˲    в         ˲    ˲    ˲ò            

[The Political Analysis of Postcommunism. Kyiv: Political Thought, 1995, pp. 205-211.]

Previous     Contents     Next

Problems of Internal Political Geography: The Ukrainian Example


One of the most noticeable traits of the states created after the collapse of the USSR is the rapid formation and deeply underscored heterogeneity of the political landscape. In but a few years monoparty homogeneity was replaced by a variety of movements and parties. But they are but one component in the mosaic of the political field; they are in turn conditioned by the political likes and dislikes of the population which inhabits specific regions of a given country. And those preferences are governed by very deep factors.

In contemporary political discourse the use terms of geographical opposites is both widespread and inconsistent. Juxtaposing East/West, North/South, and New World/Old World indicates in a condensed, metaphoric form a complex of socioeconomic and political constants, which constitute the relief or "geography" of the sociocultural landscape. It has long been recognized that political geography uses historical-cultural geography as its matrix, but acquires legitimacy and completion only through the mobilizing work of active subjects interested in the articulation of sociocultural differences in order to gain access to power.

1. The Historical Basis of Ukraine's Political Geography

Ukraine's social and cultural heterogeneity is the result of the capricious and free-ranging play of historical circumstances. Ukraine's western region, Galicia and Bukovyna, /206/ were under the Habsburg Empire for a long period of time. Then it went to Poland and Rumania, and during World War II was joined to Ukraine. The northern and eastern regions of Ukraine had belonged to the Romanovs, and after 1917 they became a part of the USSR. The eastern and northern regions of present-day Ukraine have been inhabited by both Russians and Ukrainians peoples, forming a rather mixed population over the last three centuries. The industrialization of Donbas and steppe regions resulted in new waves of migration, accompanied by an interaction and transformation of cultural models. The present borders of Ukraine were fixed in 1954, when Crimea became a part of Ukraine. Most of the Crimea's inhabitants are first or second generation immigrants to the peninsula.

The historically conditioned "nationalization" of the western part and "internationalization" of the eastern part have been important, yet distinct, trends. They have formed mutually different "ways to feel, to think, and to act" (Durkheim). On the level of everyday life images of "real" and "false" Ukrainians have taken shape. The Galicians of Western Ukraine see themselves as the only "real" Ukrainians and look upon their compatriots of the Dnipro basin as denationalized "Little Russians" (malorosy). Ukrainians of Central and Eastern Ukraine view Galicians as ultra-nationalistic "Banderites," "Westerners," and in the East one often hears that even the Ukrainian language and national symbols are not "ours" but "Galician" and thus somehow "foreign." Thus a deep schism has evolved between at least two Ukraines within one Ukrainian state.

This estrangement has also made itself felt on the interpersonal level. For example, Ukrainians who were taken to Germany in the 1940s treated each other with distrust and vestiges of their mutual "otherness" persist in emigration in America and Europe.9 Thus, in Ukraine the geographic opposition "West/East" is overriding. Here, "East" also represents Ukraine's North and South, because in a physical sense Galicia and Bukovyna constitute Ukraine's "Far West." Certainly, it is accidental but highly symbolic that a central feature of Slavic mythology is this same geographical axis /207/ the sun's movement from the bright West to the dark East.10 While the ancient Slavic world view the border of East and West had its place and was fixed on a certain center, the discourse of present day politicians and sometimes that of the mass media also tend to confirm this duality based on the different content of the two Ukraine's national selfidentification.11

How did the Presidential election reflect Ukraine's political geography?

Observers without great respect for sociology, have stated, not without irony, that the de facto function of this discipline is to wear itself out in pursuit of authentic corroboration of what everyone already knows. And, in fact, everybody in Ukraine knows the East and West are different. Sociologists, however, insist on more strictly grounded arguments when making their findings.12

Ukraine's geographic heterogeneity became clearly evident in the late 1980s and early '90s. It has become evident that all those newly-organized movements and parties which pretend to represent nationwide Ukrainian interests lean on particular regions for support, nationalists on the West and socialists on the East.13 At the same time, nationwide polls have measured significant differences in the political activity among inhabitants of western, eastern, and southern Ukrainian inhabitants. Galicia and Crimea are the two zones where the population is most active in political life.14 In these regions sociologists have measured the highest level of readiness for various forms of protest.15 Moreover, even a lay observer can understand that the energy level of political passions in the regions has its source in different, at times mutually exclusive, goals and values of the state system and the guarantee of sovereignty.

