Internal Problems and Outside Meddling. 
Where Will It Lead?

Like other countries of post-Cold War Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Ukraine is a country haunted by internal problems, polarization, poverty of the many who had such great expectations, unscrupulous enrichment of the few, a deep and unsolved economic crisis, and conflicting nationalisms. It is also plagued by outside meddling. We are usually told it's the Russian government that interfers in their internal affairs. Yes, they do. But are they the only ones? And who acts, and who reacts? As so often, it helps to look back, not just to the events on Maidan Square in early 2014, but perhaps at least to 2004, if not a lot deeper into the country's history.

In December, 2004, Victor Yushchenko, the election candidate favored in the Western parts of Ukraine, “said […] that attempts to make Russian the country's second official language ha[s] become a political issue.” (1)  He was against Russian as a second official language. The statement as such was indicative of the rift between the West and the East of the country, and of the intolerance among Western Ukrainian nationalists. It was an intolerance nourished by resentment and traumas. Wrong as it was and still is, it is also understandable. In order to understand it, one has to look for its roots.


Percentage of people who support making Russian an official second language (2005)

Native speakers of Russian

                               native Russian     native speakers
                                speakers (%)      of Ukrainian (%) 
(1) Charkov                  . 44.3                  53.8
(2) Lugansk                    68.8                  30.0
(3) Donetsk                    74.9                  24.1
(4) Dnjepropetrovsk        32.0                  67.0
(5) Zaporozhe                 48.2                  50.2

(6) Cherson                     24.9                  73.2
(7) Mikolaev                    29.3                  69.2
(8) Odessa                       41.9                  46.3


In the period following the attack of Nazi Germany on the Soviet Union, then a U.S. ally, many Western Ukrainians had welcomed the Nazi invaders, lining the streets of small towns and villages, flowers in their hands, as Nazi wehrmacht tanks passed through. It was a view that resembled the welcome of U.S. troops in small towns and villages of Normandy after the invasion. Quite a few nationalist young Western Ukrainians joined an auxiliary army corps in 1941 that fought side by side with the Nazi wehrmacht army against the Soviet Union. Others became guards in Nazi concentration camps, taking part in the genocidal murder of Poles, Jews, and White Russians.  Still others took part in anti-partisan actions and the rounding up of Jews carried out by the infamous Nazi German sonderpolizei (i.e., special police) units. The Ukrainian nationalists hoped of course that Hitler Germany would favor the establishment of an independent Ukrainian puppet regime, similar to the one that existed in Slovakia. When this was not forthcoming, certain Ukrainian nationalists turned against the Germans and the Russians. Their hero and leader was Bandera. He is still admired and venerated by many Western Ukrainian nationalists.

In Eastern and South Eastern Ukraine, the situation was different. Many Russians settled in these areas. The industrialization effort in the Donbas region had brought a large influx of workers from the entire Soviet Union, something that marginalized the kind of Ukrainian nationalism that led to collaboration in the Western districts. And the port cities at the Black Sea coast had always been more cosmopolitan than nationalist in the 19th and 20th century. When the country was attacked by Nazi Germany, these people, regardless of their approval or disapproval of Stalin's pre-war policies, proved ready to resist the attack. The viciousness of both the attack itself, the “special measures” taken in Nazi-occupied territories, and the scorched earth tactics of retreating wehrmacht troops all bolstered a heroic anti-fascist spirit among those who resisted Hitler Germany. The memories of the sacrifices made are kept alive in oral history, in the narratives transmitted among family members, and in cultural life, generally. In the post-World War II period, heroic monuments commemorating the sacrifices made by soldiers of the Red Army and the anti-Nazi partisans were erected in many parts of the Soviet Union, and thus also in Ukrainian towns. Today, Western Ukrainian nationalists have begun to tear them down, causing suspicion and anger among other Ukrainian citizens, mainly in the Eastern parts of the country.

If in the Eastern areas, identification with the victory over Nazi Germany is still prevalent, in the West of the country, the opposite is largely true. Defeats, not victory color the collective memory. Anti-Russian resentment is strong. In 1945, the Nazi collaborators continued a partisan struggle against the Soviet  authorities that was supported by the C.I.A. since at least 1947,  and well into the 1950s, when the guerilla was finally defeated. In these early post-war years of the late 1940s and early '50s, the Western Ukrainian guerilla murdered a considerable number of directors of collective farms, of Communist party secretaries, village and small town mayors and so on. In other words, the right-wing nationalists  –  supported covertly by the U.S. government –  murdered those Western Ukrainians who threw their lot with the authorities, either out of conviction or due to careerism, or because they were compelled by the Soviet government to accept such posts.

