Doctor of History, Professor

Аcademic Conference “The Responsibility of a Christian in Modern Society”

September 29, 2014

The social and political dimension of valuable orientations of modern Donbas

Ukraine as invaluable historical and political subject which should unite. It was so in the imagination of local researchers, particularly in Donbas. However, the reality appeared to be far more complex.

More than twenty years everything seemed relatively calm in Donbas. At the national referendum on December 1, 1991 more than 83% of residents of Donetsk and Luhansk voted in support of the Act of Independence. However it is difficult to assert that many of those who supported Ukrainian independence were guided by national and patriotic feelings, on the contrary - as motivation were used pragmatic approaches. There have always been peculiarities of valuable orientations. They were caused by several factors and most clearly appeared during the national crisis in 2013-2014. The catalyst for this was the Russian Federation.

Because of the ethnic heterogeneity of the region the emphasis blended towards social structure and due to this ideology was the most convenient feature of the union. The unity of proletarian connection, internationalism and Russian (as a language of international communication) were in its base. And, accordingly, class hatred and, as a result, contempt for culture and higher education. Language played a very important role in Donbas, because native language of 75% of people in the region is Russian. Due to this significant figure the language issue was used in the political struggle since 1994. The language issue was a good tool to influence public opinion. Almost complete Ukrainization of national channels, aimed to revival of the Ukrainian language and national identity, caused completely opposite reaction. On the one hand, this led to a reorientation of the Donetsk audience to regional channels, on the other hand, to transferring to satellite channels of Russian Federation. In addition, the local cable providers offered the maximum range of Russian channels.

Russian television channels attracted the audience because they found social reality acceptable for them. There was clearly defined an enemy, a friend and sequence of actions to be happy. In contrast to the Russian television, Ukrainian broadcasted videos about continuous and ubiquitous problems that depict reality. It is obvious that the function of the media is to inform, not to create artificial myths. But for many Donetsk citizens it was psychologically easier to watch the news which suits their worldview.

In Donetsk citizens transfer the custody of their social life to authorities. Local citizens, the vast majority, believe that the authorities are responsible for education, health, jobs and salaries, pensions and social benefits. Donbas is a region that definitely inherited that system of values ​​that existed in the Soviet Union: terry paternalism, domination of collectivistic values​​, historical memory, mainly oriented on the Soviet legacy. Such policy was beneficial for regional authorities.

During the presidential elections in 2004 in Donetsk Yanukovych's political engineers used nostalgic Soviet sentiments. Billboards emphasized that “Donbas is Oleksii Stakhanov”, “Donbas is Pasha Angelina”, and “Donbas is Makar Mazai”. Local elites produced a kind of Donbas narcissism, emphasising on exceptionality of Donbas and saying the slogan such as “Nobody will put Donbas on its knees ...!” etc.

NGO “Donetsk Institute of Social Research and Political Analysis” (the Head of the institute is V. Kipen) in March 2014 carried out a survey in Donetsk. 34% of Donetsk citizens tend to trust Ukrainian media, however, 24% tend to trust Russian media. Such distribution of trust in sources fully reflected the unstable nature of public opinion, formed under conditions of information war.

Half of the citizens of Donetsk supported the preservation of a unitary system of Ukraine, which does not provide the transition to the federal structure. Totally 66% are supporters of Ukraine unity. Supporters of the entry of Donetsk to the Russian Federation with those who called for the actual entry of Ukraine into the alliance, similar to USSR is 27%. Another 5% wanted the area to be a separate government entity.

The majority of the citizens of Donetsk (25%) saw the main engine of changes for the better in Donetsk complete renewal of local government, including the dismissal of corrupt officials and those associated with crime. But the traditional “major” problems for many years headed the list of the most actual issues of concern to the citizens of Donetsk: salaries and pensions became duller and appeared on the second place. 20% of the citizens of Donetsk said that salaries and pensions were main indicators of efficiency of changes at the regional level. This distribution of responses also describes in whole not usual for these citizens of the mining capital radicalism regarding the program of upgrade and improvement of the situation in the region. Economics for the first time in a long time seriously gave way to politics.

