The Day jointly with experts and journalists has repeatedly attempted to look at Ukraine as an unfinished project, it being the duty of one and all to put forth every effort to compete it. We have looked for characteristics that would enable us to view the future with optimism. Public opinion is no doubt one of such characteristics. However, does its analysis offer more reasons for hope or doubts? In our view, there is ample scope for discussion. With this polemic feature by the Center for Social Forecasts director Anatoly Tykholaz based on a recent sociological study of the center, The Day offers its readers to continue the discussion of this issue.
INDIFFERENCE INDEX OF 61.4%
Apparently, Ukraine is a country whose existence evokes feelings of protest in a quarter of its population and leaves over a half of all its citizens indifferent. Ukraine’s population does not show even a minimal unity of opinion on state sovereignty. Ukraine’s future will soon pass into the hands of a generation for whom Ukraine’s independence does not matter in principle.
Such a sad conclusion stems from the results of a nationwide poll conducted by the Center for Social Forecasts on August 1-6 involving 1,200 respondents. When asked how they felt about the celebration of Independence Day, a mere 23% of them said they were proud to live in an independent country, 25.4% felt disillusioned after the collapse of the USSR. To 26.2% Independence Day means another day-off, and it means nothing to 20.5%. Thus, a whopping 74.6% of the population treats Ukraine’s independence either negatively or with indifference. Twelve years into independence, this is an astonishing statistic for Ukraine. It is noteworthy that in the age bracket of Ukrainian citizens who in fact grew up and were educated in independent Ukraine (people aged eighteen to twenty-four) those indifferent to or dissatisfied with Ukraine’s independence account for 71.6% of the total.
The survey has yet again confirmed the sharp differences in the attitude toward Ukraine’s sovereignty among the representatives of different regions. While in Western Ukraine 47.6% of those polled said they were proud of Ukraine’s independence, in the south this figure was a mere 5.2%. These statistics are nothing new, except for one thing. In the public consciousness western Ukrainians are traditionally seen as the bearers of the ideology of state-building, unlike their compatriots in the east and south, where nostalgia for the Soviet past dominates. It is noteworthy, however, that even in the west the champions of independence do not make up even half of those polled (47.6%), while the percentage of those feeling a nostalgia for the USSR (that is, those who are not only indifferent or antipathetic to Ukraine’s independence) comes to 12.3%. This is evidence of a somewhat simplified and inflated nature of the hypothesis about the western Ukrainians’ innate ideology of state-building.
I cannot think of a European country whose sovereignty would be supported by a mere 23% of the population. I am likewise hard put to imagine a unitary state whose population in different regions would have diametrically opposite views on the very fact of the state’s existence. It is symptomatic that the personal experience of living in independent Ukraine has had almost no influence on the level of the citizens’ support for the sovereignty of their homeland, with the level of positive attitude among those who have grown up in independent Ukraine almost as low as that among citizens who lived in the Soviet Union for the most part of their lives. And although the number of citizens aged eighteen to twenty-four who miss the USSR is minimal (7.4%), it is precisely young people in this age bracket who show the highest level of indifference (61.4%). Thus, those who will decide the future of Ukraine show extreme indifference to the very fact of its independent existence.
As a rule, the low level of support for Ukraine’s independence is attributed to the fact that in the years of independence the leadership has failed to ensure adequate living standards and social security, thereby frustrating the hopes that were once pinned on the idea of sovereignty. I believe such an explanation is accurate only in part. First, it is not the rule for people to associate the declining quality of life to Ukraine’s independence, since other post-Soviet states are in a similar situation or worse. Second, history knows many cases when people united by a common national idea were ready to pay a huge price for the development of their nation-state against which our present hardships look minimal.
Thus it is no surprise that the lack of an ideological and political unity of Ukraine’s population is often attributed to the lack of a national idea to rally the nation around a common cause. However, no idea can create a nation, and any attempts to rally something that obviously lacks internal unity are doomed to failure. Ukraine, which today has all external features and attributes of a sovereign state and independent subject of international law, still remains in the consciousness of many of its citizens something invalid, that is, does not exist. Ukraine got its independence as a result of accidental external circumstances that came as a surprise to its citizens, that is, the Ukrainian state was not formed as a result of a national liberation struggle. Ukraine as a geopolitical reality has not resulted from a struggle for national self-identification, but is a territory carved up in the process of administrative and territorial division of the Soviet Union based before all on economic feasibility and done with minimal regard for national, language, and cultural factors. Thus in geographical, national, and cultural terms Ukraine is an accidental reality that did not appear in the natural way of state-building: Ukraine in its present form is not a product of creation, but a product of decay. Thus it is no surprise that the absolutely unrealistic desire to revitalize the Soviet Union continues to dominate many minds in Ukraine.
The attitude toward Ukraine’s independence revealed by the survey is also evidence of the obvious fiasco of the so-called national democratic forces (an unheard-of attempt to combine nationalism with democracy). The humanitarian policy pursued by them (which they are the author talking about here? —Ed.) for over a decade has resulted in a catastrophic devaluation of national and state-building ideals in Ukrainian society. Such a policy could hardly cause a national revival. Ukraine has yet again experienced a fusilladed renaissance, the only difference being that this time around the blame cannot be placed on the so-called anti- Ukrainian forces. The ideology of state-building has been discredited by its major advocates (who have never been in power? —Ed.). It transpired that for them Ukraine’s independence was only a means of realizing their ambitions that could not be realized on an imperial scale.
All of the above explains why throughout the brief history of Ukraine’s independence all efforts aimed at ensuring its sovereignty came from the state leadership alone and were not an expression of the popular will. There is no point in thinking whether it is good or bad, since Ukraine’s independence is a fait accompli and therefore must be assessed as such.