This map shows the situation after the peace treaty signed in Brest-Litovsk. Russia is depicted in green, Austria-Hungary, the German empire and their Bulgarian ally are shown in blue. Ukraine had been created as a de facto ptotectorate of the Germans, governed by a "hetman" and controlled by the German  imperial army. French troops occupied Crimea.

It is clear that this historic experience had traumatic effects. But many historians in search of the roots of Western Ukrainian traumas (and the resulting extreme nationalism) also refer to the big famine that cost so many lives in Ukraine in the early 1930s. Actually, there were at least two, if not three terrible periods of famine. In 1917-1918, the occupying German forces bought or confiscated large quantities of food which was then exported in order to feed the starving German population; this created a food shortage in Ukraine. The civil war between Czarist troops in Southern Ukraine, Machnoist anarchist troops and Bolshevik troops ravaged the country and made sowing and harvesting next to impossible in 1919-1921. It brought about severe regional starvation. And thus, in the aftermath of the civil war, bands of orphaned, hungry children roamed the country, in search of food. Workers in Western and Central Europe collected money in solidarity, hoping to aid the starving.

When the Germans withdrew, "White" troops commanded by Czarist generals took control of Ukraine.
The area affected in 1919 by the anarchist insurrection, led by Nestor Machno, is shaded darkly. 
Odessa and Sevastopol were still occupied by French intervention forces that supported the Czarist or "White" troops. 

In March, 1920, the "White" troops controlled only a remnant of Ukraine in the South, and the Machnoist units had also been defeated by the Red Army.

During the so-called NEP period the situation improved but the government in Moscow noticed also negative consequences. When Stalin's government ordered collectivization of the agricultural sector to be carried out in the early 1930s –  a nonsensical policy, in many respect because it disregarded traditions of mutual help and replaced the “peasant way” of cooperating by a bureaucratic way that favored “industrialized” American production methods –, a producers' strike resulted, mainly among middle and rich farmers. 

It may seem strange today that there existed rich and middle farmers after the October Revolution, but the revolution had not expropriated them and the farmer's markets allowed by the New Economic Policy had improved their lot. In German-speaking areas along the Dnjepr, for instance among German-speaking Mennonites in the Zaporozhe area, affluent farmers were predominant. It was possible that a wealthy farmer, who had profited from NEP policies,  owned two modern tractors by 1928. In the German-speaking villages, work was done mainly by family members, and families were usually large. But the lowly work was delegated to Russian or Ukrainian servants. Paternalist relations between master and day laborer had even entailed inhuman practices under Czarist rule and during the civil war. Agricultural workers were often beaten or flogged when talking back or proving too undisciplined, in the opinion of their employers. During the revolution and the civil war, a considerable number of the village poor had turned to the anarchists, sometimes also to the Bolsheviks, and in the towns, many industrial workers had turned to the Bolsheviks while the educated (with the exception of quite a few Jewish intellectuals and a few other progressives), the middle class, the merchants and so on tended to oppose them. Thus, by 1930, the Soviet authorities did not find a united front of opposition to their collectivization measures in Ukrainian villages. Class antagonism and animosities that dated back to earlier periods continued to exist and this meant that the authorities found those, locally, they could lean on.

It was clear to people like Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin that the military victory of the Bolsheviks in the civil war and the fact that they rose to power, politically, did not quell anti-revolutionary sentiment among those who had opposed them. Under Stalin, and perhaps even before he took absolute control, the political apparatus created to repress such dissidents developed its own dynamics, however, similar in some respects to the way in which internal security concerns are leading today to a continually expanding security state. In the 1930s, the resistance to collectivization, put up mainly by rich and middle farmers in Ukraine – which was the bread basket of Russia and which had been an exporter of food under the Czars (when lucrative exports had periodically produced high bread prices and widespread malnutrition among the poor)  – could only be passive resistance. The farmers who were forced into a collective farm (a so-called kolkhoz) frequently worked carelessly; in many cases, they planted and harvested just enough to feed themselves. Surplus grain was left to rot in the rain rather than sheltered from the weather in barns. When the amount of harvested grain proved abnormally small, those who had “sabotaged” things in the opinion of the government were arrested, taken away, and presumably shot. Those who remained behind in the village where compelled to give all the food resources kept for themselves, in order to fill the normal quotas. The regime had no other way. The workers in the cities – their main power base – had to be fed. The cities depended on food from Ukraine. With a disastrous harvest in Ukraine, their rations had to be cut, too. The villages that had refused to produce a normal output because they resented a form of cooperation ordered bureaucratically from above, paid a terrible price. Many died of starvation. But urbanites were exposed to malnutrition, as well. This famine is still part of the historic legacy that separates Ukrainians with rural roots from “the authorities” in Moscow – and from Russian-speaking miners and steelworkers (or today, ex-miners and former steelworkers) in the Eastern Ukrainian Donbas region. It was the miners and steelworkers of the Donbas who had received better rations during the famine, because of their strategic importance for the country.

