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Ukraine’s Cultural Divide Deepened by Political Campaigns

By Alina Varfolomeyeva
Epoch Times Staff
Created: January 29, 2013 Last Updated: January 31, 2013
Related articles: World » Europe
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People with Ukrainian flags make a human chain on the bridge across the Dnieper River to mark Sobornist Day, which commemorates the unification of Eastern and Western Ukraine in 1919, on Jan. 22, 2013. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

People with Ukrainian flags make a human chain on the bridge across the Dnieper River to mark Sobornist Day, which commemorates the unification of Eastern and Western Ukraine in 1919, on Jan. 22, 2013. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

KYIV, Ukraine—Electoral campaigns in Ukraine have deepened the cultural and historical divide that has long existed between the East and West in Ukraine, or more precisely the Northeast and Southwest.

“Although this difference existed on a latent level, this split gained acute forms as a result of the 2004 presidential election campaign,” said Andriy Bychenko, head of sociological research at the Razumkov Center, in a telephone interview. “And since then, every election worsens the situation.”

During the 2004 presidential election, campaign billboards posted slogans about “us and them.

He noted that during the 2004 presidential election, campaign billboards posted slogans about “us and them.” It helped the candidates cement support in their regions, said Bychenko, but was a blow to national unity and became fixed in people’s minds.

In a recent poll by the Razumkov Center, 41.9 percent of respondents recognized that the country is divided and the two segments are politically hostile toward each other.

President of the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology Valery Khmelko wrote in an article on the topic that Ukraine needs moderate politicians who will not play on extremes, but rather convince voters to find moderate and constructive compromise in controversial questions of language, culture, and foreign affairs policy.

East Versus West

Before World War II, part of Western Ukraine was occupied by Poland and part of Eastern Ukraine was occupied by the Soviet Union. Ukrainians struggled to maintain their language and culture on both sides, but to this day, Russian remains a common language in the East and Soviet ideology is stronger there.

Many people from different parts of the Soviet Union migrated to Eastern Ukraine. Crimea, a warm, Southeastern Ukrainian peninsula, was a popular retirement location for Soviet army officers.

While ethnic differences have long existed, polls have showed that voters in the East and West have similar attitudes toward political freedoms and economic development. Bychenko said “Research shows that in interpersonal relationships [between Western and Eastern Ukrainians] there is generally a very high level of tolerance.”

Kyiv housewife Katherina Yurchenko agreed: “I feel the same about them [those who live in the East and the West]—we are all Ukrainians and grew up on the same land. … Each has his own opinion, some grew up during the Soviet era, some grew up in modern Ukraine.”

Tolerance is lower when it comes to political issues, said Bychenko. He said it is politicians who lead the discussion on these issues and who thus have the power to either create unity or deepen the divide.

According to Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst at the Penta Center for Applied Political Studies, language law is a main issue of contention, particularly a 2012 law that allowed regional councils to accept Russian as a second official language.

“Unfortunately, politicians are playing on the divide, especially during the elections as it’s profitable,” Fesenko said. “But the logic of public interest, the logic of forming a single nation and strengthening unity requires, first of all, neutralization of the issues that divide society and split the country.”

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