EU integration needed, not secession

Kyiv Post, March 22, 2007

Mar 21 2007, 23:03

Strong and persistent political divisions between western and eastern Ukrainians are real, but it is extremely doubtful that a secession of western Ukraine would be as beneficial as Dmitry Koublitsky claims  [“For an independent Western Ukraine,” March 7]. My recent book, entitled Cleft Countries: Regional Political Divisions and Cultures in  Post-Soviet Ukraine and Moldova, found significant differences between western and eastern Ukrainians on major political issues, such as support for political parties, presidential candidates, NATO membership, relations with Russia, the status of the Russian language, and privatization. Western and eastern Ukrainians even celebrate different holidays.

These divisions resulted from distinct historical experiences in western regions, which previously belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, and eastern regions, which have experienced much longer Russian and Soviet rule. Western Ukraine became united with eastern Ukraine only as a result of the Soviet-Nazi pact of 1939 and the Soviet victory in World War Two. The 2003  Institute of Politics Survey, the results of which have not changed much since then, shows that a minority in Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia (20 percent) and Volynia (27 percent) compared to the majority of respondents in eastern Ukraine (68 percent), express a favorable attitude towards the incorporation of Ukraine by Russia in 1654. Western Ukrainians display negative views of the Bolshevik Revolution, while positive evaluations of the Bolshevik Revolution prevail in eastern Ukraine, with the notable exception of Kyiv.  Similarly, the majority of residents of Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia (76 percent) and Volynia (62 percent) agree that veterans of the UPA, translated in English as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, should be granted status as war veterans, while only a minority of eastern Ukrainians, ranging from 11 percent in Crimea to 33 percent in Kyiv city, support this proposition.

Historic Ukrainian nationalist and pro-independence leaders are much  more popular in western Ukraine than in eastern regions, while the attitude towards Soviet Communist leaders and Russian tsars shows the opposite regional pattern. For example, the absolute majority of respondents in historic western Ukraine (67 percent in Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia, and 55 percent in Volynia), compared to  a minority of respondents in historic eastern Ukrainian regions (31 percent), express a positive attitude towards Ivan Mazepa. Similarly, 85 percent of respondents in Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia and 71 percent in Volynia, compared to 46 percent in eastern Ukrainian regions, express a positive attitude towards Mykhailo Hrushevsky. Half of the respondents in Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia, compared to about one-sixth of the respondents in historically eastern Ukraine,  have a positive attitude towards Symon Petliura.

The overwhelming majority of eastern Ukrainians have a favorable opinion of Peter the Great, while a minority of western Ukrainians have a negative view of the Russian tsar. About half of the respondents in eastern Ukraine, compared to a small minority of  western Ukrainians, express a favorable attitude towards Vladimir Lenin. Approximately one third of eastern Ukrainians, including 47 percent in Donbass and 43 percent in Crimea, in contrast to about one-twentieth of western Ukrainians, have a positive view of Josef Stalin.

In spite of these differences, Ukrainians have managed so far to live  peacefully. An attempt at secession by western Ukraine, like similar attempts by eastern regions, could spark a violent conflict, like ones which happened in neighboring Moldova, Russia, and Georgia. In addition, such a secession would have a negative effect on the economic well-being of the seceding regions. In spite of the looming Kosovo independence, which could foster similar drives for independence by regions in other divided countries, it is doubtful  that breakaway regions of Ukraine would be recognized by the international community or admitted into the European Union.

Membership in the EU is an issue which can potentially unite western  and eastern Ukrainians, if current EU leaders were in possession of more vision and less prejudice concerning Ukraine, which is often not even regarded as part of Europe. A Razumkov Center poll in September  2006 shows that majorities of western Ukrainians (85 percent) and eastern Ukrainians (55 percent) would support Ukraine joining the EU. Ukraine, like various nations in the EU, should be able to overcome its regional differences.

Ivan Katchanovski, Ph.D., is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Canada.