Poor Ukraine. It’s suffering a national bout of political dyspepsia, and almost no one seems to care.
Well I do—it’s a subject close to the homefront. So, for the sake of domestic tranquility I offer this wildly partisan analysis of recent events there.
The capital city, Kiev, has since November witnessed huge, sometimes violent demonstrations in the city’s main plaza, Independence Square, the so-called Maidan, as police clash with protestors and different factions confront each other.
At odds are two unyielding blocs of the Ukrainian people separated by politics, culture, language, future ambitions and, largely, regions: Eastern and Western Ukraine.
The protests erupted when Ukraine’s president, Victor Yanukovich, scrapped a deal that would have brought closer economic ties with the European Union. Instead, he chose to favor the country’s traditional patron, Russia. This was, so to speak, a red flag for millions of mostly Western Ukrainians, who have long sought closer ties to Western Europe.
Eastern Ukraine, for its part, feels a strong kinship with Russia and a strong measure of nostalgia for the Soviet Union. Many Soviet leaders had roots in Eastern Ukraine, including Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Kirichenko. During the Brezhnev era, over half the members of the Politburo claimed Eastern Ukrainian origins, and the old Red spirit still haunts the region. Even now, as the country seeks to revive and make Ukrainian the undisputed national language, Easterners cling to Russian in their daily conversations, official transactions, and historical loyalties.