A Western Coalition? – Western Ukraine needs a new strategy

Category: by Jonathan Hibberd, guests, ukraine
Tags: , , , , , , ,

(Läsningstid: 6 minuter)

Where is Western Ukraine in the new political order? You could be forgiven for thinking it had disappeared from the map altogether. The new President has put a Russian in charge of the country, and set out on a course coherent with restoring Ukraine’s place to that of the ‘little Russia’ which had for the past 19 years existed only the minds of out-of-touch, chauvinistic Muscovites. Western Ukraine is now a marginalised and, some would argue, despised frontier province with nothing to offer the new order. It may even now, some might suppose, become the ‘enemy’ on which the need for ‘stability’ (meaning authoritarianism) is sold to the people, in the way that Russia scapegoats the clearly terrifying Estonia and Georgia (and up until now Ukraine) as reasons to stick to ‘strong government’. Egg-throwing and rostrum-blocking in parliament does little to dispel these insinuations.

If the new order is to persist, it poses questions to the west of the country that have never before been so prescient. Independent Ukraine was born of what one might call an unholy alliance between the communists of the east and the nationalists of the west. For many years this grand bargain carried benefits as well as disadvantages for both sides. Whilst an eastern-based business mafia held sway over the country’s industry and economy, a kind of ‘cultural mafia’ advanced a linguistic and cultural agenda that more favoured the west of the country. This grand bargain is now breaking up. Some would say this breaking up was started in the Yushchenko era. Others might contend that it is now, under Yanukovych, that one side of the country feels most disenfranchised. What is clear is that nothing is now being done with the aim of enhancing national unity. Instead of an over-arching, inclusive, reform-minded government under a prime minister such as Tigipko which the most optimistic might have hoped for, the new President has opted for a Russo-centric position. It is difficult to see how divisive appointments such as Tabachnyk can be considered necessary pragmatism. The idea that in the country that suffered the Holodomor children might in the very near future be opening textbooks that state that Stalin was a ‘strong leader who made tough decisions for Russia’ is going to be most sickening to those in the west.

Oleskiy Palace. Photo by Em and Ernie

Part of Western Ukraine’s problem is that the figures they have backed in the past have in fact served the region’s wider interests very poorly. Although large numbers turned out in the presidential second round to support Tymoshenko, there seemed little to recommend her, apart from that she wasn’t Yanukovych. The orange politicians who wrap themselves in Ukrainian patriotism in fact have interests much closer to the centre. At the other extreme, Ukrainian nationalist or patriotic parties can be seen as somewhat eccentric, perhaps extremist, in any case for many people not truly electable. Western Ukraine is clearly different to the rest of the country, culturally and linguistically and in its aspirations. These differences are only being exacerbated in the current circumstances. Western Ukrainians themselves need to start thinking about how to empower themselves against the current unenviable odds. A lot will depend on what sort of system emerges over the next couple of years.

If the current semi-parliamentary system persists, the west might look at its options modelled on regional/cultural political blocks in other European countries. In Italy, the Northern League sheds any illusions that it is a party of national consensus, and seeks to represent its regional interest within the country, where it feels under-represented. In Romania and Slovakia, the Hungarian minority is represented by Hungarian coalition parties. These coalition parties host within them a diverse set of views, from moderates to nationalists, but who manage to agree on over-arching concerns, and lobby for concessions in these areas, frequently as kingmakers in coalitions. Strong patriots might feel a need to prioritise issues such as UPA recognition, but in reality, forsaking the bigger issues over such matters does little to help the next generation. Even the People’s Self Defence block, which is an attempt at coalition party building, does not have a broad enough appeal. As the Conservatives in the UK who are learning coalition politics from scratch now realise, one has to look at the big picture. The over-arching issues for Western Ukrainians are obvious: education and language, relations with Europe and the need for a credible economic development policy for the region. So a kind of ‘Western Coalition’ could be the answer.

