UKRAINE ON THE EVE OF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS


David Marples

A number of recent opinion polls shed light on the attitudes of residents of Ukraine to separation, the new language law, relations with Russia, and the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Overall they suggest that residents of Ukraine are relatively patriotic (including in the eastern regions), have not radically altered their outlooks as a result of the new language law, and though they are primarily oriented toward the European Union, they do not perceive the relationship with Russia as hostile, nor do they anticipate any serious threats to their country from the larger neighbor. The polls suggest a growing maturity and confidence among Ukrainians concerning the future of the independent state that is rarely highlighted in media reports that focus purely on politics and the elite. On the other hand, there remain significant differences in outlook between the east and the south vis-à-vis the western regions in almost every poll. But these divisions are less polarized than has been the case in the past.

Between August 8 and 18, the sociological group “Rating” conducted a poll on the territorial boundaries of Ukraine (http://news.liga.net/ua/news/politics/718720-10_zhitel_v_donbasu_khochut_v_dokremiti_galichinu_opituvannya.htm). In every area there was overwhelming opposition to changes to the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Thus 84% opposed the idea of separation of Galicia; 90% were against the loss of Crimea; and 90% rejected the notion of the separation of the Donbas region. Regarding the latter, in the Donbas region alone, only 8% support breaking ties with Kyiv. The poll embraced 2,000 respondents, 18 or over, in all parts of the country. At the same time, another poll indicates, residents have a jaundiced view of the police and judicial system. A Razumkov poll conducted in the spring of 2012 revealed that 69% of those polled have a negative attitude toward the courts, 64% toward organs of prosecution, and 69% for the militia. Even in the east the disapproval of the militia is 55% (http://ipress.ua/news/ukraintsi_druzhno_ne_lyublyat_militsiyu_ta_sudy_2557.html). This attitude appears to be unaffected by political leanings, and geographical location similarly has a limited impact on popular opinion.

There are analogous attitudes on the question of “freedom” in Ukraine, according to a Rating survey carried out from July 14 to 27 with 2,000 respondents. A disturbing 45% of Ukraine residents are of the view that there are encroachments of freedom in Ukraine, and between 43 and 46% feel that freedom of speech is under threat. These figures are highest in the West (over 60%), but significant in all regions, with over 40% holding this opinion in the East and Center. In the Donbas, however, the majority does not perceive the situation as deteriorating. That is the view, predominantly, of supporters of Svoboda (based in Western Ukraine) and the United Opposition (over 70%) and those of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDar), led by heavyweight boxing champion Vitaliy Klychko (almost 60%). In other words supporters of the Regions Party and almost 50% of those backing the Ukrainian Communist Party do not consider that there is a threat to their freedoms currently (http://ratinggroup.com.ua/products/politic/data/entry/14015/).

Concerning the new language law, opinions are quite mixed, based on the results of several different polls. The Razumkov Center conducted a poll between June 16 and 25, 2012. It included 2,009 respondents from all regions of Ukraine. A clear majority considered that the law was linked to election strategy (65.1%). A very high number of Western Ukrainians believed that Ukrainian should be the only state language (84.4%), but elsewhere the picture was ambiguous. Overall, 25% of respondents maintained that Russian should have the status of an official language in certain regions, and 23.9% that it should be the second state language of the country, i.e. almost half of respondents backed this view. In eastern Ukraine (defined as Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv), only 13.6% thought that Ukrainian should be the only state and official language, while about one-third believe that it should be the only state language. But there was minimal support for the view that Russian should replace Ukrainian as the main state or official language (http://razumkov.org.ua/ukr/news.php?news_id=400).

