The Genie Outside The Bottle.

While we are waiting, Veronica Khokhlova offers her impressions from inside the Ukrainian Supreme Court hearing and finds the proceedings almost surreal given the atmosphere on the independence sqare – much better tv, for sure –

The judges look tired, interrupt every once in while, but let the Yushchenko’s team guy finish. Channel 5 interrupts the broadcast from the Supreme Court midway through the questions from Yanukovych’s team guy, switching live to Yushchenko’s address at Independence Square.

Yet there are equally important events going on in the Eastern provinces. With rising concern about a possible irredentist wave growing even within the Yanukovich camp – as indicated by President Kuchma’s statements today as well as by
the resignation of Yanukovich’s campaign manager Serhiy Tihipko
The Kyiv post notes that some oligarchs – notably Kuchma?s son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk, valued at $3bn, may be ready to switch sides, while others, notably Rinat Akhmetov, reportedly Ukraine’s richest man and in “complete control of the Donetsk oblast”, do not yet appear to be ready to deal.

Although his relation to Mr Yanukovich has not been friction-free, Mr Akhmetov has significantly supported Mr Yanukovich’s presidential campaign. Allegedly, he met him on a Kyiv airfield last Wednesday, complaining about his lost “venture capital”, and punching Mr Yanukovich in the face before leaving.

Such episodes may not help Mr Akhmetov “to present a civilized face by patronizing the arts, learning to play the piano and being keen on football.” Yet the politically far more relevant question right now is – as noted by Yulia Mostovaya in her detailed analysis of the “Yanukovich nebula” – “has Akhmetov legalized his business enough so as to pursue an independent course or is he still vulnerable to state power, whatever name this power will have?”

It is still unclear (certainly to me) to which extent the “secessionist movement” is based on true popular support in the East, and to which extent it is (merely) an element of a game plan by oligarchs who may or may not be able to correctly judge their ability to put the genie back into the bottle after the the power struggle is over.

At the very least, it seems to me, the centuries-old ethnic/religious and linguistic cleavage will become an even more pressing problem in the future. Below, I have superimposed a couple of maps relating to the question.

The base map is from Wikipedia and reports the regional results of the Presidential elections. The violet area on top of the blue, Eastern, districts denotes some sort of “Russian-Ukrainian ethno-linguistic zone”, according to a map from ethnologue.com referred to by Mark Liberman on the language log, while the red ares indicate settlements by ethnic Russians according to a CIA map from 1994 (which, as well as many other maps of the area, you can find here, courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin)

The difference of the two areas may explain why the CIA map refers only to 22% of Ukrainians as ethnic Russians, while “opinion polls conducted in 1994-1998 by the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv show that the proportion of respondents who said that Russian was their native language ranged from 34.7 percent to 36.5 percent,” according a report by “The Ukrainian Weekly”, published in 2000.

While Russian seems to have lost some ground – particularly in the educational system – since Ukrainian independence, once again referring to the article quoted above, “between 1994 and 1999 the proportion of Ukrainians who chose Russian as their language of “convenience” increased from 43.5 percent to 50.9 percent.” It seems to me that the most pressing linguistic problem may be a status issue: the recognition of Russian as an official language.

So there may be a chance to put the genie back into the bottle.