Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 25, 2014

Anotol Lieven on the Ukraine

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 3:20 pm

This is from chapter three of Anatol Lieven’s 1999 “Ukraine & Russia: a fraternal rivalry”. Over the years I have found Lieven’s reporting quite reliable. In this remarkable passage, he undercuts the talking points of the pro-Putin left by ascribing the predisposition to radical right-wing nationalism almost exclusively to Galicia. And contrary to expectations, it is this rather thinly populated province that is most hostile to economic “reform”. It should be mentioned that Lieven is quite hostile to socialism despite being a very good reporter.


Those who have seen a clear black-and-white divide between east and west Ukraine have missed three important elements of Ukrainian political geography: the fact that nationalist Galicia does not make up the whole of “west Ukraine” and that its specific variant of nationalism has very limited cultural and economic appeal outside its own region, the critical importance of central Ukraine, and the divisions within the whole of the Russian-speaking area.

What is often described as “west Ukraine” in more superficial Western analyses really only applies to Galicia and to a lesser extent Volhynia—the two provinces that were part of Poland until 1939 and in the case of Galicia had previously been subject to Austria (and had been under Catholic influence since the Middle Ages). Galicia also suffered a brutal Russian military occupation during the First World War, followed by a ruthless Soviet antipartisan struggle after 1944.

As repeated election results have shown, it is only in these regions (and to some degree in the city of Kiev, because of its large concentration of nationalist intelligentsia and civil servants) that support for a radical, ethnic-based, and potentially antidemocratic version of Ukrainian nationalism is really overwhelming. This is not true even of the immediately neighboring regions, whether Transcarpathia on the Hungarian border to the southwest of Galicia, or Khmelnitsky and Ziwtomyr to the east. Furthermore, Galicia is relatively small: The city of Lviv had a population of 787,000 according to the census of 1989; but the Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk together) had a population of more than 7 million.

Consequently, many genuinely patriotic Ukrainians elsewhere in Ukraine regard radical nationalism as a specifically Galician product, heavily influenced by the Polish and Uniate tradition, and culturally and historically separate from the rest of (Orthodox or previously Orthodox) Ukraine. A common insulting term for the Galician nationalists in eastern Ukraine is “the Pans,” after the Polish word for “mister” and previously for “lord” (this is especially hurtful because the Galician Ukrain-ian nationalists actually originated and spent much of their history in bitter struggles with the Poles).

Critics also point out—and quite rightly—that Galician nationalism is not “more Western” simply because it is geographically closer to Central Europe; the Central Europe from which Galician nationalism derived was that of the 1890s to the 1930s, and isolation under Soviet rule has hindered its modernization.

Galician and Galician-style Ukrainian nationalism today does indeed retain certain worrying features of the extreme “integral” nationalism of the 1930s. These elements were played down in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the nationalist umbrella organization Rukh seemed to have a brief chance of appealing to a majority of Ukrainians and of coming to power. However, with Rukh’s failure, extremist platforms have resurfaced in some of the various nationalist parties.

The result is not just that aspects of Galician Ukrainian nationalism today remain worryingly extreme and ethnicist, but also that Galicians are actually behind, not ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to some aspects of economic reform—as the International Finance Corporation found to its surprise in the case of privatization. Having set up its first regional project office in Lviv because it assumed privatization would go fastest there, it then discovered that it was actually in the east where the local administrative elites showed the greatest interest (or rather, self-interest) and dynamism in this regard.

One aspect of this Galician distinctiveness is language: Galicians sometimes claim to speak the “purest” Ukrainian, and this has been reiterated by some Western observers. In fact, the Ukrainian dialect on which modern literary and educational Ukrainian has been based is situated not unnaturally in the center of the country, in the region of Poltava. The people of that region regard the dialect of Galicia as a heavily PoIonized version of Ukrainian, just as they regard the language spoken in much of eastern and southern Ukraine, Surzhik, as a cross between Ukrainian and Russian —which indeed it is. It is this central region of Ukraine—and not the west or the east—that has provided the dominant elements in the Ukrainian administrations since independence (both Presidents Kravchuk and Kuchma come from this region, as do all of their likely successors), and could be said to have saved the country. If Galicia and the Russian-speaking areas of Donetsk or Kharkiv—let alone Crimea—had been geographically contiguous to each other, the unity and peace of Ukraine would have been in serious doubt, given the very real hatreds that exist between the ordinary people of these areas.

But in the words of Grigory Nemiria, sweeping his hand over a map, “Fortunately, Lviv is at that end, Donetsk at this end, and there is all this space in-between.” The two areas are separated by a broad belt of territory, five hundred miles wide and stretching from Khmelnitsky to Dnipro-petrovsk, in which most of the people, although ethnically Ukrainian (and mostly Ukrainian-speaking) and committed to Ukrainian independence, have a much milder and less ethnic version of Ukrainian nationalism and a much calmer and friendlier attitude toward Russians. Thus in 1994, while Kravchuk got more than 60 percent of the vote in Galicia and Volhynia, and Kuchma a majority in the east and south, neither candidate achieved a majority in the eight central regions.

1 Comment »

  1. […] that Poles were dominant in the lands where most Ukrainians lived for some time, see here and here–and as landowners in Austrian Galicia and Tsarist lands after Poland itself vanished with the […]

    Pingback by Mark Collins – Sad Ukrainian Realities–and Polish Perceptions | The 3Ds Blog — April 21, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

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