In 2004, the International Herald Tribune was preferring a mild understatement when its journalist wrote that political resistance, by nationalist West Ukrainian politicians, especially by Viktor Yushchenko, to the introduction of Russian as a second official language was “likely to anger voters in Russian-speaking Eastern parts of the country, most of whom support his opponent” – presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich.(2) 

Russian had of course functioned as an official language in Ukraine during the Soviet period. When Yeltsin agreed that a referendum on the question of independence should be held, it was the Eastern part of Ukraine that had featured a considerable number of voters who were in favor of remaining a part of Russia. But those who say that their mother tongue is Russian form only about one fifth of the population (while Ukrainian citizens with Russian roots, according to other estimates that are based on a number of socio-culturally relevant factors, account for perhaps 30 per cent), and thus the forces of opposition to Ukrainian independence were of course defeated.

The referendum on separation from the former Soviet Union, held in 1991. The dark red area featured an especially large percentage of voters who opposed separation.

Nationalist sentiment in those days that saw Ukraine gain independence ran high, and the new constitution that was adopted immediately after Ukraine split with Russia stipulated that “Ukrainian” should be “constitutionally protected as the language of government, the police and the military, universities, and most schools.”(3) While “[m]ost children are bilingual,” this will not necessarily stay so if Russian continues to be suppressed as a means of communication that can be used in official business, such as talking to a policeman or filing a tax report. Many native speakers of Russians “fear […] promotion of Ukrainian at the expense of Russian” because it may be “leading to discrimination in employment and other area.” (4) 

All of this must be seen in the context of the global economic crisis and the grave economic difficulties that Ukraine seems unable to cope with while its political pseudo-elite and its rapacious post-Socialist  tycoons continue to enrich themselves, in ways very much like those noted in Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, and even to some extent in Poland and Slovakia.

Socio-cultural conflicts rooted in different historic experiences that give rise to different views of history and thus, different “identities” and  loyalties, are a distinct feature of Ukrainian reality. In the West, the Roman Catholic church was strongly present in former Galicia, a province  – until 1918  –  of Austria-Hungary. Today, most Ukrainians say that they are atheists or that they do not belong to a church. Only 1.7 per cent of the population of Ukraine belong to the Roman Catholic church. Then, of course, there is also the Greek Catholic Church  –  it, too, is loyal to the pope in Rome. 14.7 percent of the population profess adherence to this section of Catholicism. If both figures add up to only 16.4 per cent who are Catholics, we must not forget that the socio-cultural imprint the church left in many Ukrainians for generations, lingers on in the minds of more recent generations who do not profess a formal adherence. 

In view of the historic role of Constantinopolis and Kiev, the Orthodox variety of Christianity is of course more strongly present in much of the country. 38 per cent of the population belong to the section of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that is headed by the patriarch in Kiev, and 29.4 per cent are indirectly members of the Russian Orthodox Church, as they follow the patriarch in Moscow, even though they formally constitute a section of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. 

The regional distribution of believers is obvious. Catholics are overwhelmingly present in the Western part of the country that belonged to Poland, then to the Austrian empire and then again to Poland. The believers who look to Moscow are heavily present in areas with a considerable presence of native speakers of Russian.

A socio-cultural  East-West contrast exists in another sense, as well. The West, despite some urban centers, is more rural. The East was and to some extent still is a mining and steel-making region.