There is a very expressive picture of public fears of citizens of Donetsk. The most common was the fear of the radical citizens of Western Ukraine – “Banderas”. Danger from them to Donetsk acknowledged 60% of respondents. The second thing common among the citizens of Donetsk is a fear of the central government in Kyiv (47%). A third phobia of the population of Donetsk is fear of the intervention of European and American politicians (38%). Generally, from 40 to 60% of people feel threatened by factors that can be called as “west”. So, mass phobias of population of our country are concentrated here. Also it is very visibly, that the fear of Russian citizens who participate in the organisation of pro-Russian mass meetings (23%) and of the Russian politicians and military leaders (21%) of the citizens of Donetsk is a lot smaller. The third group of concerns and fears is related to Donetsk motives. Fear of own crime (17%) is significant in Donetsk people today. Moreover, respondents and radical citizens of Donetsk and region (11%) and even local authorities of the city council and regional council (11%) are afraid. 21% of respondents faced the language problem, which is often discussed in the media (limiting the rights of Russian-speaking citizens of the eastern regions, including Donbas), however 6% of them while travelling to other regions of Ukraine while 77% have never seriously come across this problem.

For example, there is no unity in the perception of pro-Russian meetings and rallies in support of the unity of Ukraine. Although the general distribution of responses shows a greater tendency of public opinion supporting rally for united Ukraine, however, we cannot talk about the unequivocal prevalence of supporters of a particular point of view.

The thesis of the preferred orientation of the citizens of Donetsk on Russia is also not confirmed by the distribution of answers to the question of identity. Clearly patriotism is typical for more than a third of the citizens of Donetsk: 37% of them identified themselves as “citizens of Ukraine”. 21% of citizens of Donetsk identified themselves as “Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine”. In total, it made 58% of Donetsk citizens. Russia-oriented were the third part of respondents. The mass consciousness of Donetsk citizens is seriously damaged by political changes which take place in the country, and their interpretation of the dominant regional pro-Russian media. The sense of threat, inspired fears, insecurity is a breeding ground for escalation of conflict, strengthening of radicalism and extremism. The obtained data dispelled common myths about the total orientation towards Russia in Donetsk (conversely, 66% want their future in a reformed Ukraine); federalization as an idea-fix of Donetsk citizens (it is wanted only by some minority); the desire of the majority to become a part of Russia (separatists at the third part); mass support of Yanukovych (he is desired in politics by less than a third part). however, it should be noted that the situation outside the region was worse.

The political destiny of Donbas is uncertain. Since March 2014 authorities didn’t take any clear and effective actions to resist separatist formation. Authorities appealed to Ukraine for unity, but didn’t make any effective steps in this direction. Disorder and chaos in Donbas lasted from the beginning of spring. Previously, Kyiv events didn’t evoke any active response in Donetsk region, which leads to certain conclusions. In particular, the fact that we are dealing with a carefully planned and prepared in advance special operation based on local realities. It is likely that these scenarios planned to implement after the presidential elections in 2015 in the event that Yanukovych did not get the required number of votes. However, the February events on Maidan accelerated the timing of the operation.

Pro-Russian sympathy has always existed and will exist in Donbas, especially on an emotional level. Until recently, this sympathy has never transformed into the sphere of political separatism. It got out mainly through voting for the Party of Regions, which in Donetsk was considered to be pro-Russian, even though the program of “Regions”, is based on support of European integration of Ukraine. Also sympathy for the “northern neighbour” has always been expressed in Donetsk region in the form of open support of pro-Russian Communist Party. However, both political parties operated in Ukrainian legal area and could not be against territorial integrity of the country. In addition to that, the Russian bloc parties, which directly advocate a close alliance with Russia, never got large number of votes in the election.

Many issues raised inaction, and in fact treason of law enforcement officers who almost did not resist seizure of administrative buildings. There are no clear, effective and thoughtful actions taken from their part. As for Security Service of Ukraine it is believed that some officers of the regional management were recruited by Russia, so it is likely that part of this structure in Donetsk in fact worked for another country.

The phrase that Donbas feeds the whole country was widely spread. Herewith the facts that refute this ideology were ignored, in particular, the fact that almost 3% of the annual national budget of Ukraine was granted to subsidize uncompetitive coal industry.

