Poroshenko presidency, one year on: Can peace be achieved amid heightened nationalism?

​Al Gurnov
Al Gurnov is a journalist, political analyst and broadcaster. He has presented the news for several Russian national TV channels, and writes for a number of major newspapers and magazines. In the 1990s Al Gurnov was the West European Bureau chief for Russian State TV & Radio (RTR) based in London. Later he hosted several successful TV and radio shows. Winner of numerous professional awards, he has been an RT presenter and TV host since the company was founded in 2005. Al Gurnov regularly appears as a political expert on prime time TV shows on major Russian and international channels. He is a member of the Russian and International Television Academies, and Professor at MGIMO University School of Journalism (Moscow).
Poroshenko presidency, one year on: Can peace be achieved amid heightened nationalism?
As Ukrainian President Poroshenko celebrates his first year in power, the truce in Donbass is fragile and ceasefire agreements are violated daily. Can Poroshenko become a ‘president of peace’ and can a peacekeeping party be formed in Kiev?

What is worrying is that after the first and second effort to grab the Donbass region failed, there’s no visible sign that cool heads are prevailing in Kiev. Indeed, it appears that the desire to come to a lasting agreement is still remote, as both sides accuse one another of violating the agreements. At the same time, there are reports that the two sides are accumulating forces, equipment, and even deploying field hospitals. Although both sides say they will not be the first to attack, who would ever be able to prove who fired the first shot in a civil war that has never really ended?

It is important to note that Kiev’s modern elite is diverse. There are forces that want to fight with Donbass, and those who are willing to negotiate. Unfortunately, however, it seems that the “party of war” is making most of the decisions. So the question arises as to whether the situation can change. Is there hope that peace will be given a chance? Hope always exists, but what makes Donbass so important is that it really is an outpost that has the ability to restrain the forces of separatism in other regions of Ukraine – in Odessa, Kharkov, Zaporozhye. Therefore, Kiev simply cannot afford to retreat from Donbass. At least there is no talk about peace in the parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, which has heaped all the blame on Russia, accusing it of being an aggressor. Although there were some signs of popular protest during the May 9 Victory Day celebrations, the authorities did everything to silence the voices for peace. Some activists were killed, many arrested, and the National Guard was posted to Odessa and other cities.

The roots of today’s tragic events lie in August 1991, when the former Soviet Union disintegrated into many republics, some ruled by a local junta, some still at war with one another and with their integral provinces. For many it looks like a geopolitical game between the Kremlin and the United States. If so – it is a game of total substitution of concepts. The development of electronic media and social networks made it possible to manipulate the consciousness of large numbers of people. Including intellectuals. Take YouTube, which seems to provide an accurate picture of what is happening. But we know that many video sites of acute confrontation and conflicts have been heavily edited, if not staged! This leaves us with more questions, rather than answers.

READ MORE: Promises lead to debts: Poroshenko marks 1st year in office

Will Ukraine be prepared to reverse its position? Will they ever recognize that the artificial Ukrainization of Donbass, Lugansk and Crimea is not worth the enormous sacrifices? The Russians are appealing to the common sense of Ukrainians, but it appears they refuse to listen. Why? Why has there been this tragic divergence of views on the history and the present among fraternal Slavic nations, once friendly to one another and sharing a common language and a common history? The answer may be quite surprising.

The reader may be unaware that the most violent battles between the government and the opposition in Ukraine have always been for the post of Minister of Education. It may not be as profitable and prestigious a position in the power hierarchy as the posts of heads of customs, fiscal services and security agencies, but it is the Ministry of Education that approves the school curriculum. And if the textbooks will pronounce that the first humans on Earth were Ukrainians, then so be it! Today, after several generations of students have passed through the educational system, a chasm has formed between Russia and Ukraine. Although it may be still possible to talk about the same events and in the same language, our perception of these events greatly depends on what we have learned at school.

A quick perusal of Ukrainian Wikipedia is all it takes to realize that over the last two decades Ukraine has been set up to go to war with Russia. The new generations of Ukrainians are ready to believe the assertion that in 1945 Berlin was taken by Ukrainians. Now Ukrainians are killing each other in the Donbass region just because they have been raised on different textbooks and consider their opponents ignoramus enemies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, schools in eastern Ukrainian regions, where the population mainly speaks Russian, continued to use Russian textbooks unlike those in other regions, which switched to newly printed Ukrainian books – in which history was rewritten.

Therefore, although it may be disappointing for Moscow, Ukrainians just cannot give up. Russia will not be able to open the minds of at least two generations of Ukrainians who have grown up on American history textbooks, where there was simply no place for Russia and the Soviet Union.

The story of the Russian bikers who were prevented by Kiev officials from travelling through Ukrainian territory on their memorial tour to Berlin occurred for the same reasons: Europe is trying hard to forget who liberated them from the Nazis. Poland, Lithuania and other countries were opposed to the idea of Russian victory flags being carried along their tidy highways in order not to wake up the historical memory of the people, which they have managed to silence through years of anti-Russian propaganda. The new history being sold is that Washington, Canada and Australia, together with their European allies, emerged victorious in the battle against German and Russian fascism. Of course this is nonsense. But this is exactly what the Americans are steadily and systematically hammering it into the heads of the Europeans and Ukrainians.

A woman walks at her destroyed house in the village of Kominternovo, on the outskirts of the southern coastal town of Mariupol (Reuters / Vasily Fedosenko)

But despite the obvious success in propaganda, the coup in Ukraine showed that the inspirers of that bloody event are in the minority. Otherwise, they would have quietly gone to the polls! Only after the secession of the Crimea and the breakout of war in Donbass and Lugansk, did pro-Western forces in Ukraine gain the majority – the main pro-Russian regions no longer take part in the elections. Which means, theoretically, the nationalists may emerge victorious in a referendum. The recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Ukraine were held under the same circumstances. Those who could vote for pro-Russian candidates have fled the country, intimidated, and no longer go to the polls. This created great opportunities for ballot box stuffing, as was the case a year ago when Poroshenko won the election in the first round. This happened against the backdrop of torched offices of the Region and Communist Parties, vandalized homes of pro-Russian politicians, and the plundering of President Yanukovich’s residence.Elections unde such circumstances cannot be considered a priori legitimate, but both Europe and Russia found it wiser to recognize the results and communicate with those appointed by Washington.

That's why the local elections to be held in Ukraine in October this year, will hardly make any difference. Because of the catastrophic decline in the living standards of Ukrainians they will hardly be a “landslide”, but they will not resurrect a political alternative to the neo-Nazis in power in Ukraine. And those who are now criticizing the government and may seem to even be fighting against the ruling elite, very often turn out to be its appointees.

In fact, the government and the opposition – are just the two sides of the same coin.And even if the opposition wins the election – it may change the cabinet but nothing will change in the policy of Ukraine. Most alarming is the fact that the Ukrainians like that. It is what they call their way towards Europe and democracy. And as for fascists – they were bred to scare the public and help the nationalists stay in power. But Ukrainian fascism has grown, matured and become power itself. This is the definition of what president Poroshenko has achieved.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.