Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Beware The Donbass Elite !

With the Crimean referendum having been decided yesterday, the results seemed obvious to all who have witnessed Vladimir Putin's uncalled for Hitler-style annexation. However, there's more to this story that many people in the West don't know and should, if any future decisions are o be made in resolving Ukraine's political and economic weaknesses.

American and European news broadcasts about Ukraine, sometimes even those involving specialists and political scientists, tend to include phrases like ''In the Ukraine there is a struggle between the Eastern pro-Russian part and the Western pro-European part of the country.'' People hearing this could be forgiven for thinking Ukraine consists only of two regions: The West and the East, animated simply by their pro-European or pro-Russian views. It's not that simple.

This cliché is nothing new and, indeed, 20 years ago it was a reasonably accurate picture of things. The far east of Ukraine had more affection for Moscow than it had for Kiev, while the west had no love for either Kiev or Moscow, considering itself self-sufficient and part of Europe. Remember that Western Ukraine was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Poland and became part of the USSR only in 1939 -- unlike the East, which had long been a key source of Soviet industrial wealth, the site of mines, metalworking plants and barrack towns for the workers and their families who had come from all over the Soviet Union. There, almost all significant posts at the provincial, district and town levels were given to men and women from Russia or Soviet Ukraine.

Putin and Yanukovych
In 1991, Ukraine celebrated the unexpected gift of independence. But in the East - the coal-rich Donbass region - there was a frightened hush. While western Ukraine happily started developing small businesses and embraced statehood, the east followed the model of post-Soviet Russia, with a criminal craving up of the region's factories an the development of its own school-for-scoundrels of oligarchs driven first by a desire to keep Donbass for the use of the Donbass elite alone. So, in 2004, these bums put forward their own candidate in the presidential election: their stooge was Viktor Yanukovych; a Putin favourite.

In 2010 he became master of the whole country and he repeated the policies of 1939. Russian-speaking inhabitants of Donetsk, the largest city in Donbass, were sent our to be chiefs of police, customs officials and heads of the justice system through the country. This infiltration of their country had the inhabitants of many other areas of Ukraine angry with the tough, unsmiling manner of their new bosses from Donbass. The result was a complex national political picture - more complex than the simple division between East and West - one that I believe defines Ukraine today.

Donbass became a Mafia-style headquarters, a shop floor and counting house of Yanukovych's Party, a place of coal mining, metal smelting and unimaginably corrupt schemes that allowed state funds and taxes from the region's businesses to disappear into thin air. Civil society was strangled, and this densely populated area couldn't produce a single honest public figure or writer of national importance to take on the most pressing issues of the day. While the central and western regions had less money but, free from an oligarchy, more ideas and discussion. They became the arts and humanities heart of the country, with a more active civil society and honourable public figures.

The Way I See It.....Crimea is a lost cause with it being the only area with a large percentage of pro-Russian inhabitants and Europe and America powerless to stop the referendum much less the Russian occupation and Putin will shrug off the impending sanctions. But let's not forget that there also exists in this region a fast-increasing Tatar population, with is generally anti-Russian. Putin may get the majority vote on this referendum but it won't be unanimous across the Crimea. To my mind, the central-southern area and Zakarpattia area make up another region, the commercial region, with seaports like Odessa and Mykolayiv and the tradition of cross border commerce with Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. There you notice more ideas and more discussion; just like the Tatars, they too have no time for Donbass.

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