The Ruthenes, West Ukrainian mountain people of the Carpathian region, were inhabitants of a particularly poor part of the country – and famous for becoming soldiers in the Austrian army. Like so many poor people from the backcountry, whether  in the U.S. or the UK, they saw their chance of advancement or of earning at least a living for the family back home, in military service. Lack of education and the influence of the Catholic church made them conservative; in 1848, Ruthenian army units bloodily suppressed the democratic revolution of the Poles. In 1918, the West Ukrainians in former Galicia coveted a republic of their own: it was an understandable nationalist endeavour of small people who were ready to emancipate themselves from the Austrian yoke. Their short-lived National Republic of Western Ukraine was on difficult terms with the People's Republic of Ukraine to the East of it that was governed briefly by anti-Bolshevist Ukrainian social democrats. (This people's republic had no links to Bolsheviks in Russia or Marxist revolutionaries in the Hungarian Soviet Republic.) The National Republic of Ukraine was attacked by the young Polish Republic, however, and defeated in bloody battle. These West Ukrainians, just escaped from Austrian rule, were now ruled by Poland. 

In a part of former Galicia, a National Republic of Western Ukraine had been formed in the wake of the collapse of Czarist Russia. The territory of this short-lived republic was annected by Poland on July 18, 1919. A People's Republic of Ukraine existed in Western Ukraine just East of this National Republic, It was subjected by the Red Army. The Hungarian Soviet Republic formed at the end of WWI existed until August 1, 1919.

As Polish soldiers, they were forced to join the attack of Britain, Japan, and Poland on the young Soviet Russian republic. When the Soviet Red Army counterattacked, they too suffered losses. When the Poles won in the end and peace between Poland and Soviet Russia was concluded, they became part of a vast Poland, a country full of historic pride after having recovered Ukrainian and White Russian lands once ruled by Lithuanian grand-dukes and Polish kings. It was an authoritarian and repressive republic, dominated by  general Pilsudski until 1936. The West Ukrainians in what was now Polish Galicia remained Polish citizens until the moment they were occupied by the Red Army, as a direct result of the non-aggression treaty concluded by Ribbentrop and Molotov – an agreement reached between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that gave the latter country a brief respite, until 1941, while sacrificing Poland. When Poland was divided up, Western Ukrainians at home in Galicia joined the rest of Ukraine again, under Soviet rule.

Ukraine in 1920

Galicia, as it were, had its own traditions. The Austro-Hungarian monarchy prided itself of being more advanced industrially and in other respects than Czarist Russia. There existed a more civil form of what we would call today the rule of law than  was the case under the Russian czars. The civil service and the education system were fairly advanced. If Czarist- controlled Ukraine experienced pogroms intermittently, in Austria-Hungaria law and order was maintained and anti-semitism took on more subtle forms between 1850 and 1918.

Of course, Jewish American writers with roots in Galicia, like Isaac Bashevis Singer, have kindled our awareness of the “stedl” – the Jewish parts of town that were a characteristic feature of many cities in Austrian-ruled Galicia. The cities in Galicia were – if it is allowed to use a modern term – in some way or sense multi-national cities. There were Slovaks, Poles, Jews, Germans, Romanians, who had to get along and who got along peacefully in Ukrainian cities of Austrian-ruled Galicia. In the parts of Ukraine ruled by Czarist Russia, a similar mixture of populations could be observed; in that respect, they were not very different. In the sea ports, one could even find a considerable number of Greeks. The merchant class, or commercial bourgeoisie, tended to be in a way cosmopolitian in their outlook, contacts, commerical relations, and even, perhaps, in their manners. And this despite definite national cultural trends and the stubborn use of their maternal language, side by side with the official language and other languages that proved useful to those accustomed to do business. In comparison, the Ukrainian villagers and the servants of Ukrainian stock seemed almost deficient. Like any exploited, subjected class, they were robbed of the chance to unfold their human potentialities. It was this deprivation that produced a chip on their shoulder while the grip, that the Catholic church (in its Roman or Greek form) had on these “simple” minds, contributed to their deep-rooted anti-Judaism, very much in the same way as in Poland and in rural and small-town-Germany.

