Ukraine gained independence in 1991 and political scientist Andrew Wilson has famously called the Ukrainians “an unexpected nation”. In 2012, however, the country is still mired in a post-Soviet swamp of unaccountable and corrupt governance amidst low quality of life and widespread poverty. For many in Western Europe it remains a grey, if not dark, place somewhere on the outskirts of Russia. But what British journalist Lancelot Lawton called “the Ukrainian question” in his 1935 address to the House of Commons Committee is as topical as ever. Each election in Ukraine is deemed crucial for the country’s statehood, and whilst it is usual for the regions of a country to be divided on ideological lines, here such a division is at its widest.
Polls show that opinions about the past, the present and the future of the country differ significantly across its regions. More than half of respondents in the country’s east and south grieve the split with the Soviet Union and would opt for integration with Russia, as well as the introduction of Russian as second state language. In its central and especially western areas, however, the mood is different: most people are not Soviet-nostalgic, and favour European integration and the Ukrainian language.
Public dispute about the country’s possible federalisation, let alone separation, proves unpopular. An argument from novelist Yuriy Andrukhovych about the possible divorce of Ukraine’s regions sparked thundering comments from all sides of the political spectrum and cultural establishment. Despite visible divisions, both feel positive about each other and are quite reluctant to let the other one go.
So it stays, unitary and divided at the same time, to face the October parliamentary elections. The electoral map is symbolic of the country’s specifics: the opposition has landslide support in Western and Central Ukraine, whilst the ruling Party of Regions and their partners from the Communist Party prevail in the East and South.