Why Donbass Votes for Yanukovych: Confronting the Ukrainian Orange Revolution

By Osipian, Ararat L.; Osipian, Alexandr L. | Demokratizatsiya, October 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Why Donbass Votes for Yanukovych: Confronting the Ukrainian Orange Revolution


Osipian, Ararat L., Osipian, Alexandr L., Demokratizatsiya


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. The truth is that almost half of all voters (12,848,087, or 44 percent) not only voted for another candidate, but also voted in a totally different manner, basing their choice on different criteria in accordance with different values and orientations. Thus, it would be too early to talk about the creation of a political nation. It may be only the beginning of such a process. It would be naive to attribute millions of votes for Yanukovych only to falsifications. Falsifications are an object for investigation by the courts and district attorneys.10 Scholars should admit that in the predominantly Russian-speaking east and in some of the south, Yanukovych was the obvious leader. The majority of his supporters, almost 4.5 million, are concentrated in the Donetska and Luhanska oblasts.

Why did Donbass almost unanimously vote for Yanukovych? Most of the attempts to answer this question stay within the limits of ideas about the zombification of the region's population. The real fundamental preconditions of the Donbass phenomenon have yet to be examined. Donbass is still terra incognita for the majority of Ukrainians. It is not a resort area such as the Carpathians or the Crimea, where people come to rest; it is not Kyiv, where people go to resolve their administrative issues; and there are no renowned historical or architectural sites such as one can find in Lviv, Lutsk, or Kamenets-Podilski. That is why a significant number of Ukrainians envision Donbass based on their old established stereotypes. …

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