Ukrainian writers like Jura Soyfer, who was born in Charkov [Kharkov; in Ukrainian: Kharkiv] in 1912, had Hungarian, Jewish, Polish and German friends.(5)  This was also typical of Jewish intellectuals in other Ukrainian cities, especially in important cities like Lvov (known as Lemberg, under Austrian rule). Soyfer's father was a Jewish industrialist in Charkov.  This was also not untypical. In cities like Lvov [Lviv, or Lemberg], Charkov –  or Lodz (a textile-industrial city in Poland) – , Jews were either part of the industrial bourgeoisie, bankers, merchants, or they were clerks, accountants, engineers, etc.,  while in the villages, they tended to be roaming peddlers, local hawkers or shop owners, money lenders, horse dealers, and so on. Practically none were likely to be farmers, peasants, blacksmiths... The poor among them, and there were many, would have daughters who worked as maids, as household helps, usually in the mansions of the Jewish bourgeoisie, and sometimes in textile factories owned by Jews, while boys of poor families might get a badly paid job in a small shop or office. Though the class structure was reflected in the Jewish ambiente of Eastern European towns, the concrete form of this existence was different from that of many Ukrainians. This separate existence –  upheld by anti-judaist religious sentiments, by the historic existence of segregated quarters (“ghettos”),  by legally prescribed and also informal discrimination –  perpetuated stereotypes of the Jew as the Other, including such cliché-ridden ideas  as “the Jewish usurer” and “the clever Jewish businessman”: widespread, popular views held by members of all classes who disregarded both the proletarian reality of many poor Jews  (a majority) and the reality of emerging financial capitalist structures (which were by no means “Jewish” in character, as Jewish bankers played a role that was not different from the role played in this sector by Germans, Greeks, Frenchmen, Russians and so on). The concept of usury was appropriate to a medieval reality, and it vibrated with Catholic misgivings and preconceptions that condemned  interest-taking while supporting the inequality of a class society. But as a simple category, linked to a “holy” text that forbade interest-taking, it offered an easily comprehended simplistic view of the ills of society, and it also provided a scapegoat – something that was of course only possible because feudal lords and princes had indeed used some Jews as “strawmen” who would use princely money to make loans at usurous rates, taking interests on behalf of Christian rulers and taking a cut. These preconceptions of the exploitative, speculating Jew linger still, in the minds of many simple  Ukrainians,  butressed by the few among the Jewish community who (like so many others) engage in property speculation, commodity speculation, currency speculation, and so on. And as always, seducible – indeed,  gullible – simple minds are easily exploited politically, for concrete reasons and with concrete purposes in mind. The Nazis were neither the first nor the last to do this.

When Jura Soyfer was still very young, perhaps 7, perhaps older,  his family fled to Austria because his father was quite naturally opposed to the new Bolshevik government that ruled Ukraine after having defeated others vying for power in that part of Europe. In Vienna,  Soyfer was soon  active in the Association of Socialist High School Students when he was only 17.(6) The anti-Jewish sentiments of average Ukrainians, and memories of pogroms that remained alive in his family, were probably a factor that explains why a man like Soyfer turned towards the Left inspite of his bourgeois class background. This, too, was not untypical of Jewish intellectuals in Ukraine, Poland, or Russia. Socialism promised the emancipation and equality of all members of the human race. 

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the tendency to embrace socialist ideals – observed between 1890 and 1947 among Jewish intellectuals (and also among Jewish factory workers)  –  made Jews in many parts of Europe, including Ukraine, again a scapegoat. Now, in the minds of right-wing nationalist demagogues, it was seemingly clear that it was only due to them that the October Revolution had occurred and proved victorious, and then, again due to them, everything went wrong later on – especially the crimes committed under Stalinism were blamed on them. Thus everything that is seen as "bad" (or "evil") was and still is easily attributed to Jews by the nationalist simple minds. The examples of Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg seemed to prove the point, but also the examples of a writer like Jura Soyfer, a pioneer of modern theater like Meyerhold, and so on. The fact that Stalin, a native of a Christian country, Georgia, was educated in an Orthodox monastery, does not matter. Nor does it matter that many willing helpers working in Stalin's GPU (or NKWD) had a Russian orthodox, or Ukrainian Catholic background, whereas Jews were (proportionally) just as present as other groups among Stalin's victims. 

Today, the Jewish population in Ukraine is only a fraction of what it used to be before the Nazi German attack. Jews were rounded up in those years of Nazi occupation, often with the help of Catholic Ukrainians – or they joined the partisans, hoping to at least resist, and perhaps survive. Today, in Ukraine, it is a fact that a person risks being slighted and despised by the nationalists if he (or she) reveals that the father, mother, or uncle joined the struggle of the partisans. Those who did join, have died already. Their offspring are forced to keep silent about it among nationalist Ukrainians. As right-wingers ascend to power in the new government, and also in view of the general climate in many parts of the country, a number of Jewish businessmen are often eager today to profess support for the new regime, or so it seems at least. In all likelihood, most of them simply want to avoid the impression of being disloyal Ukrainians. The fear of pogroms may distantly echo in their minds.  And why should they side with Putin and with Russian nationalists?  Anti-jewish sentiments and right-wing nationalism abound in Russia, too. The stedl is a reality of the past; the cosmopolitanism of cities like Odessa has faded away, and those who do not fit into the neat categories preferred by Ukrainian nationalists and native-speakers of Russian are a marginalized, obscured minority that ducks and seeks cover, in an atmosphere of heated nationalisms.

