End Note: EAST-WEST SPLIT IN UKRAINE HIGHLIGHTED BY
UKRAINE'S KUCHMA ENDS CAMPAIGN IN SYMONENKO STRONGHOLD. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 11 November wound up his election campaign in Donetsk Oblast, the Russian-speaking industrial homeland of his Communist challenger, Petro Symonenko. Kuchma avoided direct attacks on Symonenko but told voters at Yasynuvata near Donetsk that Symonenko's victory would bring price hikes and cause foreign investors to flee. Kuchma, speaking in Russian, stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between Ukraine and Russia but was also careful to underscore that Ukraine will remain an independent state. The Ukrainian president admitted that his relations with Belarus's Lukashenka have "somewhat worsened" but predicted that "the situation will soon improve." Reuters commented that Kuchma "hit the right chords" in Donetsk Oblast and was met with applause and "audiences packed with loyal supporters" (see also "End Note" below). JM
KUCHMA ADVISER UNEASY ABOUT RUNOFF TURNOUT. Kuchma's adviser and leading campaigner Dmytro Tabachnyk told journalists on 11 November that if the 14 November runoff turnout exceeds 56 percent, Kuchma will win re-election. A lower turnout, however, may spell victory for Symonenko, since communist voters are seen as more disciplined than Kuchma's and therefore more likely to come to the polls. Tabachnyk added that such discipline can also be observed in Russia, Belarus, and "other countries undergoing major transformations." According to Tabachnyk, Kuchma's staff must ensure higher turnout among "the young and middle-aged people who are quite comfortably integrated into the new social processes and new structures," Interfax reported. JM
EAST-WEST SPLIT IN UKRAINE HIGHLIGHTED BY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
With its cobbled streets and Austro-Hungarian-style buildings, Lviv is the heartland of Ukrainian patriotism. It was the center of Ukrainian national re-awakening in the 19th century and the engine of the drive for national independence in the Soviet era.
For most of incumbent President Leonid Kuchma's term in office, much of Lviv's and west Ukraine's population has been fiercely critical of him. They complain he has not done enough to nurture Ukraine's national identity or set it on a pro-Western and market-reform path.
Now, however, they are among his most avid supporters. At a public meeting last weekend, speakers from more than 20 parties and community organizations urged voters to support Kuchma in the 14 November runoff between him and Communist leader Petro Symonenko.
The elections have polarized the electorate between west and east. In the first round, Kuchma and other pro-democracy candidates gained more than 70 percent of the votes in the west. But in the east, leftist candidates gained a similar share.
The voting differences reflect the different histories of the two regions. West Ukraine was not incorporated into the former Soviet Union until during World War Two. Until then, it had been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire--except for the inter-war years, when it was annexed by Poland.
West Ukraine's population was fiercely pro-independence minded and always regarded the Communists, who united them with East Ukraine, as an alien occupation force. A Ukrainian guerrilla army known as the UPA fought against the Nazis during the war and continued battling against what it viewed as Communist Russian imperialism until the early 1950s.
One veteran UPA soldier who attended the Lviv rally last week, 80-year-old Mykhailo Palyvko, echoed the beliefs of many of the speakers at the rally, and of many ordinary West Ukrainians, who believe a vote for Communists is tantamount to being a traitor to Ukraine. Palyvko told RFE/RL that "we veterans of the UPA can only vote for Kuchma because Symonenko will bring us no good.... He wants the same thing as [Belarus President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka--to form a new Soviet Union. We did not fight for that, for a new Soviet Union. We fought for an independent, sovereign Ukraine."
In contrast to the west, central and east Ukraine had been in the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union since the 17th century and experienced intense Communist repression. This included an artificially induced famine in the 1930s that killed millions and mass executions of nationally conscious Ukrainians.
The region also experienced large-scale industrialization under Soviet rule. That brought in millions of Russian workers, thereby accelerating the region's Russification. While Ukrainian is the language commonly spoken throughout west and parts of central Ukraine, Russian is the dominant tongue in the east.
The area is also home to huge Soviet-era coal mines and other heavy industries. Most are now semi-dormant because they are no longer being subsidized by the state. That, in turn, has led to millions of workers being paid meager wages and in most cases having to wait months for even those payments. Many--especially elderly people with unpaid pensions--blame their plight on the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
In the west the main issue is independence. In the country's central and east regions, what counts most is obtaining a regular wage. Ukrainians in these regions have been attracted by Symonenko's Soviet-era rhetoric, and the ethnic Russians in the region approve of his promise to reinstate Russian as a state language. Kuchma, for his part, won the presidency five years ago with most of his support from the east, having promised massive injections of cash for the rust-belt industries there.
In the coal mining region of Luhansk, nearly half voted for Symonenko in the first round, and about a quarter cast their ballot for other leftist candidates. The first secretary of the Communist Party in the Luhansk region, Vladimir Zemlyakov, told RFE/RL that people will vote for his party because they are tired of living in poverty. He denied his party would reinstate autocratic rule and said elements of privatization might be retained.
But by no means all workers want a return to communist rule. Again, unlike West Ukraine, their considerations are economic rather than nationalistic. Many, like coal miner Yuriy Telnoy, fear a Communist return will cause yet more disruption and increase poverty. "I personally will vote for Kuchma," he told RFE/RL. "Because if the Communists return to power they will begin changing things again. As in the past, five or 10 people will have to share one meal. Therefore, I will vote for Kuchma."
Kuchma, meanwhile, hopes that desire for stability will help sway enough of the eastern vote. But the elections have once more demonstrated the profound differences between the east and west of Ukraine--a divide that no politician has yet been able to bridge.
The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague and
currently covering the Ukrainian presidential election from
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