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#29 - JRL 2007-103 - JRL Home
May 4, 2007

Ukraine is not a historical joke

MOSCOW. (Gennady Bordyugov for RIA Novosti) - Sooner or later, the crisis in Ukraine will be overcome. But standing behind the trivial election blocs, two or three party marches of the confronting sides, and the inevitable question of the power structure (upheavals have been programmed into the current one) is the Ukrainian issue, the destiny of Ukraine as a state.

A country may even be split if some party goes for victory at whatever the cost.

The past century was a cradle for many national states although for the then advocates of globalism or, to be more precise, global revolution this notion was devoid of any sense. History repeats itself in the 21st century even if someone believes that the world is ruled by capital while some nations do not have independent banks. The intelligentsia was the first to welcome the emergence of post-Soviet national states and tried to become the national elite and distance itself as much as possible from Russian (or formerly tsarist and Soviet) statehood.

But property ownership and social policy are the overriding issues for the other strata that initially followed the elite. Nationalist attitudes run counter to the interests of the majority. If national parties are unable to resolve urgent issues, it is possible to ask the West or Moscow for help and make a choice depending on the terms offered and on condition that national feelings are not hurt. It is clear that any infringement on interests fans up nationalistic attitudes and provokes Ukraine-for-Ukrainians sentiments.

I believe that the main political issue in Ukraine is the choice of a development model. Should it follow the West or choose its own road? Russia and Belarus seem to have made their choices. Choice of one's own model is the main test for the new statehood. Unequivocal orientation to the West or Russia is fraught with new conflicts and may even lead to a split.

Unbiased historians know well that the act of 1654 was an alliance of two independent partners. At worst, it was a limited-in-time Moscow protectorate but by no means absorption of Ukraine by the Muscovite state. Kiev has unequivocally accepted the (Russian) transitional government's recognition of the Ukrainian parliament that proclaimed Ukraine's autonomy on June 10, 1917. The relevant decree (called the First Universal in Ukrainian) had references to resolutions of the Hetmanate of the 17th century, which was viewed as the Golden Age of Ukrainian statehood.

The current crisis has again reveled Ukraine's classic division into the West -(former Polish territories), the Russia-associated East, and the conquered cosmopolitan South. Geographical, economic, historical and ethnic differences predetermine the political orientation of these regions. But we must bear in mind that since the start of the past century these regions were united by the dominance of the Ukrainian farmer family and its institutions that did not include communes. Farmers preserved their original culture and the Ukrainian language, whereas the educated classes switched to Russian, which became a language of state administration.

All regions were equally affected by tsarist modernization and industrialization from above, huge social upheavals in the empire, revolutions in 1905 and 1917, and wars. Even if there are deep differences between these regions, Ukraine can still function as a unitary state. An alternative is a split but not federalization that is so extensively discussed by Russian political scientists and viewed as an indispensable condition for democratization (as if there is none in Ukraine).

In order to resolve Ukraine's issue and keep it as a single country, its eastern and western regions should opt for mutual assimilation covering economic ties, guest workers and bilingualism. At the same time, they should give up attempts to Ukrainize non-Ukrainians and overcome the obsolete great-power ambitions based on the Uniate model of development based on Petlura and Bandera ideology. Last but not the least, nobody should forget or desecrate the past, as it happened in some areas in Ukraine when the Ukrainian SS division was rehabilitated.

If this does not happen, Russia should get ready to deal with two Ukrainian countries. But even in this case they would not be a historical joke because they would deserve their independence.

Gennady Bordyugov is a member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council