When in 2004, Yanukovuch's victory in the run-off election on November 21 was contested, one could see already that Western politicians and media took sides. It seems clear that indeed there were some irregularities. But really more profound ones than in other countries (the U.S. included)? If there was voter intimidation, if  people cast votes in the names of those too old or sick to vote, those in homes for the ages or patients in hospitals, this is likely to have occurred in Western Ukraine (where it hurt Yanukovich) and in Eastern Ukraine (where it hurt Yushchenko). As in the race that put Gore against Bush, the outcome was predictably close – which rules out major cheating. With the country so polarized, it was a question of taking away a few percentage points from the adversary, by honest or dishonest tactics.  On November  26, 2004, USA Today wrote that Yushchenko's claim to have lost the election due to election rigging immediately “won significant international backing”  by the West.(7) According to this paper,  “Western observers […] cited voter intimidation”  – and this even though there was no secret police to interfere;  it could only be peer pressure in precincts heavily in favor of one candidate. They also claimed there was “multiple voting” (which is very difficult to become aware of, empirically, as an observer), as well as a good amount of other (unsubstantiated and unspecific) “irregularities.”(8) It sounds very much like the typical charges brought to bear in contested elections in the U.S., but “[t]he United States and the European Union said they could not accept the results as legitimate” even before the courts had investigated the claims of the Yushchenko camp.(9) It was clear that the American and European political "elites" were disappointed because the man they bet on (and financed, in part?), had lost this election. Therefore, they “warned the Ukrainian government of 'consequences' in relations with the West.”(10)  Pressing for a repeat election, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Senator John McCain all visited Kiev, in official or private capacities, in order to support Yushchenko. 

On the other hand, the fact that the Supreme Court of Ukraine in Kiev halted publication and official recognition of the election results until charges brought by the losing Yushchenko camp had been considered and until an investigation had been concluded, seems to speak for a normal process not unlike that preferred in the U.S. where the Supreme Court had the final say on the contested ballots in Florida.  Russia's president, Mr. Putin, seemed more calm and reasonable than many Western politicians; he said, according to USA Today, that “all claims relating to Ukraine's election should be settled by the courts.”(11) 

The contested 2004 elections thus revealed already both the conflicting interests of the West and of Putin, a readiness to meddle in Ukraine's internal affairs, and the rash way in which the West arrived at a conclusion regarding the “rigged election.”  It seems that in the West, only Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende took a view that was comparable to Putin's, in stating that “setting up a legitimate government is essential. Any objections to the electoral process must be looked into.”(12) 

USA Today noted, however, that the broad and sweeping charges brought by the Yushchenko camp made it difficult to substantiate them. According to Ukrainian election law, the Yushenko camp should have legally challenged “election results from individual voting districts” – district by district, substantiating its claims concretely in each case, rather than making a general statement that the election which gave Yushchenko 46.61 % of the vote (against Yanukovich's 49.46%) was unfair.(13)

It speaks in favor of the judicial process (and for the rule of law) that the court nonetheless voided the election and ordered that a new election should take place. And thus, in Kiev, for several days in  December, 2004, “tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters rallied on the main square of the capital in a […] show of force” – voicing their expectation that the “repeat presidential election”  should be “free and fair.” (14) 

The presidential election in Dec. 2004

The expectation that the West connected with a possible victory of Yuchchenko was clearly formulated in December 2004 by the Parisian newspaper Le Canard enchaîné: “Si l'opposition [i.e. Yushchenko] triomphe,  il faudra  alors causer de l'adhesion  de Kiev à Europe. C'est la prochaine étape, inéluctable...” [If the opposition (i.e. Yushchenko) triumphs, it will cause the adherence of Kiev (i.e. the Ukraine) to Europe (i.e., to the West, thus either the E.U. or NATO, or both). This is unescapably the next stage (of the political development aimed at by the West and by politicians like Yushchenko, who are backed by a considerable part of the Ukrainian population). ] (15) 

It is a sign of the political independence of Ukraine's legal system that the Supreme Court indeed ordered a repeat election. It took place on December 26, 2004 and resulted in Yushchenko's victory. Western media claim that Yanukovich lost because his adherents could not cheat again. This is possible. It is also possible that the strong bias of the media against Yanukovich and the heavy presence of Western politicians, but also the large amount of money spent during the campaign,  changed the mood of some voters who had supported Yanukovich in November. Did this meddling  prefigure key developments in Ukraine during 2013 and 2014?