Lviv. Photo by Lyncis

However, we face the real prospect that the 2012 parliamentary elections may mean very little. Even if they are free and fair, including access of all political groupings to the media, the acquisition of ‘tushki’ might allow the powers that be to ‘tidy up’ any slightly messy outcome to the vote. Or who is to say at the moment that these elections won’t go the way of the currently delayed local elections? If this election finishes with the west of the country having no voice, thoughts will inevitably turn to the idea of secession. A strategy for independence would then need some serious thought. If there is a clear sentiment in favour of the idea, unofficial polls might be conducted, perhaps modelled on the unofficial pro-independence referendums that have been taking place across Catalonia.

Independence would have many advantages. Patriotic Western Ukraine would have the over-arching unity of purpose that has benefited the likes of Hungary and Poland. The overseas diaspora would be able to assist in the kinds of ways they were in Estonia, for example. Also, with suggestions that Moldova might just sneak into the EU because ‘it’s small’ (a lame criteria perhaps, but it is how many in Brussels seem to think) perhaps the EU will be able to stomach a bite-size Ukraine of, say, 7-10 million people rather than 46 million, a good chunk of whom it can be argued don’t even want to be there. A small ship is easier to turn. Observe how previously backsliding Slovakia leapfrogged its neighbours to join the Euro.

This may all of course be pie in the sky. Secession is difficult to achieve from any country. However, if aggravations produce policy concessions rather than independence, this may in itself be valuable enough, and would be preferable to marginalisation. Against this however there is the question of the west-looking centre of Ukraine. They might be the next to be marginalised.

Perhaps a separatist approach is not the best way forward at a time when a united opposition is most crucial, but nonetheless Western Ukraine needs to think very carefully before persisting with politicians who talk the talk, but in fact have little interest in the region. There is a grave danger of Western Ukrainians continuing to throw away their votes to minigarchs, thugs and tushki, and it is perhaps time that, as a united front, the region acts for itself. In any case, if the coming years prove to be difficult, a distinction may develop between those who understand and defend their civil and democratic rights, and those who are prepared to allow their freedoms to be compromised for the ‘greater good’.

Of course, the best scenario is not independence for Western Ukraine but for the entire country to be anchored into the EU accession process which helps to foster civil rights, democracy and economic reform for the country as a whole, and which would put pay to many of the worries that currently exist. It is only in the complete absence of a membership perspective for Ukraine that worries about where Ukraine is drifting have become all too real, and hence the need to possibly take a look at some radical alternative scenarios. The alternative of wait and see could be very costly.

To take the analogy of Belgium, another European country that is frequently described as divided, a few decades ago the French-speaking south dominated industrially and culturally, whilst the Dutch-speaking north was poorer. A few years on it is now the north that is in the ascendency with its new industries, with the once proud south a decaying rustbelt. Steel and coalmining are yesterday’s industries, light manufacturing, services and tourism are tomorrow’s, and it is Western Ukraine that is best placed to grasp this opportunity, if it is allowed to.

This has previously been published at Chicken in Kiev (or) Kiev Rus

Gothenburg’s Film Festival 2010 – without viewpoint-east

Category: armenia, by sophie engström, eastern europe, estonia, georgia, movies, russia, ukraine
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

(Läsningstid: 2 minuter)

Gothenburg’s International Filmfestival will soon begin, from 29th of january to 9th of February. I will however not be in town since I will visit Kyiv instead to collect material and ideas for new articles for viewpoint-east and hopefully other journals/newspapers.


The annual filmfestival in Gothenburg is however one of the few events I really appreciate, so it could sound strange that I have decided to leave the city right during those days. But it is a matter of priorities and Kyiv won my mind battle this time. (I will however not focus that much on the Presidential election, but rather to take this as an opportunity to highlight other issues.)

Firstly, there are not even ONE Ukrainian movie this year in the programme, which is is a great disappointment. I thought we would at least find one, or to be more precise (and please DO correct me of I am wrong) that Las Meninas would be in the programme. It has never been shown in Sweden or at the festival. That is a movie that at least I would like to see.

