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You're reading: Russian, Soviet nationalism is the biggest threat to democracy, ethnic stability in Ukraine

The prevalence of bi-ethnic identities and high levels of Russian language use in eastern and southern Ukraine translates into high levels of identification with Soviet and Russian culture and deep levels of hostility towards Ukrainian nationalism. This, in turn, provides a bedrock of support for Sovietophile and Russophile parties, such as the Communist Party and the ruling pro-presidential Party of Regions because public support for social authoritarian political forces is far higher in eastern than western Ukraine. The Communist Party and Party of Regions have eight times as much support in eastern and southern Ukraine and the Crimea, at 40 percent nationwide, compared to 4-5 percent nationwide for the Svoboda nationalist party. Western Ukrainian ethnic nationalism has been weak in Ukraine and support for Svoboda, even in the face of Yanukovych’s Russophile nationality policies and democratic regression, has remained comparably low compared to that for nationalist groups in post-communist Europe.

The Party of Regions, when it has been in opposition and since the 2010 elections when it has had control of parliament and the presidency, has been by far the most aggressive and violent political force in Ukraine. This is evident from violence it has undertaken inside and outside parliament against opposition parliamentary deputies and journalists and its campaign of political repression against Yulia Tymoshenko and her supporters.

On Dec. 16, 2010, Party of Regions deputies violently attacked opposition deputies sleeping overnight in parliament who were protesting against political repression. Stephan Shulman, drawing on his surveys, concluded that ethnic Ukrainian nationalism provided higher levels of support for democracy than eastern Slavic identity which was more supportive of authoritarianism. Dominique Arel, chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa in Canada, pointed out that the ‘‘political culture in eastern Ukraine is based on intimidation. [Ex-President Leonid] Kuchma in the late 1990s tried, and ultimately failed, to institute the ‘blackmail’ state. Yanukovych learned nothing from the [2004] Orange Revolution and everything from Vladimir Putin that to stay in power, you have to bully your opponents.”

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