Why Donbass Votes for Yanukovych: Confronting the Ukrainian Orange Revolution

Article excerpt

Abstract: The 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine attracted the attention of the international community and became known as the Orange Revolution. The Orange Revolution symbolized the birth of civil society in Ukraine and created a feeling of great optimism. However, nearly half of the population voted for Viktor Yanukovych and disapproved of the Orange Revolution. They not only voted for another candidate, but also voted in a totally different manner, making their choice based on different criteria in accordance with a different set of values and orientations. It would be naive to attribute millions of votes for Yanukovych only to falsifications. This article explores the question of why Donbass, Yanukovych's stronghold, almost unanimously voted for him. Donbass is terra incognita for many Ukrainians and the broader international community. A significant number of Ukrainians envision an industrial Donbass based on old stereotypes. This article considers these stereotypes, the history of their development, and their influence on the electoral campaign. It addresses important characteristics such as roots, culture, the concept of the Donbass character, and the mass media's role in shaping public opinion. This article asserts that despite Yanukovych's loss, Donbass business and political elites still have the potential to influence major socioeconomic processes in the country and see their future only within Ukraine.

Key words: Donbass, elections, local identity, Orange Revolution, stereotypes, Ukraine

Introduction

The 2004 presidential election in Ukraine attracted the attention of the international community and became known as the Orange Revolution. This extraordinary event in the political life of the post-Soviet world, along with the preceding socioeconomic and geopolitical transformations in Ukraine, are reflected in a considerable block of literature, of which we would give special credit to the works of Kuzio (1996, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2005), (1) Karatnycky (2005), (2) Matsuzato (2001, 2005), (3) Niculae and Popescu (2001), (4) Shulman (1998, 2002, (5) Stepanenko (2005), (6) Wilson (1995, 2002, 2005), (7) Zimmer (2004), (8) and others. These authors present different aspects of political life and major political events in Ukraine's social, economic, and other contexts. Most of the research until now has focused on the democratic process of the Orange Revolution, while views, and, more important, the reasons why eastern Ukraine consistently votes for its candidate are unknown, at least in the ethno-cultural context of the region. The March 2006 parliamentary election results show that their choice is not accidental, but consistent and well grounded. This article attempts to answer the question concerning the cultural grounds and the role of the media in Donbass's voting pattern.

A quote that comes from the work of Niculae and Popescu, published in 2001, perfectly describes the future of political life in Ukraine:

   Presidential elections of 2004 will hardly become a moment of final
   choice, as the basis of conflict between political elites lies not
   in competition of political forces but in national
   self-identification. The elections will only define the direction of
   its development in short-range or maybe in medium-range outlook.
   They will display the current psychological situation in society.
   More over, the elections will legitimate the process of political
   elite rotation. (9)

There are often comments by well-known politicians, journalists, and ordinary citizens who are not indifferent to the political events that appear on the central TV stations, in the newspaper Day, and in other media outlets. These commentators talk about the birth of the Ukrainian political nation and civil society in Ukraine with great optimism. One may get the impression that these commentators and supporters of Viktor Yushchenko do not take into consideration the fact that nearly half of the population voted for Viktor Yanukovych, who served as prime minister from November 2002 to December 2004, and condemned the Orange Revolution. …