RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
RFE/RL NEWSLINE 12 November 1999
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL PRAISES HUNGARY. George Robertson said
in Budapest on 11 November that Hungary is "a new ally, but a
good one," MTI reported. Robertson made his comments after
meeting separately with Prime Minister Viktor Orban and
President Arpad Goncz. Robertson praised the country's
reorganization of its military, which he said was an example
for other countries. He described the air campaign against
Yugoslavia as a "tough test" for Budapest and praised the
conduct of Hungarian officials during the conflict. Orban
said the goal of the military's reform is to significantly
increase the country's defense capabilities. Goncz asked
Robertson to take into account "the load capacity of
Hungarian society." Robertson met with Defense Minister Janos
Szabo and members of the parliamentary foreign affairs and
defense committees before proceeding to Prague. PB
EAST-WEST SPLIT IN UKRAINE HIGHLIGHTED BY PRESIDENTIAL
By Askold Krushelnycky
With its cobbled streets and Austro-Hungarian-style
buildings, Lviv is the heartland of Ukrainian patriotism. It
was the center of Ukrainian national re-awakening in the 19th
century and the engine of the drive for national independence
in the Soviet era.
For most of incumbent President Leonid Kuchma's term in
office, much of Lviv's and west Ukraine's population has been
fiercely critical of him. They complain he has not done
enough to nurture Ukraine's national identity or set it on a
pro-Western and market-reform path.
Now, however, they are among his most avid supporters.
At a public meeting last weekend, speakers from more than 20
parties and community organizations urged voters to support
Kuchma in the 14 November runoff between him and Communist
leader Petro Symonenko.
The elections have polarized the electorate between west
and east. In the first round, Kuchma and other pro-democracy
candidates gained more than 70 percent of the votes in the
west. But in the east, leftist candidates gained a similar
The voting differences reflect the different histories
of the two regions. West Ukraine was not incorporated into
the former Soviet Union until during World War Two. Until
then, it had been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire--except
for the inter-war years, when it was annexed by Poland.
West Ukraine's population was fiercely pro-independence
minded and always regarded the Communists, who united them
with East Ukraine, as an alien occupation force. A Ukrainian
guerrilla army known as the UPA fought against the Nazis
during the war and continued battling against what it viewed
as Communist Russian imperialism until the early 1950s.
One veteran UPA soldier who attended the Lviv rally last
week, 80-year-old Mykhailo Palyvko, echoed the beliefs of
many of the speakers at the rally, and of many ordinary West
Ukrainians, who believe a vote for Communists is tantamount
to being a traitor to Ukraine. Palyvko told RFE/RL that "we
veterans of the UPA can only vote for Kuchma because
Symonenko will bring us no good.... He wants the same thing
as [Belarus President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka--to form a new
Soviet Union. We did not fight for that, for a new Soviet
Union. We fought for an independent, sovereign Ukraine."
In contrast to the west, central and east Ukraine had
been in the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union since
the 17th century and experienced intense Communist
repression. This included an artificially induced famine in
the 1930s that killed millions and mass executions of
nationally conscious Ukrainians.
The region also experienced large-scale
industrialization under Soviet rule. That brought in millions
of Russian workers, thereby accelerating the region's
Russification. While Ukrainian is the language commonly
spoken throughout west and parts of central Ukraine, Russian
is the dominant tongue in the east.
The area is also home to huge Soviet-era coal mines and
other heavy industries. Most are now semi-dormant because
they are no longer being subsidized by the state. That, in
turn, has led to millions of workers being paid meager wages
and in most cases having to wait months for even those
payments. Many--especially elderly people with unpaid
pensions--blame their plight on the disintegration of the
In the west the main issue is independence. In the
country's central and east regions, what counts most is
obtaining a regular wage. Ukrainians in these regions have
been attracted by Symonenko's Soviet-era rhetoric, and the
ethnic Russians in the region approve of his promise to
reinstate Russian as a state language. Kuchma, for his part,
won the presidency five years ago with most of his support
from the east, having promised massive injections of cash for
the rust-belt industries there.
In the coal mining region of Luhansk, nearly half voted
for Symonenko in the first round, and about a quarter cast
their ballot for other leftist candidates. The first
secretary of the Communist Party in the Luhansk region,
Vladimir Zemlyakov, told RFE/RL that people will vote for his
party because they are tired of living in poverty. He denied
his party would reinstate autocratic rule and said elements
of privatization might be retained.
But by no means all workers want a return to communist
rule. Again, unlike West Ukraine, their considerations are
economic rather than nationalistic. Many, like coal miner
Yuriy Telnoy, fear a Communist return will cause yet more
disruption and increase poverty. "I personally will vote for
Kuchma," he told RFE/RL. "Because if the Communists return to
power they will begin changing things again. As in the past,
five or 10 people will have to share one meal. Therefore, I
will vote for Kuchma."
Kuchma, meanwhile, hopes that desire for stability will
help sway enough of the eastern vote. But the elections have
once more demonstrated the profound differences between the
east and west of Ukraine--a divide that no politician has yet
been able to bridge.
The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague and
currently covering the Ukrainian presidential election from
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