Is the vote in the most recent local elections bringing again to life one century old borders in Western Ukraine? For the very last fifteen or twenty years, we have heard about the idea of the two Ukraines: one being pro-Western and mainly ethnic Ukrainian (west and centre of the country), the other one being pro-Kremlin and mainly ethnic Russian (south and east), with a blurred boundary between them. But what if the growing support to Ukrainian nationalist party Svoboda is reviving an old, alternative political divide dating from the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire?
It is useful to read Andreas Umland’s brief explanation on the party system in Ukraine:
“Since the collapse of the USSR, the majority of political parties and groups represented at different times in the Verkhovna Rada [Parliament] could to a greater or lesser extent be classified as belonging to one of two camps in the Ukrainian political landscape. One the one hand, there is the camp of pro-Western and pro-European national democrats. From time to time their electoral associations featured individual politicians with a nationalist past [...], but on the whole the camp preserved its general liberal direction. On the other hand, there is a more or less pro-Russian, latently eurosceptic, often anti-American and partly anti-liberal group of parties, which in the 1990s was dominated by the Communist Party, and is now dominated by the Party of Regions.”
But is this relatively consolidated, geographically distributed system starting to fade away? It is impossible to have an answer now, given the very recent nature of the changes, but it is clear that the emergence of Svoboda in the 2010 local elections is having an impact, which is self-evident in geographic terms. The party is now governing three regional councils: Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk. What do those provinces have in common? From the point of view of history, their boundaries almost match those of Eastern Galicia, the Ukrainian-majority region that was included during the whole19th century in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and that later were the core area of the short-lived West Ukrainian People’s Republic (Ukrainian acronym ZUNR). We can still have the ball rolling and say that another two provinces where that party surpassed a 6% vote share (Volyn and Rivne) draw, together with the other three, the south-eastern border of interwar Poland. Meanwhile, the rest of Ukraine was subject to Tsarist Russia and, later, to the Soviet Union.
(In the first map below (source here), you can see the share of vote in 2010 for Svoboda in each region -dark provinces are Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk, and orange provinces are Volyn and Rivne. In the second map (source here) you can see the extent of the ZUNR and check how it matches the present provinces where Svoboda won the 2010 election.)
Does this have any relationship to the historical development of Ukrainian nationalism? I do not know, but something can be said for sure: Ukrainian nation building developed in a very different way if Western Ukraine (first Austro-Hungarian, then Polish) or Central/Dnieper Ukraine (first Russian, then Soviet) are considered. The following paragraph by professor Andrew Wilson in The Ukrainians. Unexpected nation (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2002) very briefly summarizes it:
“If the ZUNR had offered an alternative concept of Ukrainian identity with a stronger civic base and a more obviously European orientation, the redivision of Ukrainian lands in 1918-1922 (Galicia and Volhynia went to the new Polish state, Transcarpathia to Czechoslovakia, Bukovyna to Romania; the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic took most of the rest, minus Crimea, which was a separate Autonomous Republic) led to the development in the western territories of a radical ethnonationalist that was as much anti-Russian as anti-Polish.”
We can now enter a time warp and read what Wilson says about the national mood during the last days of the USSR:
“Ukrainian nationalism and the idea of a ‘Central European’ Ukrainian identity now had to compete with a Soviet Ukrainian identity that largely coincided with the East Slavic idea after the Ukrainianisation and internationalist possibilities of the 1920s faded away and High Stalinism turned inwards.”
What are the voters of Svoboda thinking about when they support that party? Umland points out that it may be a reaction to the “very serious social consequences for Ukraine” of the “international financial crisis”, or it may be produced by “the collapse of the “Orange” camp [note: “Orange” refers here to the Ukrainian national, pro-European camp]” or even by the “the humiliation of Galicians by the new Ukrainian education minister”, or by a more or less disguised support to Svoboda by the Party of Regions itself as a part of “political machinations that tried to split the ukrainophile national vote”.
Some or all of these explanations may be right. I simply want to note that there also may be a complementary reason to this: the depth and persistence of the Ukrainian national building in Galicia and the relatively small impact of Soviet Russification there. Differences were already in place before First World War, as Ivan L. Rudnytsky wrote in 1977:
“During the pre-World War I era the Ukrainian national movement had undoubtedly made remarkable strides. But on the whole, except for the small Galician section, Ukraine in 1914 was not yet a fully crystallized nation.”
And still more:
“The rise of a strong and dynamic Ukrainian national community in Galicia radiated back, especially after 1905, on Ukrainian lands in Russia. Thus there took shape the concept of Galicia as the “Ukrainian Piedmont”: a small land with a great mission, called to serve as the geopolitical base and rallying point in the liberation struggle of the entire Ukrainian people.”
Could it be that Ukrainian Galicians still have the same image of themselves as their predecessors had one century ago, with the Russophile Party of Regions as the new evil to be defeated? Only time will tell.
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