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Why ethnopolitics doesn't work in Ukraine

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10.04.2019

The political divide between the Russian-speaking east and Ukrainian-speaking west is one of the most frequently used cliches about Ukraine.

Following the Russian occupation of Crimea and military intervention in the east of the country, there was a widely shared perception that the Ukrainian political system has tilted towards the Ukrainian-speaking west. That was certainly the thinking behind President Petro Poroshenko's decision to emphasise nationalist politics in his re-election campaign and try to win over the votes of the Ukrainian-speaking (and supposedly more nationalistic) part of the population in the country's centre and west.

But a cursory look at the voting map of Ukraine after the first round of the presidential elections reveals that the incumbent's calculations were wrong. Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky - seen as a Russian-speaking moderate who rejects ethnonationalism - dominated the west, centre and parts of the Russian-speaking east.

There are a number of reasons for the Ukrainian nation choosing overwhelmingly to vote for Zelensky - a major one being the Ukrainian political elite's utter failure to deliver on their promises and the demands raised by the Maidan revolution over the past five years.

But another, equally important reason is Ukrainians' seeming rejection of ethnopolitics and polarising "us vs them" rhetoric.

Even though after the Maidan Revolution in 2014, Poroshenko was elected on a moderate platform, ahead of the 2019 vote, he chose to run under the banner of divisive ethno-nationalism. His campaign slogan - Army, Language, Faith - was meant to whip up support in the presumably nationalist-leaning Ukrainian-speaking part of the population.

Poroshenko reasonably assumed that former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko would be his main rival, so the emphasis was made on winning over her core electorate in the country's centre and west. The incumbent........

© Al Jazeera