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You're reading: Historical baggage gets between Ukraine, diaspora

The large Ukrainian diaspora in the West has an uncomfortable and complicated relationship with independent Ukraine. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, for example, has been accused of all manner of sins simply for having an American‑Ukrainian wife; it is inconceivable that an American‑Ukrainian could ever become president of Ukraine. By contrast, the Polish and Baltic diasporas see eye to eye with their homelands on most issues, and emigrй personalities have taken up high ranking positions – right up to the presidency in the cases of Lithuania and Latvia.

Compared to the return of emigrй politicians and parties in other post‑communist states, the most successful example of which has been the return of the former king of Bulgaria, diaspora parties have only had a slender impact on politics in Ukraine. At the World Congress of Ukrainians in Kyiv in August 1992, the government‑in‑exile of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (1917‑1921) passed on its “mandate” to then President Leonid Kravchuk. In contrast to the return of the Polish government‑in‑exile to Poland after 1989, however, this was a purely symbolic action.

This situation should not be surprising. Until the late 1980s, those very members of the Ukrainian elites who are today’s oligarchic centrists, like Kravchuk himself, the former ideological secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, were in the forefront of ideological offensives against “bourgeois nationalists” at home and abroad. The March parliamentary elections showed just how easy it was for them to return to the past and mobilize eastern Ukrainian voters against the “nationalist” Our Ukraine.

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