President Yanukovych Turns One: What Has He Learned? What Has He Taught Us?- PART 2


By: Dr. Olga Onuch (Petro Jacyk Prize Post-Doctoral Fellow, CERES, Munk Schol of Global Affairs, University of Toronto)

The New Line Up at Bat: Who’s On First?

First off, it was interesting to see who was now back on the side of Yanukovych.

In 2004-2005 several important high ranking political and economic elite switched sides to Yushchenko and then to Timoshenko’s teams. Most important (and considered the utmost of betrayals) was Serhiy Liovochkin, one of the closest campaign team advisors for Yanukovych and close ally of Kuchma’s, who in the midst of the November and December roundtables switched sides and shared insider information with the Yushchenko camp, was now appointed the Head of the Presidential Administration.

With friends like these it was clear that Yanukovych’s time as President would be as interesting and as dramatic to watch as the ever so popular in Ukraine, Telenovelas imported from Latin America (see next issue for more on “the faces of Ukraine”).


Eto Politicheskyi Show!

Then came an end to the seemingly on-going (since 2004) professionalization of the Ukrainian Media sphere.

Ukrainian TV has been a haven for political talk shows. I recall a OSCE briefing were experts praised the quality of the political discussion in Ukraine and foreigners marveled at their popularity. Yet, such live political and current events talk shows started to face pressure, some even disappearing in 2011. Anna Bezulyk’s show was taken off the air and Shuster faced pressure from the administration, his show was moved (for the fourth time from Ukraina to 1st National).  Watchdog organisations such as Inter-news and IMI Ukraine have reported rising pressure and censorship on the regional but also in some instances at the national level.  Personal colleagues and friends I interviewed also agree that they feel more pressure but did not want to go on record with a statement.  Most interesting and worrying issue is that Inter Group owner Valeriy Khoroshkovsky was appointed head of the Ukrainian Security Service. Inter Group controls has a 61% stake in  Inter TV (a top rated channel).

Once again it seems it will be necessary for us to increase our vigilance when “watching” the Ukrainian media sector and “watch out” for further infringements of freedom of speech rights and political pressure on journalists (for more see Prof. Marta Dyczok’s Piece in our march issue).

“presents the real facts and not Ukrainian Nationalistic propaganda”

The End of History! … Again? Problems with Education

This can equally be called the Tabachnyk story. The Education and Science Minister is a highly controversial individual who seems to hate all that is Ukrainian Language Promotion and loves being in front of the camera. Several proposals, including: a proposed new ‘law on  languages’ – which would among other points, allow students to vote/demand an instructor to teach in their language of choice (ie. not in Ukrainian but Russian);  the centralization of the higher education sector; and the publication of new secondary school history text that “presents the real facts and not Ukrainian Nationalistic propaganda”, are just highlights of the recent battle over the education sector.  National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy in Kyiv and the Catholic University in Lviv, have both come under tremendous attack and individual administrators and lectures have even received threats.

Two thesis of analysis can be used to understand Tabachnyk and the reforms.

1-Every time Tabachnyk does or says something in front of cameras about education or language, it seems that other much more serious policies and reforms are passed like the recent changes to the constitution giving Yanukovych greater powers. These seem o be perfectly timed.

2-Tabachnyk though indeed representing a wing of the Party of Regions, is a bit of a loose canon. My informant has detailed rumors coming out of the presidential administration, that Yanukovych (his advisors and image team) see Tabachnyk as at best annoying at worst a liability.


“NaUKMA is an island”

Serhiy Kvit the president of NaUKMA came to Toronto and told us that “NaUKMA is an island” of more western, progressive and democratic educational values “and this is why it is singled out and attacked”. As ‘Watchers of Ukraine’ thus, we must be to keep our eye out for more ‘attacks’ on the education sector and promote the diffusion of the values and systems at NaUKMA to other Ukrainian institutions of higher education, so that there is not only one island but many connected by tunnels if not bridges.

In a reactionary way, they are committing themselves to the same ‘one sided’, ‘my way of the highway’ style of cultural politics that the Yushchenko team had employed between 2004 and 2010.

Russkranian or Ukrussian: The Rhetoric of Language Politics

Again this is a “step” related to Tabachnyk.

Yanykovych and his team are playing a game of pay back. In a reactionary way, they are committing themselves to the same ‘one sided’, ‘my way of the highway’ style of cultural politics that the Yushchenko team had employed between 2004 and 2010. The only difference is that while Yushchenko quickly lost all his friends and made more enemies, Yanukovych has a stronger coalition, party and personal team in place and is able to enact these controversial policies more efficiently.

Yanykovych and his team are playing a game of pay back

It should be made clear that 77.8% of the population living in in Ukraine is ethnically Ukrainian.  17% is Russian and 4% is divided between all other ethnic groups.  There is only one legal language and it is Ukrainian.  Polls show that there is more opposition to the institution of a second language (Russian) support. According to Razumkov, 67% are in favor of keeping one language and approximately 14% are undecided.  Even in the heavily Russified region of Donbas (Luhans’k and Donets’k), where the majority are Russo phones, there is approximately 50% support for maintaining a single language.


There greatest support for keeping a single language is in the western AND central regions of Ukraine (even though Russian is most often used in Central Ukraine for business etc).  Furthermore, the great majority of Ukrainians actually claim civic and NOT ethno-linguistic identity to be the most important to them and in this case 85%+ support a unitary state (again the radical but small cleavages are in Halychyna and Donbas). Thus, I argue that a) Ukraine is not heavily divided (or at least not as deeply as we assume it to be- even on the language issue), b) these  ‘language’ policies are based more on political rhetoric pandering to extreme (and fairly) small groups of Ukrainian Society and can possibly create further schisms rather then just merely reproduce them.

The danger is that if the opposition (once it is able to get its act together) comes back into power and retaliates with equally ‘one sided’ ethno political policies and rhetoric, more and more Ukrainians will not see their views represented. This is placing Ukraine on the road to an even worse crisis of representation then in the 1999 elections and greater political instability.

Let Them Fight it Out, Again and Again

Although the tactics of fist fights first came on to the scene during the Yushchenko’s presidency, ‘the politics of the fist’ have become more normalized since Yanukovych’s taking power. There have been multiple instances of  extreme violence in the Rada. These have included several hospitalisations, the blockading of exists, smoke bombs and the use of ‘hired thugs’. Even though some of these incidents were preceded by planed and coordinated protest actions by the opposition coalition, they in each case were ceased by namely deputies of the Party of Regions as a showcase of their opponents radicalism and lack of professionalism. A charge made comical by the allowance of certain Deputies’ “body guards” to retaliate in protection of their bosses.

This variety of ‘distraction’ has enabled Yanukovych (again) to keep the media and public’s eyes off him. At the same time it has made the opposition look desperate and out of control.

As said by an informant from Yanukovych’s team “our policy is to … keep them occupied… with everything but whats really important…let then fight … again … and again… and again… until they have not fight left in them”.

There you have it from the horse’s mouth! Lessons learned and steps taken!

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