Mythmaking and Its Discontents in the 2004 Ukrainian Presidential Campaign

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article analyzes the phenomenon of how myths were inculcated into the Ukrainian electorate's conscience during the 2004 presidential campaign. The study of electoral myths makes it possible to formulate mechanisms to neutralize them.

Key words: electoral myths, manipulative techniques, presidential campaign, Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, Viktor Yushchenko

Introduction

The phenomenon of the Orange Revolution will remain the object of analysis for political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, and others for a long time. Were the events of fall-winter 2004 the spontaneous expression of the will of Ukrainians, or was it a carefully prepared action? What types of myths were exploited during the presidential campaign in Ukraine and how did they affect the electorate's choice? What mechanisms were used to implement the myths? Why did one type of myth take root among the people while others did not? What was the mass media's role and the level of their manipulation? Why did the regime's candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, who dominated most of the media, especially TV, lose this election?

Analysis of the role of electoral myths and the scale of their application in the 2004 presidential campaign in Ukraine will allow not only a better understanding of the situation in Ukraine during the election, but it will also help determine why millions of Ukrainians went out into streets to protest fraudulent election results.

Modern election campaigns are based on a particular myth or a system of myths, which, being a powerful means of influence, help determine particular values and regulations as well as structure the public's vision of the present and future. (1) There are many kinds of electoral myths and they all have different goals, which makes it possible to influence, with the help of one or more myths, almost all layers of society.

The mass media is a powerful means of inculcating myths into the public's conscience. Myths make it possible to simplify reality and reduce many of the existing contradictions to the primitive formula of the struggle between good and evil. They practically answer the following question: what is right and wrong? Moreover, myths give politicians a hero complex. Myths use images, which make them recognizable, retainable, and whole. Myths are irrational; their environment are human feelings and emotions, mostly want of love and approval, feelings of safety, duty and justice, a fear of uncertainty, and a sense of guilt. If there are no emotions, there is no identification with the hero, no shared feeling. (2)

Finally, myths always meet the expectations of the public and political environment. Myths help create a particular image of a candidate that perfectly suits a particular group of voters. The most typical myths used in election campaigns are the following:

1. Image myths--aimed at creating and/or reinforcing a candidate's positive image as well as tarnishing his/her rival's image

2. Technological myths--created for the realization of the immediate political tasks

3. Eternal myths--actualized at certain moments of an election campaign (3) All these types of myths were used during the 2004 presidential campaign. Moreover, their inculcating into the public's conscience was determined by the so-called key events of the electoral campaign (see table 1).

Image Myths

Image forms began to form at the official start of the election campaign in Ukraine. These types of myths were used for creating and/or reinforcing a candidate's positive image as well as tarnishing his/her rival's image. It is worth noting that Ukrainians adapted a very typical American political culture myth--the American dream. Its message is "I'm one of you, but I took pains and succeeded." (4)

During the Ukrainian presidential campaign, voters were presented with a slightly revised version of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's biography, the basis of which was the American dream myth. …