Much more pleasing is that the festival has three movies from Georgia and at least five Russian movies. I am especially sad that I miss Russia 88 and Help Gone Mad. Help Gone Mad is probably a wonderful movie. I really enjoyed Boris Khlebnikov other movies (and especially “Free floating”).

There are two movies from Estonia, and among them Disco & Atomic War triggers my interest. That is also the only movie I have among my own resources and will watch as soon as possible.

And last and not the least, I am very sad I miss all four movies from Armenia, and then especially Border, which seems to be a very interesting documentary with a new approach. I do hope I will have the possibility to watch it in a not too distant future.


ps. and don’t forget to check out the blog!

Is there a greater Scheme? – About Swedbank in Ukraine: Part 1

Category: by sophie engström, swedbank, ukraina, ukraine
Tags: , , , , , ,

(Läsningstid: 3 minuter)

This is an article for my Ukrainian readers that may be interested in knowing how the discussions goes in Sweden about Swedbank’s engagement in Ukraine. I will focus some on how the debate has been going, and I will continue tomorrow with an interpretation on how one can see Swedbank’s engagement in Ukraine and what one can fear from their present and future actions.

A couple of weeks ago I had a chat with a friend from Kiev/Kyiv about the financial crisis and the effects on her own business. I was rather stunned when she said that Swedbank was considered to be one of the good banks, or even “good guys”, since they were staying in Ukraine and didn’t try to escape from the financial crisis. I was stunned, because I thought people in Ukraine (and in the Baltic states) wanted to get rid of banks as Swedbank. This was actually caused by my understanding that banks, as Swedbank, played a very important role in increasing the financial crisis among those countries.

The tone and the degree of irritation has been much greater in Sweden than in Ukraine. Many Swedish newspapers has during the past year written articles that actually focus on how Swedish banks could, or even should, withdraw their interests for Ukraine and the Baltic states. Swedbank has the greatest capital and loaning in Ukraine and the Baltic states among the Swedish banks. This have made them rather exposed for Swedish critic in media. This has been compromised with Swedbank’s rather daring attitude, for instance with buying Kommerzbank in 2007, which has been a course of irritation among media and Swedish small investors. It is actually possible that Swedbank’s action just didn’t fit with Swedish values, such as to be humble and trying to avoid all negative attraction to oneself. But the purchase of Kommerzbank could also be seen as a millstone for the bank. Swedbank is in a rather deep dip and the downward spiral never seems to end and the Kommmerzbank purchase haven’t made their situation better, but rather worse!

My interpretation is that Swedish savers have been rather critical against Swedbank’s refusal of giving up their Eastward investments, and mainstream media have not been helping the situation much. Last week the state owned television, Sveriges Television, had a reportage about a Latvian farmer family that had to leave their farm, slaughter all their animals and sell all their properties to be able to pay Swedbank back. But even so, their debt to Swedbank was still around € 96 000. These kind of stories are pretty effective in Sweden I’d say, especially because Swedes in general never wants to be villains that rob people in other countries, that possibly have a much tougher situation than ourselves. Swedes are used be the “good guys”, and being a brick in a great global economic war on high financial level, leaving many as losers and rather few are winners.

The above recounted story are however a rather fresh element in Swedish media. The main focus was previously on how Swedbank’s actions could affect Swedish investors and the labor force in Sweden, without little account on a global scale. From a personal point of view I appreciate that Swedish media has been able to change their perspective and not only showing concern for the well-being of Swedish investors and savers.

But I can also see several problems with having a negative focus on Swedbank’s engagements in Ukraine, since it could discourage other investors. Especially in regard to what I mentioned above, no Swede really wants to be depicted as the bad guy. But even so, we might also ask ourselves why Swedbank think it is so important to stay in Ukraine and Baltic states? You do not need to be too conspirotial to believe that Swedbank have a greater scheme by staying. I will therefor continue the discussions tomorrow and highlight Knut Kainz Rognerud’s book “Det stora bankrånet” (“The big bank robbery”), and how he urge that banks, as Swedbank, actually made the financial crisis greater in Ukraine and the Baltic states.