Observers and commentators have correctly pointed out the tendency of political and cultural-historical regionalization. However, only election returns can illustrate and precisely measure political watersheds and ravines. First of all, through expression of their preferences Durkheim would say "their mode of political action" the population has drawn new parallels and meridians, expressed their attitude /208/ toward the past and present, and pinned their hopes and expectations on their particular candidate. The pre-election data paint a picture of similarly homogeneous politically opposed poles, of separate arenas where neither of the main candidates had real positive support. Thus Ukraine's center of political gravity is this arena of political ambivalence.

Both the voters and candidates through their actions defined the political geography of Ukraine. In the election campaign the candidates' very names came to allude to not only historical-cultural differences, but also differences in the ability to overcome the economic crisis have been articulated by their real names in the pre-election competition. In parts of the one-industry hyper-industrialized East and South there were limited resources to halt factory closings and chronic hidden unemployment. The candidates paid this special attention, exploiting it to maximum political advantage. The question remains to what degree the difference in choice of who to vote for was governed by differences in the candidates' programs, how long a given presidential candidate spent campaigning in a given region, what was the content of their campaign rhetoric, and how was it received. It became clear to us that each of the main candidates appealed mainly to his own spatially localized political base, that the structure of political geography made it possible for the struggle for votes could be successful only in areas of political ambivalence, but not in the other candidate's territorial base. The structure of the political space forced the candidates to stress differences between "us" and "them," between eastern Ukraine and western Ukraine.

The high level of voter identification with their particular candidate shows that the goal of attaining high state power, was accomplished by means of instilling in the popular consciousness images of quite different political aspirations, pretensions, and attitudes. Thus, political structuralization was created not only by joint actions of the population but also by the actions of candidates themselves. The latter gave legitimacy to existing cultural and socioeconomic differences and based their campaigns on them. Thus, in the second half of the 1990s we have a situation where political /209/ capital in Ukraine is mobilized, among other things, by intensively exploiting regional differences. And then, having unreserved support in one part of the country, someone can completely neglect the other part. This is what really happened during the presidential elections.

Currently these differences have become a tool of every politician's spade-work, an instrument of his everyday troubles and concerns. The regions as such, in voting for their candidates to Parliament and high government office, have begun to compete for domination of a politically, culturally, and socially heterogeneous Ukraine. The ability to differentiate and identify became the stock in trade of both the politicians and population of the regions during the second presidential elections; this was understood and became a fact for every astute voter and politician.

2. Conclusions from Political Geography for Sociology

Sociology, like politicians, is sensitive to differences. Within a difference in the mode of political action, a sociologist can see (to use Durkheim's terminology) differences in "ways thinking and feeling" or differences in mentalitet (using a modern term of the French Annales school). In other words, the sociologist tends to view a "region of residence" as a factor, which determines in advance the individual's ideas, emotions, everyday verbal reactions, and physical responses. The sociologist recognize that this factor can hamper or neutralize the influence of other factors. It has been noted that Russians living in Galicia react to and evaluate events according to local trends. Ukrainians living in the East and in Crimea on the whole reproduce the way of thought and action widespread in these regions as a whole.16 Not ethnic identification, but immersion in and subordination to the general atmosphere, has become a major variable, reducing considerably the role played by ethnic factor.

Data from sociological surveys17 in particular indicate that inhabitants of the western, more agrarian oblasts have a higher level of appreciation for the prestige of occupations /210/ which traditionally involve mental labor, such as teacher, professor, scientist, engineer, military officer, and nurse. The calling of medical doctor ranked fifth place, above those of lawyer, member of parliament, and businessman. By contrast, these professions receive lower ratings in the eastern and central regions. In the highly industrial East occupations involving physical labor are more highly regarded. Among them are seamstress, construction worker, locksmith, and machine operator, but even there they place in the lower part of the rank hierarchy.

