By Alevtina Rea.
[People voted in Donetsk, Ukraine on May 11, 2014 to form their own region. Picture courtesy of al Alam.]
The will of the people is being heard
In recent months, the Southeast of Ukraine has become one of the hottest political spots in the world. It is exactly there where the U.S. foreign policy and the Russian geopolitical interests clash, it is specifically there where the unelected Kiev government has recently unleashed the military might of Ukraine – using newly mobilized National Guard, radical militants and foreign mercenaries – against the residents of eastern regions, and it is precisely there where the fate of the whole country is about to be decided, whether Ukraine will stay in its present borders or will lose quite a few eastern regions to the local people’s aspiration for independence.
Last Sunday, May 11, 2014, was a very decisive day for the residents of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Since April 6, they were under the attack of the Kiev junta which has seemingly unconditional backing of the U.S. government – financial, political and military support, in fact. However, the Sunday referendums in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions demonstrated, way too clearly, that the people of Southeast of Ukraine do not accept an unelected government which is so fully backed by the U.S. and EU – in short, they showed to the Kiev junta that they are entitled for their rights to vote and, thus, decide if they want to be part of the country with the neo-Nazi-infiltrated government. They do not support the junta’s threat on the foundation of their culture, which is intrinsically connected with the Russian world, they do not accept the junta’s collaboration with the fascist elements in the country and, thus, the acting government’s betrayal of the memory of their grandfathers and grandmothers who fought against fascism in WW II. Despite the military attack on a number of cities and villages in these two regions, the locals crowded the voting stations, showing their support for the self-defense militia and their respect to those who died protecting their cities and livelihood against the junta – thus, the locals demonstrated their courage to voice their self-determination.
As reported by ITAR-TASS, Christopher Wanner, a reporter of the German TV N24, worked at a polling station in Donetsk and he was surprised how many people came to polling stations, as well as by the fact that the majority vote for sovereignty. Certainly, many residents of southeastern regions of Ukraine rely on protection of the Russian-speaking population and support from Moscow, he said. But, for the majority, it is important to preserve their identity. “It is, above all, the protection of the common history,” commented the German agency.
On May 11, two special correspondents from KP (Komsomolskaya Pravda), Aleksandr Kots and Dmitriy Steshin, reported on referendum: “Queues at polling stations, a stream of people… The result is clear. Not even discussed. For the enlightened Europe, aka civilized West, our referendum is fiction. But the people who came today, they believed in what they vote. Despite the opposition of the Ukrainian army, the vote was held in Slavyansk.”
The results of the referendum were announced this Monday, and they were no less impressive than the outcome of the Crimean referendum in March. Based on the referendum results, the leaders of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics declared independence from Ukraine. According to preliminary data, in both regions about 90% of the participants voted for independence. Turnout in the Lugansk region reached 81%. “The people of Lugansk region supported independence of the People’s Republic of Lugansk, 96.2% of those who voted last Sunday said YES to independence, with 3.8% saying NO,” said Aleksandr Malykhin, chairman of the local central election commission in Lugansk. The official referendum results were obtained from all 32 territorial election commissions in the region.
Turnout in the Donetsk region exceeded 75%. Given the scale of the military intervention on the referendum date, the high rate of participation in voting is quite amazing! The preliminary data show that about 90% of voters said YES to the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic. In particular, the referendum results in Slavyansk are as follows: turnout in the city reached 72.1% – that is,
72,575 people voted last Sunday; 97.5% of voters, or 70,743 people, said YES to independence; 1.8%, or 1,325 people said NO; and 507 ballots were spoiled.
All in all, the people’s turnout and the referendum results are more than impressive, especially given the fact that the voting was held in war-like conditions in quite a few hotspots of Donetsk region. What will happen next for these courageous people who decided to take their common destiny in own hands? Will the referendum results be recognized by the Kiev, Russia, the rest of the world? Will the people of these two republics attain the independence they are fighting for? These are the questions that are burning on the back of the many people’s minds.
