Notes from Lugansk, 04.11.2014

Queue in front of polling station n°24 in Luhansk, 02/11/2014.
Queue in front of polling station n°24 in Luhansk, 02/11/2014.

So. Elections did happen in the Ukrainian Far East. Voters in People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk unsurprisingly elected the same teams that had been holding power for a few months. It is obvious to many that the elections went on in very abnormal ways. Unjustified disqualification of some political parties ahead of the poll. Fewer polling stations open than usual. Armed men at the doors. No registers and voters lists. Many polling stations opened until late in the evening, regardless of schedules. A bit of free food here, some social discount cards here. Don’t forget a handful of God-knows-who international observers. And there you go. It seems easy to criticize indeed.

Plus, it is a clear violation of the spirit of the Minsk memorandum and it is going to complicate any kind of political negotiations in the future, especially given Russia’s stance. President Poroshenko already announced he intends to cancel the 16th September law on « special status ». Political manipulation within a broader geopolitical project. Obvious.

Yet is has to be considered from different angles. First, both entities have managed to hold these elections in a context of deadly ceasefire and economic and social crises. It is undeniably a success and assuredly contributes to strengthen the structures of the Republics.

Second, the not-so-regular election is not a novelty in the region. As far as one may remember, it has always been like that. Entire factories and universities coming to vote as one man ; blurry voters lists, ballot box stuffing, miscalculating votes and so on and so forth. If previous elections held under Ukrainian laws had to be considered lawful and legitimate, then this election definitely is too. At least in the eyes of the local population.

And this is the most important : local populations believe in these elections. Not everyone believes they were free and fair. This is, again, obvious. Yet even opponents and critics refer to « the elections ». This very name already grants it some kind of legitimacy. Considering the Orwellian fashion of the People’s Republics, what is black today is to be white tomorrow. What was a corny referendum 6 months ago has become a part of the local legendary historiography. And so will these elections. If Ukraine is to ever come back to the region with guns and canons, a large share of local populations will oppose it with the people’s will they felt they expressed in the polls. These elections were fraudulent indeed. Yet they lay the ground for an ever divergent narrative and for an ever deeper gap between the Republics and the rest of Ukraine.

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