In the presidential election that took place in 2010, Yanukovich came in first, perhaps because Ms. Timoshenko was discredited due to what seemed to be heavy involvement in corruption. Ordinary Ukrainians are indeed sick of corruption. In the next few years, the media had a new message for them. Yanukovich was corrupt, too, and surrounded himself with people who were corrupt. It was probably true.

The presidential election in  2010

During the years when Yanukovich was in power, the question of adhesion to the European Union became prominent. Again, the West took an active interest in internal politics of Ukraine, and this can also be described as "interference" or meddling. Again, the nationalist West Ukrainians were ready to produce a show of force in the streets, above all, in Maidan Square (Independence Square), a symbolic spot in the capital, Kiev. Again, the political camp that is less enthusiastic to join the E.U. and NATO, the camp that embraces neutrality as a constitutionally enshrined principle of the country, and that leans heavily on native speakers of Russian in Eastern counties and progressives in the West and center, proved defensive: When provocative violence (that should have been investigated independently by now) caused many victims on Maidan Square, members of parliament leaning toward Yanukovich were attacked, others were pressured, some votes may have been bought, but nonetheless the quorum of 75 percent necessary to unseat Yanukovich as elected president of the country was not attained. In a heated atmosphere of violence, exasperation, international condemnation by Western governments (but not, for instance, by India),  the legitimate president fled, and we could immediately witness an unconstitutional formation of a new government under a new interim president. It may remind some readers of another instance of regime change, when the democratically elected president of Brazil, Joao Goulart, fled first to Porto Alegre and then to Montevideo.

It is interesting that a German  – slightly left-leaning  – liberal social scientists, Claus Leggewie, declared in January, 2005, that there exists today, in his opinion, “no path that leads back to the Cold War.”(16)  It was an ominous attempt to be prognostic, for it revealed exactly the opposite of the manifest content of his statement. Everyone with a minimum of clear perception of the developments in Europe and the world, and with some analytic capacity, had to be gripped by a premonition or fear that another Cold War was already knocking on the door. Of course, it is no longer a Cold War between self-proclaimed “real socialism” (or etatist “communism”?) and modern oligopolistic capitalism, but plainly between major capitalist powers.  Leggewie described the factual  “prohibition to intervene in the inner affairs of states governed in authoritarian fashion” as a constitutive element of the past Cold War situation.  Quite obviously he does not imply that  the U.S. would not intervene in Greece, in South Korea, in Iran, in Indonesia, in Lebanon, in the Dominican Republic, in the Congo when Lumumba was toppled and murdered, in Brazil when Joao Goulart was ousted, in Greece again,  and of course Turkey and Cyprus, in Italy (during the straghe period), in Vietnam and Cambodia, in Guatemala (twice), in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, in El Salvador and Nicaragua, in Cuba, in Angola, in Mozambique,  in Haiti, in Columbia, in Venezuela, in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Egypt. And perhaps I leave out a few examples. In fact, they did intervene,  in direct or indirect fashion, sending the marines, sending experts, advisers, special forces, sending an entire army, supported by the navy and the  air force – there were always so many ways and shades and intensities of meddling violently in another nation's (and people's) public affairs. To enumerate merely such places of intervention can gives us an idea of the scope of American neo-imperialism. But it does not mean that the Soviet Union – or China, for that matter – did not meddle in the affairs of other countries after 1945 or '49; the Chinese most notably in the conflict between Vietnam and Cambodia, and by supporting movements in Angola and Mozambique that were financed by the U.S. and the apartheid regime, as almost everybody knew. And yet, Leggewie is right in one respect: there existed mutually acknowledged spheres of interest. The U.S. would not have dared to intervene militarily in Egyp under Nasser for instance, and Soviet threats reigned in Anglo-French aggression during the Suez crisis. Egypt was acknowledged as an ally of the Soviet Union that the government of that country would try to protect. The big superpowers were not keen to engage in direct military confrontation. Certainly not over Egypt. The U.S. signaled Britain and France (two subimperialist powers still invigorated, at times, by colonialist arrogance) that they better stop it.  Washington would not accept being pulled by them into a military confrontation with the Warsaw Pact.

