This blog has a facility where I can review the hits (“pageviews”) by country of origin, number per day, week, month, and all-time. I was surprised to see that for the last several months the country from which the most hits have come has been Ukraine. During the past month, there have been 711 hits, while only 605 from the States. So far as I know, I am not acquainted with anyone who lives there, or anyone of Ukrainian descent in this country. Thus, I wonder who – there must be more than one – is interested in what I have to say.
As an independent country, Ukraine is new. Prior to 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, but for all practical purposes it was wholly subordinate to the Russian dominated USSR. An interesting feature of the Soviet era was that Ukraine was a member of the United Nations, the result of a compromise that gave the Soviets a greater voice in the General Assembly. Ukraine was briefly independent after World War I, but was absorbed into the Soviet Union after the civil war between the Whites and the Reds in the early 1920s. Prior to that it was part of the Russian Empire, and even further back it was split between medieval and early modern Poland, Lithuania, Russia, and Austria at various times. Nevertheless, its people maintained a separate ethnic identity. As part of the Slavic linguistic and cultural eastern European group, Ukraine straddles one of Samuel Huntington’s cultural “fault lines” – between the Western and the Orthodox civilizations. The eastern part of Ukraine is generally Russian Orthodox in religion and uses the Cyrillic alphabet, while the western areas tend to be eastern rite Roman Catholic and use the Roman alphabet. Most Ukrainians in the eastern area speak Russian, while those in the west speak Ukrainian. A large number are bilingual.
Ukraine has had a rocky transition from the Soviet state to its present independence, proving once again it is not easy to change from a totalitarian body politic to a liberal democracy. Ukraine is not quite there, but it is a lot closer than its neighbors Russia and Belarus.
Ukraine may not be particularly a free society in the Western sense, but it is not an authoritarian police state. The capital city Kiev has been exploding over the last few days. Hundreds of thousands of people came out into the streets throughout that nation over the past weekend to protest President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to scuttle the signing of a vaguely worded agreement that would have begun to pull Ukraine into the European orbit—and out of Russia’s. The police can’t clear the streets. The protesters have taken over city hall, as well as some other buildings. It does not appear that there will be a Soviet or Chinese communist style crackdown.
Yanukovich, the man the people in the streets are fighting, is the one they came out to fight in 2004-2005, in what came to be known the Orange Revolution. Those protests saw Ukrainians staying out in the streets in rain and the snow until they got fair elections that overturned Yanukovich’s falsified victory. A new, apparently fairer, election installed Viktor Yuschenko as president. Yanukovich came back to win election in 2010, defeating Yulia Tymoshenko, the prime minister, in a run-off. Subsequent to his election, Yanukovich is said to have engineered Tymoshenko’s conviction and prison sentence for alleged corruption, a move unpopular with the western, Ukrainian speaking population, and denounced by Western European leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel.
Indeed, the Orange Revolution and now the supporters of Yanukovich, whose native language is Russian, versus the Viktor Yuschenko-Tymoshenko bloc, seems to embody classic Huntington-style Clash of Civilizations along a cultural fault-line.
It will be interesting to view what happens in Ukraine during the next several weeks and months. Hope they keep reading my blog.