In this case, the major revelation of the survey is the extreme level of indifference to Ukraine’s sovereignty. Considering such public sentiment, the powers that be can take any steps in the direction of political reform, make decisions on Ukraine’s accession either to the CES or EU, and disregard the public opinion just because the population is completely indifferent to the existence of the Ukrainian state as such. Thus priority can be attached to foreign economic factors, since unlike Ukrainian citizens, the West and Russia show a much greater interest in Ukraine’s political future. Thus, proceeding with its political reforms the leadership may brush aside the possible accusations that its actions run counter to Ukraine’s national sovereignty, since the leadership is the main bearer and guarantor of sovereignty, and there is no political force that could match the state in its state-building functions. There is no such force and there can be none: despite the catchy political slogans of national democratic forces, today not one political party can offer a state-building alternative to that of the powers that be, since such a party would win no support on a nationwide scale and would be doomed to temporary successes on a regional scale. Notably, even this is possible only if the programs of such political forces are not limited exclusively to national and state- building slogans. Under such conditions, the leadership can act on its own initiative and be confident that the majority of the population will take any changes in the political system in stride. As for the concrete steps in the process of political reform, in this case the specifics of the political consciousness of Ukrainian citizens must be also taken into account.
BREZHNIEV, HRUSHEVSKY, STALIN, KHMELNYTSKY
To find out Ukrainians’ preferences for the forms of government, the survey asked what type of social organization most fully corresponds to the national character of Ukrainians.
The responses split almost evenly, with 34% of respondents supporting a presidential republic and 32.9% a parliamentary republic, 5.2% a dictatorship, 2.5% a monarchy, 1.3% a military junta, and 0.7% anarchy. Tellingly, 20.2% could not answer this question. The figures cited create the impression that the majority of Ukrainians are republicans, with the south region and Kyiv at the opposite extremes, where 43.4% are supporters of a presidential and 43.3% of a parliamentary republic respectively. Thus one may assume that, considering the great number of people who do not have any opinion on this issue, the population will receive quite calmly any change in Ukraine’s republican form of government. Moreover, the number of people who expressed their support for democratic ideals is not a determining factor, since it is difficult to understand then how, in a country where 66.9% of the population favors a democracy, a quarter of the population wants to return to the USSR, which can hardly be called a democracy.
It was no accident that the survey asked the respondents which historical figures they would like to see at the helm of Ukraine. Their responses said quite a lot about the political preferences of Ukrainians. First, it is noteworthy that 19.6% of those polled failed to answer this question. Of those who did answer, 14.8% opted for Brezhniev, 12.9% named Hrushevsky, 11.2% Stalin, 10.2% Khmelnytsky, and 4.5% Lenin, these being the top five answers. The division of responses according to the respondents’ age, education, and region did not provide any surprises. As was to be expected, Ukrainian historical figures lead in the west, Soviet leaders are most popular among representatives of the older generation, and those most educated even named De Gaulle (1.6%), Roosevelt (1.8%), Churchill (2.2%), Bismarck (below 1%), Napoleon (1.2%), or Kennedy (3.5%). Characteristically, of the five most often named figures Soviet-era leaders account for 20.5% of the responses, in particular Stalin, whose popularity rating is quite high considering the fact that those polled named twenty-five leaders in all. This is evidence of the fact that in the consciousness of Ukrainian people preferences for not only undemocratic but outright totalitarian leaders are quite consistent with purportedly republican beliefs. Notably, these personal preferences are more telltale than the responses to the theoretical question about the form of government. If you consider the fact that, aside from Lenin, Stalin, and Brezhniev, the respondents named Andropov, Pinochet, Makhno, Hitler, Bandera, Shcherbytsky, Khrushchev, Petliura, and Mao Zedong, the thesis about the democratic mindset of most Ukrainians looks quite questionable. Decided preferences were shown for ironfisted leaders capable of establishing order (Margaret Thatcher and Peter the Great). In general, the survey has shown a lack of a national hero in the mass consciousness that would act as a paradigm for emulation, a classic charismatic leader capable of leading the nation.
Thus, 46.7% of the population is indifferent to Ukraine’s independence, 25.4% of Ukrainians feel nostalgia for the USSR, over 20% do not know under which form of government they would like to live, 19.6% cannot tell what political leader they would like to see at the helm of the state, and dictators prevail among the most popular leaders. Likewise, in its attempt to reform the country’s political system the leadership is not likely to meet any popular opposition: these problems remain at the periphery of the mass consciousness. Most Ukrainians will receive any changes in the structure of power with complete indifference, unless they threaten to affect their standards of living. Judging from the political preferences of Ukrainians, one may assume that today they would easily forsake many democratic institutions and would agree to a return to an unrepressive version of the administrative command system, provided order is established, living standards are improved, and minimal social guarantees are provided. The poll data suggest that neither a sovereign and independent Ukraine nor democratic ideals will be the factor that will rally Ukrainians around a common cause. Moreover, one may say almost for a certainty that presently no political idea can consolidate the nation. For this reason, it is impossible to form a national political opposition movement in Ukraine: on the one hand, citizens showing a negative attitude toward specific persons vested with power are not opposed to the politics of the powers that be, because not only is there no unity of political view but also the population is largely depoliticized. On the other hand, such a state of society renders any political opposition unable to rally the support of the whole society, because Ukrainian society is not an ideologically political whole. Such a state of society could be disastrous in critical historical moments that require from the nation the highest degree of consolidation and unity of political will. However, under the present conditions in Ukraine, when the powers that be are in fact the only real subjects of the political process, when they face no ideological and political opposition supported by a wide swath of the population, and carry all the burden of responsibility for the results of their political decisions, such a state of political consciousness of the population gives the power a free hand to pursue its policy both in the country and in the political arena. Simultaneously, it is a major historical challenge.