These data indicate that each region has its own distinguishing characteristics, which reflect the specifics of how the occupational world is seen (way of thinking). In the western oblasts, evaluations of prestige are less exalted and extreme. Respondents avoid giving extreme ratings to highly prestigious and non-prestigious occupations. The dominant theme is moderation in evaluation, which stems from ideas about the undoubtedly good features of all callings. But the respect retained concerning mental labor indicates an obvious distancing from how the state currently evaluates them, reflecting a dominant way of thinking. In western Ukraine the population tries to preserve the scale of prestige, not to inflate some occupations and denigrate others in extreme fashion. In the Center and East more radical assessments prevail. This coincides with state actions during the crisis period with regard to professions of high-skilled mental labor and of low-skilled physical labor, to economize on remuneration in the state sector of the economy across the board and thus accord representatives of mental and physical labor the same esteem.

The West differs from Central and Eastern Ukraine by demonstrating greater orientation toward individualism and less affinity for collective ways of achieving success. Here, income differentiation is perceived with less pain and more tolerance. The need for such differences is more often understood and accepted as a norm of democratic society. Less frequently voiced is the idea that income differences are undeserved and that government action should equalize them.

The combination of political action and ways of think-/211/ing and feeling assume the form of a more or less definite trend, observed where the issue concerns democracy and economics as well as the nature and goals of individual or group behavior. This combination is of historical origin, but it is also influenced by the present situation, the structure of the economy, and burden of crisis, which various regions, according to their population structure, feel and understand differently. In this sense we can speak of "region" as an independent differentiating factor, which determines in advance not only the heterogeneity and tension of political and social arena in Ukraine, but also how the inhabitants of different regions interpret current events and strategies of development.

3. Conclusions

Thus, the years of independence have witnessed Ukraine's political structuralization and stratification, the evolution of its "political geography." This means that historical, cultural, economic, and residential differences have acquired a political form and have been debased to the level of a weapon in the political struggle for dominance. Accenting them has become one of the rules of the political game. Politicians i.e., people who in the real world practice the art of divide and conquer, use intimidation, and apply force have already fallen prey to the temptation of emphasizing and exacerbating such differences for exclusively their own political gain. In Ukraine the main problem is not one of nationalism but the hardening of its mutually opposed fields of economic, social, cultural, and political differences. This problem may assume different guises and manifest itself in heated discussions on, say, the status of the Russian language, the level of Crimean autonomy, or federalization. And one would have to understand nothing to not see what lies ahead if this is viewed only as a problem of nationalism.

9. Bohdan Tsymbalisty, "The Political Culture of the Ukrainian People," Suchasnisf, 1994, No. 3, pp. 94-105; No. 4, pp. 7790. (in Ukrainian).

10. M. V. Popovych, World View of the Ancient Slavs (Kyiv, 1985), pp. 55-62.

11. John Armstrong, "Nationalism in the Former Soviet Empire," Problems of Communism, XLI: 1, January-April 1992, pp. 121-133.

12. The Social Image of Youth (Kyiv, 1990), pp. 25-33 (in Russian). See also: "Political Portrait of Ukraine," Bulletin of the Democratic Initiatives Research and Educational Center, December 1993, No. 5 (in Ukrainian).

13. A. Wilson, A. Bilous, "Political Parties in Ukraine," Europe-Asia Studies, XLV:4, 1993, pp. 693-703.

14. Yevhen Holovakha, "Political Involving of Population: Level of Information, Activity, Competence," Politolohichni chytannia, 1992, No. 2, pp. 18-27 (in Ukrainian).

15. N. Panina, "Popular Readiness to Social Protest," Politolohichni chytannia, 1992, No. 2, pp. 28-38 (in Ukrainian).

16. G. Bremmer, "The Politics of Ethnicity: Russians in the New Ukraine," Europe-Asia Studies, XLVI:2, pp. 261-283.

17. S. Oksamytna, S. Makeev, "Sociological Aspects of the Political Geography in Ukraine: A Political Map of Ukraine," Bulletin of the Democratic Initiatives Research & Educational Center, 1995, No. 5.

Previous     Contents     Next


:   , . -- . , , , , , , . . . . )


i ii, ii Ctrl+Enter.