28 November 2004

Divided Ukraine

The former Soviet republic of Ukraine has its own "red-state/blue-state" phenomenon, as can be seen in the map below indicating the geographic support for the two presidential candidates, Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko.

BBC News

Despite the presence of two Viktors, there can, of course, be only one victor. Each has his base of support in one of the two historic regions of the country. Yanukovych is favoured in the largely Russian-speaking east, which is the industrial heartland providing much of Ukraine's wealth. Its primary religious allegiance is to the Orthodox Church. Yushchenko's support base is in the mostly Ukrainian-speaking west, with its historic ties to Poland and Austria. The largest ecclesial body is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, an eastern-rite church in communion with Rome.

Although there were widespread allegations of vote fraud, the breakdown for last sunday's second ballot, viz., 49.46% for Yanukovych and 46.61% for Yushchenko, is not an unreasonable result. Even if a new election is held and there are no irregularities, each side might still be unwilling to accept the loss of its own candidate. Perhaps it is time to devolve political authority to Ukraine's 24 oblasti (administrative districts). Crimea already enjoys considerable autonomy and has its own parliament. Americans in the "blue states" can comfort themselves that they live in a federal system each of whose 50 states is largely self-governing. In a country as sharply divided as Ukraine, instituting a federal system may be the only way to save the country. Moreover, rather than a single president, a Swiss-style executive council with a rotating chairmanship might offer the best alternative.

Yet what is perhaps most needed in Ukraine is a tradition of the rule of law, coupled with the willingness to tolerate and, if need be, to become a loyal opposition. Failing this, secession or civil war becomes more likely.

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