These things are a matter that belongs to the past. The sole superpower that is left after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, and after an already weakened and discouraged Soviet Union was dismantled, is today a power filled with the belief that nothing can stop or limit it. It is ready, it seems, to take new risks – bigger ones than it was willing to take in the Cold War. Leggewie interprets this lack of risk-aversion in terms of America's democratic mission and missionary spirit, and he suggests that Europe (i.e., the E.U.) should be ready to compete with the U.S. in a joint effort to “spread democracy, freedom, and participation” in the world. This is exactly what got us into the “humanitarian war” on Yugoslavia and what destabilized Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya and Syria, perhaps for a very long time, at tremendous human cost – and all in the name of spreading democracy. It is what is adding fuel to the fire of war that burns in Eastern Ukraine, and it conjures up the spectre of a much wider and more horrible war.  Leggewie, however, regretted that “humanitarian interventions are still regarded with suspicion.”(17)  It is time to ask what it would mean if the West intervened militarily in open fashion in present day Ukraine, claiming that the increasing number of victims of a civil war that would never have erupted in the first place without Western meddling, prompts it to embark on another “humanitarian intervention.” It is also time to ask what other measures that the West has taken or is prepared to take might bring us closer to war. We have seen an escalation on the verbal level. We have seen efforts to wage an "economic war." We see NATO bases edging closer to Russia. And we see NATO planes and soldiers very close, indeed, to Russia's borders. Perhaps we should not take the warnings of high-ranking officials in Russia lightly that they will take only that much, and will act if their country's security is imperiled in ways that go too far.

- Martha Wols


(1) N.N., “In Ukraine, language is an election issue,” in: International Herald Tribune, Dec. 23, 2004, p.3. 

(2) N.N., “In Ukraine, language is an issue,” ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Regarding Jura Soyfer, see: Erich Hackl, "Die Farbe der Welt [The Color of the World], in: Junge Welt (Berlin),  Dec. 8-9, 2012, pp.10f.

(6) It was then that Soyfer published ´his first poem in Schulkampf,  a journal of this association. When Soyfer was in his early twenties, he was already publishing satirical poems in the German-language newspaper Arbeiter-Zeitung, the party newspaper of the  Social Democratic Workers Party of Austria (SDAP), a party that proved its independence by developing  so-called Austro-Marxist theoretical positions. Perhaps it was not only the fact that he was now living in Vienna which compelled Soyfer to write in German, rather than in Ukrainian or Russian of Jiddish, but also that other fact that Jiddish is so close to the contemporary German language. His choice thus resembles Kafka's – for Kafka could also have opted to write in another language, in Czech or in Jiddish, but he chose German. As Erich Hackl reports, Soyfer's Hungarian friend Marika Szésci admired his integrity, his humor, and his talent as a poet. Hackl mentions Soyfer's friendship with Erich Fischer and notes that Soyfer was later imprisoned in Austria by the fascists.  Released in February 1938, he was again arrested while attempting to cross the Austro-Swiss border. He was sent to Dachau, then to Buchenwald where he contracted typhoid fever. On February 1939, in the darkness of night, Soyfer died in Buchenwald, already a concentration camp, as the death camps were called in those years.) See: Erich Hackl, ibid.

(7) Anna Melnichuk, “Ukrainian court halts publication of elections results,” in: USA Today, Nov. 26, 2004, p.4.

(8) Anna Melnichuk, ibid.

(9) Anna Melnichuk, ibid.

(10) Anna Melnichuk, ibid.

(11) Anna Melnichuk, ibid.

(12) Anna Melnichuk, ibid.

(13) Anna Melnichuk, ibid.

(14) N.N., “In Ukraine, language is an election issue,” International Herald Tribune, Dec. 23, 2004, p. 3.

(15) N.N., “Ukraine et chouchous de Bruxelles,” in: Le Canard enchaîné, Dec. 8, 2004, p.1.

(16) Thilo Knott, interview with Claus Leggewie, “Kein Zurück zum Kalten Krieg” [No return to the Cold War), in: taz [die tageszeitung], January 22/23, 2005, p.3.

(17) Thilo Knott, interview with Claus Leggewie, ibid.


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