by Gerry Foley
The outcome of the rerun Ukrainian presidential election held on Dec. 26 was never in doubt. The mass mobilizations in support of Victor Yushchenko and in
protest against the large-scale electoral fraud perpetrated by the campaign of his rival, Victor Yanukovich, in what was supposed to be the final round
of the election on Nov. 22, assured that he would triumph in a new vote.
The country, however, remains divided almost evenly. Yanukovich got 44 percent of the vote. And the division represents a deep-going cleavage between the western and the eastern Ukraine.
But although the opposition to Yushchenko and his supporters remained hard in the east, there was obviously not so much enthusiasm for a continuation of
the corrupt regime represented by the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, Yanukovich’s sponsor. The enthusiastic mass demonstrations for Yushchenko in Kiev and further west put the wind in his sails.
The mass mobilizations and their impact on a previously demoralized and passive population are the only hopeful aspect in this conflict for the working
people of Ukraine. Both factions are controlled by new rich tycoons emerging from the old Stalinist regime and allied with remnants of the bureaucracy.
The perceived conflict of interest between the Russian government and the West, fostered by Putin’s crude intervention on the side of Yanukovich, promoted the idea that there was some sort of clash of geopolitical
interests or even different social systems. But there is little basis for that interpretation.
In the interests of the Ukrainian economy as presently constituted, there is no way that Yushchenko can break with Russia. In fact, his first international junket
after being elected is to Moscow to mend fences with Putin.
Also, the new president’s base is obviously not all nationalist. The population of the western part of the country where nationalism has historically been strong is much less than 50 percent of the total. And before the Dec. 26 election, the Russian strongman made it clear that he thought he could live with Yushchenko.
Moreover, the Western capitalists are hardly going to invest sufficiently in Ukraine to reorient its economy in their direction. The world capitalist economy in general is too sickly and unstable to provide a basis for such new expansion. That means that the principal source of raw materials for Ukraine and its principal market will continue to be Russia.
But that does not mean there will not be tensions. In a sense, both candidates became the prisoners of their respective bases. The collapse of the Soviet Union released a volcanic resurgence of nationalism in the Ukrainian-speaking western part of the country, while the mainly Russian-speaking east has not thrown off their Stalinist education that Ukrainian nationalism was linked to the wartime Nazi occupiers.
A lot of the Russian speakers resent the new dominance of the Ukrainian language and are afraid that it will be forced on them. Moreover, the Kuchma regime, which was based on a compromise between nationalism and the
old Stalinism, was notoriously corrupt, and many of those implicated with it are hated by the masses who supported Yushchenko. Undoubtedly, many of them now fear prison or exile as a result of Yanukovich’s defeat.
This probably explains why Yanukovich has been reluctant to concede the election to his rival. It is unlikely that he thinks he can hold onto governmental
power, but it is not unlikely that he hopes that by hanging tough he may be able to negotiate a better deal for himself and his backers.
Although the people who voted for Yanukovich in the eastern Ukraine may be resentful and fearful of Yushchenko, the results may convince them that they
cannot achieve their aspirations by continuing to depend on Yanukovich’s corrupt gang. And the supporters of Yushchenko may be now be encouraged to mobilize to get what they really want—an end to corruption, including the robbery involved in the privatizations.
Yushchenko, in fact, has been forced to promise to review the privatizations, although there is no way that he is going to try to reverse the sell-off of state property to aspiring bosses. Nonetheless, there is no way in any of the old Stalinist states that capitalism can be separated from corruption.
Under the old compromise, the population in general felt demoralized and helpless. Now it can have gained some confidence in its ability to force political changes. That is potentially a great danger for both of the gangs that fought each other in this conflict and a hope for the working people who have been impoverished and intimidated by the sell-out and sell-off by the old Stalinist bureaucracy.