A fake referendum of independence of Donetsk republic was held on May 11, which constitutional public authorities and local governments could not (or would not) prevent. And some officials even secretly supported the separatists. Both in content and in form ballots, without any protection, with the opportunity to vote “for that guy or for many guys”. However, a lot of people went to the polls. This can be explained by a number of factors. One of them is nostalgia for the Soviet Union, for the social model that prevailed that time. Generation of people were brought up with this ideology. And these ideas in Donetsk were actively replayed. The “referendum” was attended by both the elderly who formed the basis of the electorate of Donets and young people.

The relative “success” of the “referendum” was largely due to deep social and economic crisis that Ukraine has been going through for many years. The coal industry receives subsidies from the state budget. Metallurgy is the basis of Ukraine's export, but it is not upgraded. We have a huge number of depressed towns, small villages, with no work places. Average calculations showed that the independence of Donetsk is completely hopeless. Those who supported the independence of Donetsk were hardly guided by common sense. Emotional rejection of Kyiv authorities that based on Russian propaganda prevailed among the population of Donetsk.

On the pro-Russian side many disparate forces that may have ties to Russian intelligence service, people representing local business and criminal interests and ideologically motivated local people, truly believe in what they do. About a third of the population of Donetsk and Luhansk feel strange on Ukrainian land. Many people over the years being in the Russian cultural and information space have hardly ever paid attention to what is happening in Ukraine. The habit not to stick out but keep their opinions for themselves and express it only in their own kitchen was the specificity of the region. Many residents of Donbas nostalgically recall the totalitarian regime of Soviet Union, ready to be part of Russia, naively believing that salaries and pensions are higher there, and life is better. People believe in only what they want and are willing to believe. In the east of Ukraine the grain of Russian propaganda fell on fertile ground. Back in 2004 a group of psychiatrists and sociologists conducted large study of psychopathologies in different regions of Ukraine. The results were horrified: Ukraine was divided into two parts - east and west. And it is in the east, where there is less unemployment and more than in the western regions, people are with higher education, prevailed depression and suicide. Results of the study were shown to government, but nobody was interested in that data. Although for normal governance of the country such information should be a signal for immediate action in the troubled region. Now these problems have shot out.

However, it should be noted that the social and political dimension of valuable orientations has quite significant differentiation based on age. Since independence, young generation has grown up in Ukraine, which mainly identifies itself with Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation. This was evidenced by the results of a poll conducted in the summer of 2013 by the Centre for Political Studies under the direction of K. Cherkashyna that could not be suspected in pro-Ukrainian activity (spring 2014 he proved himself an avid separatist, likely, one of the authors of the so-called “constitution of the National Republic of Donets”). As the “rejuvenation” of Ukrainian respondents part increases: if among the age group (56 years and older), most identified themselves as Russians (42% - Ukrainian), among the younger age group (18-25 years) Ukrainian called themselves 75% , Russians - 12%. Significant part of young respondents perceived nation in modern European interpretation as political rather than ethnic community.

On the other hand, to convince those who took the pro-Russian position, almost impossible. These people are in a state of altered consciousness and aggressively defend their view of the world from any attempts to interfere. “Picture” created by Russian channels already works on rooting stereotypes “we’ll die without Russia”, “decadent Europe”, “Donbas feeds Ukraine”, etc.. Aggressive part of the population mostly operates with pseudo-facts that cannot be appealed, as they are inconclusive. The activity that is happening in Donbas is collaboration, crime and Ukraine has full power and should demand loyalty from the citizens, not someone else's country. As for the separatists, provocateurs and fifth column should be involved strict protection of national security.

Thus, the social and political dimension of valuable orientations in Donbas is not unambiguous. Political separatism throughout south and east Ukraine, except Crimea, wasn’t mentioned till the first of March, till the beginning of V. Putin's great geopolitical game called “Russian Spring”. The relative success of his raid is caused primarily by differences in values: here coexists European, pro-Ukrainian and pro-imperial approaches to the perception of life. But in the new scenario, Ukraine is already Europe. There is no way back. Ironically it is necessary to go forward in two directions - east and west. In Europe with the word and deed, to the border with the invaders - with arms. So, as pro-Russian sentiment - it is not just the result of Russian propaganda, so there can’t be simple solutions. To reduce these sentiments among residents of Donetsk is not enough just to disable Russian TV channels. A complex work of central and local political elites, NGOs and the media is needed so that Donetsk citizens would feel themselves as real citizens of Ukraine who want to serve the good.