Meanwhile, on the meeting in Lugansk this Monday, the people’s governor Valeriy Bolotov said, “We have chosen our own way of independence from the bloody tyranny and dictate of Kiev junta, fascism and nationalism; we have chosen the path of freedom, the path of the rule of law,” noting that the new life “without dictatorship of the Kiev authorities” begins in the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR).
Earlier on Monday, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) has also declared itself a sovereign state and appealed to Moscow to request its integration into the Russian Federation.
“We, the people of the Donetsk People’s Republic, based on the results of the referendum held on May 11, 2014, and based on the Declaration of Sovereignty of the DPR, declare that henceforth the DPR is a sovereign state. … Based on the expression of the DPR’s people’s will and in order to restore historical justice, we ask the Russian Federation to consider a question of the Donetsk People’s Republic becoming part of the Russian Federation,” read the co-chairman of the provisional government of the republic Denis Pushilin.
He recalled that the Donetsk region has always been part of the Russian world and the Russian Empire, and “only after a bloody catastrophe in 1917 it was separated from the conventional administrative boundaries of greater Russia. As part of Ukraine, we lived most of the twentieth century, but it was possible only due to the fact that Ukraine itself was a territorial unit within a single state,” said Pushilin. [An excursus to the past reveals that Novorossiya (including Donetsk region) was a historical term used by Russia denoting an area north of the Black Sea, which was conquered by the Russian Empire from the Ottomans in the 18th century after the Russo-Turkish War, and remained under the Russian control until 1917.] In addition, on the TV channel Russia 24, Pushilin said that DPR will hold talks with leaders of the Lugansk People’s Republic regarding their merger. “We intend to be together. We spoke previously with representatives of the People’s Council of LPR, and now we need to decide how it will be done technically. We’ll walk hand in hand – and to some extent we will be united,” said Pushilin.
At this point, the first and only recognition of the LPR and DPR independence was extended by the Crimea – who else but the Crimeans could understand what is really going on in these two regions, as well as appreciate their people’s powerful impulse toward independence and the reunion with Russia where these regions once belonged?!
However, the Russian official reaction was very much restrained. The Kremlin announced that Russia respects the will of the residents of Donetsk and Lugansk regions and proceeds from the assumption that the implementation of the referendum results will take place in a civilized manner. In turn, the Russian Foreign Ministry believes that the implementation of the outcome of the referendum should take place in the framework of the dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk.
According to VZGLYAD, the Russian political analysts mostly agree that Moscow is likely to limit itself, at least for now, to the recognition of the new states, but it will not rush with their acceptance to Russia: formally, in order to give the parties enough time to start negotiations to preserve a unified Ukraine, and, essentially – to proceed on the basis of the Russian national interests. However, all the analysts agree that regardless of how these states will be called (whether they will stay as autonomous part of Ukraine or become independent states), now the residents of Donetsk and Lugansk regions are absolutely guaranteed any protection from the Russian side – in many ways because they clearly defined their place in the ongoing Cold War between Russia and the United States.
SNAFU in Kiev, snafu all around
While the referendum results are widely celebrated in the eastern part of Ukraine, it is interesting to observe the reactions of the opposing side. One can judge about a degree of the nervous reaction of the United States to the referendum results by the fact that CNN’s news program had a serious snafu – while commenting on referendums in Donetsk and Lugansk regions, on the image of the map of the world the program staff marked Ukraine on the site of Pakistan. Do they even know where Ukraine is located? And, as it was not funny enough, I have just found on Wikipedia site that SNAFU is a military slang acronym meaning “Situation Normal: All F…ed UP.” SNAFU indeed! This is exactly what the Kiev junta’s current predicament is – SNAFU. How are they going to deal with it, especially given the independence course of the two eastern regions? Let’s take a look.
