Blogs > Liberty and Power > So what if Ukraine split?

Nov 29, 2004 10:32 pm

So what if Ukraine split?

On Sunday the Donetsk region council in eastern Ukraine, who are supporters of Prime Minister ViktorYanukovych, announced they will hold a vote next Sunday for autonomy. On Tuesday there will be an emergency session to consider the plan to hold a referendum on 5 December. And officials from some other regions have met to consider seeking autonomy in case the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko becomes president. Readers will find the story here and here.

Sunday's announcement drew criticism from politicians on both sides of the Ukrainian political divide and from the European Union and Nato as they all sought to emulate Honest Abe Lincoln and insist on the unity of the state. Mr. Yanukovych said he did not support the moves for a referendum in an area dominated by Russian speakers that have always looked more towards Moscow than Kiev. Mr. Yushchenko said"Those people who will raise the issue of separatism will be held criminally responsible under the Ukrainian constitution." And outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, after talks with regional leaders who have threatened to demand autonomy, said he could not accept any division of Ukraine."My position is that we cannot allow the division of Ukraine," Mr. Kuchma said in televised remarks. His warning was echoed by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who said"the unity of Ukraine is fundamental." Nato Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer agreed that maintaining Ukraine's territorial integrity was essential."The sense of belonging to one nation is very important and on that basis a solution should be found," he said.

But why is it so essential to retain the present-day boundaries of Ukraine? It is true that in various past times there has existed an independent Ukraine or proto-Ukraine. It is also true that in various past times what is present-day Ukraine was ruled by one or more of several other states. Consider the history of Ukraine since the late eighteenth century. From the partitions of Poland until the First World War, Ukraine was ruled by Austria and Russia. The chaotic events following the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in 1918 prompted Ukrainian nationalists to try and create an independent Ukraine. Between 1917 and 1918, three separate Ukrainian republics declared independence. None survived. By 1921 the western part of Ukraine had been incorporated into Poland while the larger, central and eastern part became part of Soviet Russia. At the end of the Second World War, Western Ukraine was reunited with Eastern Ukraine as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian parliament (the Supreme Rada) declared Ukraine's independence on August 24, 1991. This was confirmed by referendum on December 1, 1991, with 90% approving the decision.

Ukrainians comprise 77.8%, Russians 17.3%, and a variety of other ethnicities 5% of the population, according to the December 2001 census. Orthodoxy is the dominant religion in the east, while in the west it co-exists with the Uniate (or Greek Catholic) church, which combines Orthodox service rites with allegiance to the Pope. For a brief analysis of divided Ukraine, go here. And for a useful background briefing, go here. I am reminded of the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the Czech republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993. Does anyone believe they should now be forcibly reunited?

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Arnold Shcherban - 12/1/2004


I suppose "it's possible to conceive of such division"
in abstract sense, and may be there is a tiny possibility
to this happening on the other than nationalism reasons you mentioned, but it is definitely not so in case of Ukraine.
The events of 1991 and the recent ones had little to do with actual needs of Ukraine as a state, and Ukranians as a nationality. The forces that divided and are trying to further divide Ukranian populus, all its nationalities included, now are external ones, primarily -
Russian and Western forces.
Historically, Ukraine was the land where Russian state/nation was originated on (Kiev-Rus), then - part of Russian Tsarist empire for about 250 years before it became part, Republic of Soviet Union after 1917 and remained in that capacity up to 1991.
All over its past history, except the very recent one,
Ukraine experienced many devastating invasions coming from the West and the East-South: the troops of German and Polish knights, then Armies of Polish Kings and Barons, which would conquer big parts of Ukranian territory, making them their own, turning the peasants living there into slaves.
The Turks and Tatars competing with the Western Kings and Tsarist Russia for Ukranian lands with rich soil and other natural and mineral resources would frequently attack it from another direction.
Finally, Ukranian nationalists recognized the neccesity
to seek protection from the closest, ethnically and historically, neigbor - Russia. In 17-th century under the military and political leadership of Bogdan Chmelnitsky Ukraine joined Tsarist Russia, thus forming one state.

During WWI, Civil War in Soviet Russia, collectivization,
Stalin's repressions and, mostly during WWII the great majority of Ukraine's cities, towns and villages were completely destroyed and many millions of people lived on its territory killed. In fact, Ukranian soil, more than perhaps any other one in Europe, literally soaked in
peoples blood.
It should be noted that after all these catastrophic for the country events of 20th century, especially after the WWII, the greatest material and moral help would come from Russia, later - from other Republics of the Siviet Union. Great part of Ukraine was literally built anew,
after driving Nazis out.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union, with consequent separation of Belarussia and Ukraine actually was a "tragedy", as it was recently characterized by Putin, and not only for people of Russia, but for the two other
nationalities, as well. I would add that the entire planet, Third World at the most, needs military strong, financially and economically independent, though at the same time democratic Russia as the counter-balance to the world's single superpower - USA and as the instrument of international order.
That dissolution was accompanied by gigantic by its scale, stupidity and consequences temporary economical and financial disintegration and mostly artificial, chaotic privatization implemented through whole-sale corruption and gangsterism. The above actions caused tremendous empoverishment of about 70% of population (which didn't do well even before that, but after got really desolated) on both sides of the border - the most tragic result of the "capitalization" Western, and especially US media, traditionally avoid to touch on, while advertising the number and riches of Russian and Ukranian oligarchs and Mercedeces owned by "new Russians", most of whom are former thugs or security officers turned mobsters. Not mentioning deadly nationalistic conflicts and wars on other former Russian territories (Chechnya, Georgia, Tadgjikistan).

The current tug-war between West and Russia for Ukraine cannot conclude with victory for fooled Ukranian people, which would be screwed no matter whose side they eventually will be pulled on.
The choice they actually offered is: Putin, who with the US eye turned blind through the bribe of support for the world war on terror, gives a lot of promise to become one more Third World country's strongman - "moderate", by definition of American political thought and
Bush - prememptive war (against desperately weak and hungry nations) lover hoping to strategically and economically choke Russia, by surrounding it from all sides by NATO countries.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/30/2004

I wonder if it's possible to concieve of such a division based not on the abstract and corrosive norms of nationalism but on functional differences and divisions that just made the larger state hard to manage? The essential component of this would have to be non-nationalistic states with strong minority protections. ... plausible?

chris l pettit - 11/30/2004

on both sides...all it does is create differences, prejudices, and artificial hierarchies. personally, i think that this actually supports a split due to the fact that where people live in between two arbitrary invisible lines on a mapshould have no relevance to anything anymore, as the nation-state has been shown to be a failed concept in almost every way imaginable. "Senses of belonging" are those things that perpetrate the assigning of "evil" in the world. i would encourage a reading of William Waldron's essay in "Buddhism and Science" by B. Alan Wallace for a scientific, logical, rational, and Buddhist critique of the silliness that is intstitutional culturalism and nationalism. Richard Dawkins also has a fantastic new book out that addresses the issue from an evolutionary biology perspective.


Mike Linksvayer - 11/29/2004

Just kidding. US govt officials are saying similarly stupid things, see my post. The wikipedia pages on the Ukraine and the election have lots of good background info.