Much has been made of Ukraine’s West v. East paradigm, but is it a valid demarcation of the country’s political leanings? The issue with post-Orange Revolution political discourse is that the Kuchma and Kravchuk eras have largely been forgotten while commentaries reach to the historic past to find reason for electoral leanings in the Soviet and even Imperial era. This is incredibly short sighted as we have several, common era elections in independent Ukraine’s history to look at to see if this trend holds up. And that’s the problem – it doesn’t.
1991 saw Viacheslav Chornovil go up against the heavily favored Leonid Kravchuk with the latter taking all but Galicia. 3 years later, however, we see Galicia warm up to Ukraine’s first president (presumably voting for the lesser of two evils). The presidential elections of 1999, though, saw another about face with Kuchma now taking the West while the Communist Party grew unevenly in the center, south, and east. It’s only when we get to the Orange Era that Ukraine fixates itself on an immutable east-west axis between the democratic opposition and the Party of Regions. The same Party of Regions, mind you, that was supported by Kuchma; thus completing his east-west-east lap around the country.
Now when looking at the animated map below, what stands out? For one, Crimea, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Kherson can’t make up their mind, voting Kravchuk, then Kuchma, but finally settling in on the pro-Russian Communist and Regions.
[one_sixth]idea of a predictable West too goes out the window[/one_sixth]
Similarly, Galicia is too the only collective of regions in the West that has voted for 5 different presidential nominees in the 5 elections. Factor in that the region is now resurgent in its support for Svoboda, and the idea of a predictable West too goes out the window.
Kirovohrad, Poltava, Vinnytsia, and Chernihiv all voted Kuchma, then Communist, then Yushchenko/Tymoshenko. Here we see a complete turnaround from “pro-Russian” to “pro-European” stereotypes. These four provinces are proof positive that hearts and minds can be won and swing states are alive and well.
Ultimately, the 2015 (or sooner) presidential elections, if free and fair, could very buck the trend that we’ve seen since 2004. The fact of the matter is, simplistic divides, while easy to represent in the media, don’t always hold the test of time. The United States is notorious for its Red v. Blue state battleground, but while the Northeast is typically Democrat and the South is typically Republican, there are always swing states and always variety. Ukraine is no different. With the ever changing, volatile political landscape of 2013 and beyond, there is just no telling where to draw the east-west line in the sand just yet.