The inaugural issue of Dilo, the leading newspaper that shaped Ukrainian political thought in western Ukraine for nearly six decades until it was brutally shut down in 1939 when the Soviet Red Army marched into Lviv, led with the headline: “Now is the time for the Rusyns”. (Rusyn was the term used to identify Ukrainians who lived in Galicia, Transcarpathia and Bukovyna under the Hapsburg monarchy.)
“The time has come for the country’s Rusyns to take care of our internal matters, to know ourselves, to calculate our forces and explain to ourselves our situation and our future actions. We know our misfortune, but don’t know how to be saved, we know our numbers but don’t find our strength, we know how to divide ourselves and argue, but don’t know how to make peace and unite! Where is the force of our great mass, the common national interest? In what idea is our patriotic honor established, what are our national obligations? We’ll see if we can find the way.”
In writing these words, Dilo’s editors were responding to a new, ostensibly more liberal, nationalities policy the Hapsburgs were about to unveil in an attempt to reform, and thus strengthen, the monarchy. Yet, as Ukraine heads into the presidential run-off election on Feb. 7, the questions they posed in the paper’s first issue on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 1880 are as relevant today as they were 130 years ago: What is the great mass, what is the national interest, and most importantly, what is the national obligation?
Unlike 2004, when western Ukrainians rose en masse to defend the Orange Revolution, for many voters here today, the answers remain unclear.
When they voted in the presidential election two weeks ago, a fair number of western Ukrainians cast their ballot in favor of Victor Yushchenko, hoping the current president would garner enough support to propel him into the run-off. They voted for him because even though many believed he made serious mistakes during his presidency, more than any of his opponents, Mr. Yushchenko represented the ideals so critical to western Ukrainians: a steadfast resolve to defend Ukraine’s independence and national interests, integration into Europe and its accompanying institutions, and a respect for the country’s history and traditions.
Mr. Yushchenko’s defeat has now forced his constituents to choose between two candidates – Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych –whose values they see as often being alien to their own.
It is a choice many don’t want to make.
“I don’t want to vote for either,” asserted a late-night cabbie while carefully navigating Lviv’s icy streets. “My conscience won’t let me do it!”
“I will cross out both their names,” said one university professor.
“I’m still thinking,” noted a third man, a security guard at a local store. “I’ll listen to what they have to offer -- when they speak, when they have debates.”
It is true that in conversations, many of Mr. Yushchenko’s supporters say they can’t fathom the idea of a Yanukovych presidency: Try as he might, the opposition leader can’t shake the image of being a proxy for both Moscow and eastern Ukrainian oligarchs; people here strongly fear he will compromise Ukraine’s independence. They don’t believe Mr. Yanukovych’s declarations of Euro-integration. They doubt someone with a prison record can command international respect for Ukraine. He is hard enough to listen to when speaking Russian, let alone Ukrainian. Just the mention of Mr. Yanukovych’s right-hand-person, Lviv native Hannah Herman, elicits the sort of vitriol that can’t be published in a respected paper. They -- for sure -- don’t want to see her anywhere near the halls of power on Bankova Street.
Mr. Yanukovych did make a better showing in western Ukraine than in previous elections. The increase might in part be ideology. Some folks however, particularly those living in the country and witnessed the subornment, attribute any rise to 100 hryvnia notes, T-shirts and scarves that were liberally distributed before the first round of elections.
Yet many Yushchenko voters are unsure about Mrs. Tymoshenko. The prime minister has not convinced everyone she is the Orange Revolution’s standard-bearer. Many say they don’t know if they can trust her promises, say her constant bickering with Mr. Yushchenko led partly to his demise, and worry about what they see as totalitarian tendencies in her personality. Others have made more bigoted remarks: “But she’s a Jew!” It was the same line of attack that crushed Arseniy Yatseniuk’s campaign in western Ukraine. The Front Zmin leader, who is from Chernivtsi, was forced to print up brochures outlining his family tree, as well as appear on national television, to prove he was indeed Ukrainian. It didn’t work.
In the hopes of swaying undecided voters -- if she is to win the presidency, these are the people she must convince -- Mrs. Tymoshenko arrived in a frosty Lviv last Friday on so-called Union Day. The day is particularly important to western Ukrainians. It is on that day -- Jan. 22 – that they commemorate the 1919 unification of the two Ukrainian governments that had declared independence from their respective ruling monarchies and allowed Ukraine to become one state.
Dressed in her trademark white, Mrs. Tymoshenko paid homage to those turn-of-the- century soldiers who fought for Ukraine’s independence, spoke at the opulent Opera house during a commemorative ceremony, and then, under a frozen sky, took center stage at a modern-day version of the viche – the large public assemblies that have been particularly popular in western Ukraine since the 19th century to discuss Ukrainian politics.
“Men have done us enough harm,” one male speaker told the shivering crowd as Mrs. Tymoshenko listened. “I’m voting for the beautiful face of my country.”
Mrs. Tymoshenko probably wished for a larger audience than the estimated 1,500 who showed up at the viche, but given the sub-zero temperature, it’s not surprising residents may have preferred to watch her on television from home. Flanked by influential western Ukrainian politicians and academics, and Olympic gold medalist, Liliya Podkopayeva, a daughter of the east, Mrs. Tymoshenko gave a short, and pointed speech.
“We, with you, have a very important assignment so that everything that is being done on purpose, falsely -- and for that matter, for money – which is being done to disunite our people, to disunite the territories; all this must become nothingness, along with those politicians who in eighteen years have proven there is nothing Ukrainian in their hearts.” Promising she would defend the national interest, Mrs. Tymoshenko said Ukrainians could not allow a repeat of the 20th century history that led to the eventual loss of Ukrainian statehood.
“Never in our lives can we allow for someone to appear on the square like they did in 2004 and say that what is needed is federalization, succession, disunity. These are the ones who want to return today…with their false ideas. They need to go into nothingness…I want you raise your heads up high, throw back your shoulders and finally be victorious with Ukraine. Ukraine will always be victorious.”
It was the kind of oratory that Dilo’s editors would have liked and supported. And certainly would have been published on the front page.