Obviously, the unelected government of Ukraine is renouncing the referendum results. It is to be expected. Then, this Monday the acting Minister of Economic Development Pavel Sheremeta has announced that Ukraine is discontinuing state investment in some industries to maintain the existing social programs. It means that the subsidies of eastern mines and heavy metallurgy industries are to be stopped immediately. Thus, the junta is preparing itself to deal with the independence of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions after all. Also, the acting Ukrainian government reiterated its intention on continuing the “anti-terrorist” operation on the east despite the referendum results. The military assaults on local self-defense militia and, thus, civilian residents are to be continued. And next is a visit of another official sent by their U.S. masters. According to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Richard Stengel, arrived this Monday in Kiev.
In particular, the purpose of Stengel’s visit to Kiev is to emphasize the need for greater regional involvement in support of the presidential elections in Ukraine on May 25, to make these elections as legitimate as possible, and to ensure that all Ukrainians were able to decide for themselves their future. Well, the latter goal of ensuring that ALL Ukrainians are able to decide their future in a centralized Ukraine is busted – two of the current Ukrainian regions are in a process of secession from the rest of the country, and, as it seems so far, their residents are not going to participate in the “all-Ukrainian” election on the 25th. Previous visits of the U.S. officials resulted in the immediate military attacks of the junta mercenaries on the cities and villages on the east of Ukraine. What will be the immediate outcome of Stengel’s visit, I wonder? Another SNAFU?
Meanwhile, the Kiev junta army reports numerous cases of mass desertion. In the Zhytomyr region, 102 mobilized reservists voluntarily left the military units, reported in the city administration of Zhitomir. I presume that these reservists are from the eastern regions of Ukraine, and, given the chaos and mess unleashed by the junta, as well as the referendum results, they have just decided to return back home where they belong. But for the Kiev junta, it is definitely SNAFU!
Cultural memes in war zone of Slavyansk
To any action, there is an immediate reaction. Thus, in any war zone, there is a process of creation the certain exclusivity that is unique to this or that particular region. In Slavyansk, there are catch-phrases abound that reflect their specific war-like situation. Such words as “separatist” and “terrorist” acquired completely new meaning for the Slavyansk residents these days. First of all, the fact that the Kiev junta unleashed an anti-terrorist military operation against the mostly civilian population in the towns and villages of the eastern Ukraine made them realize the extent of insanity of the unelected government. The latter is being on the western payroll and, therefore, doing exactly what their masters want – which, for the most part, is detrimental to the local people in the eastern regions of Ukraine. Second, these words became some sort of an honor badge for all the residents of Slavyansk. Recently, following the local news, I found a very funny dating advertisement based on the pun with these two words Here it is:
“A single female separatist would like to meet a single male terrorist, in order to create a militia unit and make small titushki [the latter is a new slang, another meme, which in Ukraine for the last six months is used to describe athletically looking young people who act as the agents provocateurs or instigators of fights during civil actions].”
Another example is a description of the May 9 celebration in Slavyansk, byDmitriy Steshin who twitted, “The most touching Victory Day in my life was in Slavyansk. This is not a metaphor, but the whole city of terrorists and separatists came out on the streets.”
The people’s humor is usually witty, sometimes crude, and always straightforward and reflective of the situation, right to the point!
A recent example is the new meme that is being spread in Slavyansk as a reaction to the war of the ignoble junta against the locals. KP correspondent reports from the city, “A viral meme is being spread in Slavyansk – ‘No fear!’ Already heard from the strangers in response to ‘How are you? – [people say] ‘No fear!’”
This specific meme became a unit of a peculiar to Slavyansk cultural replication that reflects the locals’ feeling of self-determination to fight against the “neo-Nazis and Banderaites from Kiev” [another newly spread meme, by the way] who – in an indiscriminate fashion! – dared to reckon all of them as “the terrorists.” The adaptation of the Slavyansk community self-identity to the war-like conditions reveals itself in these and some other examples of popularly propagated memes.
Rebellion, Democracy, Legitimacy!
The residents of Donetsk and Lugansk regions chose this particular path for their own self-determination – rebellion, democratic referendum, and the subsequent legitimacy. They rebelled against the Kiev junta, and they prevailed in their self-determination, which was sealed by the impressive results of the Sunday referendum. May 11 will enter these regions’ historical annals as the day they earned their independence. Even if Kiev and the West do not recognize them, they won!
What are the immediate and the long-term consequences of this referendum? Vladimir Skachko, in Rusdozor.ru, offers to take a look on the referendum results. Firstly, people of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics – democratically, that is, by public vote expressing the will of the people – have attained a new legal framework and foundation for their activities. So far not recognized worldwide, but potentially this legal framework offers a possibility of legitimization.
Secondly, the creators of these two people’s republics de jure legitimized themselves in the eyes of their fellow citizens and de facto received from them a kind of mandate to represent the interests of the regions in any negotiations on their status. And, as rightly noticed by many political analysts, the May 11 referendum balanced the legitimacy of its leaders with the legitimacy of the new president of Ukraine, who may be elected on May 25 this year and who will have to negotiate with the Southeast, eventually.
Besides, the leaders of LPR and DPR have already clearly stated they will not allow holding presidential elections in their regions. And even if these elections will be, somehow, held, they won’t recognize the results. Moreover, if the West and the United States recognize the legitimacy of the presidential election, and Russia – the results of the referendum in the Southeast, then the representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk can meet as equal partners at the negotiating table on the fate and status of the Southeast region and all Ukraine. Even though they do not recognize each other, but each will have the same mutual half-legitimacy that is supported by the will of their respective voters.
It seems that the initiators of the referendum were relying on this kind of legitimacy while carrying it out even under the threat of executions and military sweeps. This legitimacy, supported by the people, is their main hope for a favorable outcome. In such circumstances, for these two people’s republics, the recognition or non-recognition of their aspirations by the West and Russia does not matter. The residents of the Southeast and their leaders brought the world attention to a fait accompli.
As to the other regions of the Southeast, there is still time for them to follow an example. A rally in support of the referendum was held in Kharkov this Monday. And one of the leading supporters of Kharkov federalization, Konstantin Dolgov, has pleased his supporters: “Please do not forget that the capital of Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Republic was Kharkov! Every dog has his day! Kharkov is next.”
As a reminder, the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic was a self-proclaimed republic of 1918, when it sought independence from Ukraine and eventually failed to achieve recognition either internationally or from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Donetsk and other eastern regions were part of that short-lived republic back then. Will the fate of these regions be resolved differently nowadays? The flag of that republic is being used by the Donetsk People’s Republic on barricades in the rebellious cities and checkpoints of Donetsk region and it became a symbolic emblem of the people’s aspiration for independence and political dignity. Who else will follow its inspirational appeal?
Whether other regions will choose to follow the independence course or not, the current crisis, among all the confusion, murder, and blood, has also brought something very important to people in Southeast – their sense of patriotism, their dignity. In the recent interview conducted by the British correspondent Graham Phillips (posted on youtube and mentioned by Daniel Patrick Welsh in his article, “Beacon that is East Ukraine, or, Are you on the right side of history?”), a young man from Kramatorsk had the following to say:
“Furthermore, the Banderites who have now come here and want to impose their ideology on us have given us a precious gift because they have awakened for us in East Ukraine our patriotism, which had been dormant for many years.
“This happened because people had forgotten more or less who they used to be, who they had become. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to a kind of depression. People saw this event, the collapse of the Soviet Union, as a kind of natural disaster. The Soviet Union fell apart, and the rain came. People didn’t understand what had happened – they were demoralized, they used to believe in their leaders.
“Now people understand that it is not necessary to believe in leaders. We don’t need to believe in any Yanukovich, we don’t need to believe in a Party of Regions. We need to organize ourselves by ourselves – and to remember our own history, remember our own culture. That is our foundation.
“So thank you to all the Banderites who have come into Kiev, and who have made people remember who they are, who they are in the world, and above all why they are here on this earth.”
And this feeling of pride and dignity no one can take away from the residents of Southeast!