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December 31, 2013 / Congau

Ukraine Between East and West

For those of us who are restricted to following the news of the world through the eyes of the Western press, the state of politics on our planet may seem soothingly simple. There is an eternal battle between Western freedom and Eastern tyranny, and anyone with a healthy state of mind is naturally on the side of the former.

The great theater taking place in the capital of Ukraine seems to be a clear-cut model of this global struggle. Hundreds of thousands take to the streets to demonstrate their will to belong to the European world of freedom and oppose the Russian despotism of their president.

Their numbers sure are impressive, but let’s for a moment step back from the present streets of Kiev and recall one or two easily remembered facts from just a few years ago.

President Yanukovych was actually elected by a popular vote in 2010 and back then there was already a common presumption that he would pull his country away from the EU and in the direction of Moscow. (For some it may even be a surprise that he hasn’t been even more pro-Russian.) That’s what was expected of him on the day of his election, and knowing that a majority of the Ukrainian people chose him. True, he didn’t win by a landslide but a majority is still democratically valid, isn’t it.

Now we may ask if any of the people filling the central square these days were among his electoral supporters three years ago. Probably not many, if any. They were among the 45 percent, or 11 million people who then voted against a closer relationship with Russia, and they haven’t changed their view since.

With this in mind the sizable numbers in the streets constitute nothing new. It is a manifestation of an already existing deep divide in the Ukrainian society – one that was decided in the last election and will have to be played out again in the next one. One part of the country wants to go west and the other one turns east, and there are deep historical reasons for that which are not readily observable on the surface of the streets of Kiev today.

The western leaning part of the country was not in majority at the last election, and even though it is able to crowd the streets it may still be a minority.

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