Between Maidan and Severodonetsk
In 2004 Ukraine was on the eve of a fateful decision. The official candidate for presidency was prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, former governor of the Donetsk region and leader of the Party of Regions. His opponent was Viktor Yushchenko, ex-premier and “Nasha Ukraina” leader.
All the resources of the state apparatus were directed to support Viktor Yanukovych, president Kuchma’s successor. Best Russian political technologists were invited from Russia – Gleb Pavlovskiy and Marat Gelman who helped Boris Yeltsyn win the election in 1996 and Putin in 1999. But it was not them who inflicted the main stroke on the mentality of electors. It was the team of Ukrainian PR expert Vladimir Granovskiy. It was he who invented the mem “We won’t allow you to devide Ukraine into three sorts”.
This widely spread slogan accused Yushchenko of the attempt to divide Ukrainians into three sorts: Western Ukraine – the 1st sort; Central Ukraine – the 2d; South-Eastern Ukraine, the main electorate of Yanukovych – the 3d. This propaganda trick, which cast in a bone between Ukrainians, matched mass phobias of the citizens of the Donbas. Developing the theme, local propaganda presented Yushchenko and his supporters as neo-Nazis, “Banderovtsy”, who hated Russian-speaking residents of the Donbas; and the potential victory of Yushchenko was presented as a tragedy. Massive propaganda caused psychosis. Leaders of Donbas separatism were not passive either. Leader of the Slovyansk Party Aleksandr Bazilyuk nominated himself for presidency to use TV broadcasting time to discredit Yushchenko. At that time there were a lot of candidates-spoilers. For example, fake leader of nationalists Roman Kozak regularly appeared on TV to remind the electors that Yushchenko’s wife was American. Another nationalistic politician, also candidate for presidency, Dmitriy Korchinskiy, was a presenter in a TV program “Khocha” which was a clone of Russian program “Odnako” (“However”). The program was “ 5minutes of pure hatred” directed against the opposition and their leader.
The 2004 election in the Donbas was unprecedented concerning the level of violence of the power against the opponents. All the things which Ukraine faced in 2013-2014 – attacks on opposition activists and their headquarters, former criminals – militants-“titushkas” – all these things were the reality in 2004.
The peak of violence was whem “titushkas” beat the participants of the rally in support of Yushchenko in Luhansk on November 29, 2004.
A mass rally against the falsification of the elections which started in Maidan Nezalezhnosti after the second round of the election in which Yanukovych was said to have won, was a shock to the Donbas elite. It was very easy to convince people of the Donbas, processed by the powerful propaganda, that neo-Nazis and U.S. agents gathered together in the square in Kyiv “to steal the victory” from the Donbas. When it became evident that Maidan was gaining victory, and President Kuchma, under the pressure from the West, was ready to admit that the results of the election were invalid, the elites of the South-East started getting ready for counter revolution. Its logical center was the Donbas.
On November 26, 2004, Aleksandr Yefremov, governor of the Luhansk region, and head of the city council Victor Tikhonov proposed to create a South-Eastern autonomous Republic which would comprise the regions where Yanukovych had won victory.
That real call to divide the country was supported by the regional council. More than that, the deputies addressed Russian president Putin for support. The initiative of Luhansk was supported by regional councils of the Donetsk and Kharkov regions, with active promoters of separatism being governor of the Kharkov region Yevgeniy Kushnaryov and head of Donetsk regional council Boris Kolesnikov. Separatists’ rhetoric of political marginal turned into a political phenomenon at the All-Ukrainian congress of deputies of all levels in Severodonetsk, the Luhansk region, on November 28, 2004. The elite representatives of the South-East of Ukraine participated in the congress though the leaders were the representatives of the Donbas. Kolesnikov offered to create a new Ukrainian state in the form of a federative republic with the capital in Kharkiv. This way the first capital of independent Ukraine would be restored. Another speaker, Yevgeniy Kushnaryov threatened Kyiv saying that Russian militaries would interfere in, “I would like to remind hot heads under orange flags that the distance between Kharkiv and Kyiv is 480 km, and there is only 40 km to the Russian border!”
Kostyantyn Skorkin for RN
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