 A Ratings poll of July 2012 provides a broader picture of the language question. In Ukraine, 55% perceived Ukrainian as their native language and 40% Russian. Ukrainian was declared to be the native language of about 40% of eastern residents, although in the Donbas specifically, some 80% cited Russian as their native language, as did 70% of residents in the south. About 70% of the supporters of the Regions Party are Russian speakers, along with half of the members of the Communist Party. But for the most part, residents of Ukraine have had few language difficulties as far as official documentation is concerned and, for example, understanding medication instructions in Ukrainian, other than a few elderly people in the Donbas. Still, 45% of Donbas residents support increased protection for the Russian language; the opposite applies in the West where 80% think that it is necessary to provide more support for the Ukrainian language. Yet even among Regions supporters, only 40% consider that Russian needs more protection in Ukraine. Around 59% of native Russian speakers back the law introduced by deputies Kolesnichenko and Kivalov; 62% of Ukrainian speakers oppose it. Overall 42% are against the new law; 34% in favor (http://ratinggroup.com.ua/upload/files/RG_Movne_pytannia_072012.pdf). According to Iryna Bereshkina of the “Democratic Initiatives” Foundation, the new language law has had little impact on the election preferences of Ukrainian voters (http://news.dt.ua/POLITICS/zakon_pro_rosiysku_movu_niyak_ne_vplinuv_na_reytingi_regionaliv_i_opozitsiyi-108076.html).

The responses on the new language law are not particularly decisive in any respect. Support for it is lukewarm at best in all regions of Ukraine. Moreover, there are indications from other polls of the growing patriotism in Ukraine (not to be confused with nationalism) that embraces both eastern and western regions, as well as growing support for a pro-European Union direction rather than toward the Russian-led structures such as the Customs Union. The Ratings Poll cited above shows that the number of proponents of a united state with Russia has declined steadily (42% today, as opposed to 47-48% in January), and 54% are in favor of Ukraine joining the EU. Over the past six months, the number of Ukrainians considering themselves to be “patriots” has increased from 73 to 82%. The rise is especially notable in the east, including the Donbas oblasts, but not in the south. This leads a UNIAN analyst to conclude that the rise in patriotism is especially evident in the regions of Ukraine that hosted the Euro-2012 soccer competition, though elsewhere in the poll, only 12% equated patriotism with sporting victories. The place of one’s birth was the most significant factor behind patriotism in all regions, although supporters of Regions and the Communist Party were also tied to the historical past (presumably memories of the Soviet era) (http://www.unian.ua/news/521037-na-donbasi-zrosla-kilkist-patriotiv-opituvannya.html).

The rise in patriotic feeling, however, has not affected adversely Ukrainian attitudes to Russia, based on the survey of the Research and Branding Group undertaken earlier this year. The poll focused on the two cities generally considered to be the most polarized, Lviv and Donetsk. Almost half of the latter respondents see Russia as a friendly state and 0% as a hostile one. In Lviv, only 7% think that Russia is a fraternal nation, and 30% of those polled see it as simply a neighboring state without any close links. Yet very few even in Lviv considered that Russia was a rival (12%) or hostile (9%). In Donetsk about one-fifth of respondents regarded Russia as a strategic partner—hardly an overwhelming figure and 83% think that relations with the neighbor are friendly or a mixture of good and bad (http://korrespondent.net/ukraine/politics/1331039-opros-zhiteli-donecka-i-lvova-vyrazili-svoe-otnoshenie-k-rossii). The consensus therefore on Ukrainian attitudes today would appear to include the following: an increasing affinity to Ukraine as an independent state that can maintain good relations with its neighbors, irritation rather than anger at the new language law, particularly in the western regions, and a slight preference for the EU over the Russian-led Customs Union.

Translated into votes in the parliamentary elections, the results may not differ profoundly from earlier polls. Clearly four political parties will gain seats in the new Parliament, having cleared the 5% barrier: the Party of Regions (21.5%), Batkivshchyna (18.5%), UDar (9.9%), and the Communists (9.1%) (http://news.dt.ua/POLITICS/vpevneno_prohodyat_u_radu,_yak_i_ranishe,_tilki_chotiri_partiyi-108633.html). None of the other major parties, such as Svoboda, Ukraina-Vpered! (which has only 3.1% support despite the ‘coup” of having Andriy Shevchenko on the party list), or Our Ukraine look likely to surpass the 5% figure. In the case of Our Ukraine, the party is for all intents and purposes defunct. The poll, conducted by Ratings, perceives a modest rise in support for the Regions Party, but clearly it is some way from anticipating a majority. Ukrainians have diverse views. They recognize the limitations of their freedoms, they are suspicious of the courts and the militia, and they are cynical toward the ruling Regions Party, but they have not embraced with any degree of enthusiasm or firmness any political alternatives to the ruling group. These attitudes could change if voters perceive the elections to have been manipulated or if the Parliament that results from them does not reflect the wishes of the voters.

 

 

Advertisements

About DAVID R. MARPLES

Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: