Another Russian reaction from a more liberal point of view (hat tip: Felis)

As they say, stay tuned.


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