The United States is not Ukraine, so, I hope, we don’t find ourselves living in interesting times.
1. Somewhat educated young people with no opportunities are a revolutionary class. Between 1990 and 2006, as Ukraine’s population declined, the number of students entering colleges shot up an unbelievable 60%. According to another source, ” The number of students enrolled in Ukrainian universities grew from 1.5 million in 2001, to 2.5 million in 2009-2011.” Towards the end of this period the student population consisted primarily of those born in the 1990’s when fertility went through the floor.
At the same time, the quality of education continued to decline. Ukrainian universities are not highly ranked, and that grades and diplomas are bought and sold is an open secret. In 2006, 32% of recent college graduates were unemployed. Overall youth unemployment (ages 15-24) is 18.6%. That the students and young people in general and are very active in protests is not surprising, but it helps to know their circumstances.
2. Bilingual nations are inherently unstable. From its inception in 1991, Ukraine has been bilingual. Roughly speaking, those in the south and east of the country speak Russian and cherish cultural continuity and economic ties with their eastern neighbor. They pride themselves on being Slavic people who heroically fought Nazism in World War II. The west speaks Ukrainian and is fiercely nationalistic. They remember Holodomor and the three Western-most regions, historically called eastern Galicia, build monuments to Nazi collaborationist Stepan Bandera.
The South-east, with its agriculture, industry, mining and ports is the economic engine of the country — such as it is. The west struggles with unemployment; with radical politics now resurgent in Galicia. In the 2012 elections, chauvinistic Svoboda (“Freedom”) party received over 30% of votes in these three regions.
The west rebelled in response to the pro-Russian policies of Yanukovich who was elected by a slim majority. That the restive west and the center toppled corrupt local governments is just as important as the demonstrations in Kyiv. Activists are attempting to spread the revolution to the south-east, but the locals are prone to see them as invaders. The English-speaking public got the impression that Maidan is a popular uprising, but half of the country doesn’t support it. The South-east is generally passive, but a modest amount of political activity is registered there, too. In the southern port city of Odessa, Russian nationalists took credit for running Ukrainian nationalists out of town, cars with western license plates are torched in Kyiv and the east and maidan offices are bombed in Kharkiv.
While the western press marveled at the “stunning” fireworks of molotov cocktails in Kyiv, I heard a different sentiment from eastern Ukraine. They see boys from Lviv who, once infected with revolutionary fever, refuse to go home to their miserly jobs. Sample this comment from a Kharkiv portal of the Russian social site Odnoklassniki, where pictures of babies and animals doing things are increasingly frequently sprinkled with Soviet nostalgia videos and political talk:
They bombed out downtown Kiev like fascists. Shcherbitsky [Soviet-era Premier of Ukrainian SSR — ed.], god bless his memory, truly loved Kiev and after the war raised that city out of ruins. Today neo-fascists are destroying, annihilating the city. I don’t understand, why can’t they stage “maidan” in the west? If they want destruction, let them destroy Lvov, Rovno, Ternopol. Go at it. Why do they need to go elsewhere? Go to a city square BAZAR — and burn tires, no need to board a train. Kiev — it’s Kievan RUS. Kiev was never a capital of Western Ukraine. Don’t like it, for god’s sake, demand separation. But they don’t like that solution because pensions and subsidies come from the east, from people who work instead of striking and pay taxes that are equally distributed between the regions. We break our backs, but these scumbacks kill innocent Berkut boys who with their bodies protect ordinary people in Kiev. […] Berkut guys are set on fire, but they are forbidden from using arms because it will displease America that will bomb us like Yugoslavia, Syria, Lebanon and so forth and will install “Democracy” here. We have to stomp out fascism in embryo, otherwise it will be 1933 all over again.
Others weighed in with comments like “Where is Stalin when you need him?” or “I know Russia is not perfect, but I prefer it to what’s going on here.” or “I’d rather to live next to monument to grandpa Lenin than fascist Bandera.” 1933, you say?
Right now Putin is dormant, his hands are tied with the Olympics. A reliable, conservative way to peel away the eastern part of the country is to create a Ukrainian federation.
3. It’s easier to lose freedom than to gain it. Prior to the 1775 destruction of Zaporozhian Sich, Cossacks had an autonomous, republican government. Today Ukraine is a post-colony ruled by wave after wave of crooks. In 2004, Ukraine went through a stage of mass delusion when citizens believed that a glorious future awaits them if only they support their honestly elected Yushchenko. Today they are disappointed and apolitical. Another lady on Odnoclassniki opined:
There are masochists out there aching to go onward, to Maidan, for those craving money and power!
According to one poll, only 51% of Ukrainians say that they want democracy, 20.5% prefer an authoritarian form of government, and the later number is significantly higher in the east. This is now, but what kind of results can we expect if the protests linger?
I’m not convinced of the democratic tendencies of the west either. Svoboda, for instance, proposes ban on anti-Ukrainian sentiment and return of the Soviet practice of including ethnic origin in passports. Its economic program is approved by The Nation. Svoboda is only the dominant party in three western regions of the country, but in as much as it provides much of the cannon fodder for Maidan (along with Fatherland volunteers, including the ultra-nationalist Pravyy Sektor), it wields outsize influence. They, too, will probably like the idea of federalizing Ukraine.
Ukrainians say that they want transparency, but they are kind of cheating at their own revolution. Yes, many protesters are sincere, but Russian channel 24 filmed a short documentary exposing mercenary protesters organized in groups of 5 and paid by the day. This fact is a common knowledge among Russians and Ukrainians, including the Maidan supporters.
Russian-speaking pro-regime politicians are a little slow on the uptake, but they organized their own mercenary protests. According to our friends in Kharkiv, such events were part Soviet-style, with government-employees rounded up for the occasion, part new model, with students and pensioners paid for attendance. Plus, the authorities bused in people from Donetsk. Our friend joked that in the morning the out-of-towners attended the anti-Maidan meeting, but in the evening cashed in on the pro-Maidan one. Or maybe she was serious.
The United States has a long and proud tradition of self-rule and free market economy. We didn’t fight we didn’t live through Stalinism and Nazi occupation. But we are pumping money into dubious college degrees and are on the verge of passing amnesty. Our bureaucracy is expanding and crony capitalism is on the march. We might find ourselves living in interesting times.
A bonus lesson for Russian liberals: Don’t ally yourselves with Nazis. Moderate pro-EU Fatherland and Udar parties entered alliance with Svoboda when two years ago it showed that it was able to turn out 10% of the population. They allowed Svoboda and their Banderista signage in their protests, which antagonized half the country. Likewise Russia’s liberals are allied with the radical nationalists, and it’s probably not going to end well. Easy for me to dispense this advise, sitting here in the US.
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