How «to talk» to Donbas? Analytical report

How «to talk» to Donbas? Analytical report

Note: All the references to the materials cited here are presented at the end of the paper in pdf format at the end of this article.

Restoration has started. What will the further developments be?

The Ukrainian power has gradually been restoring the TV broadcast infrastructure in the Donetsk region. On December 5, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko opened the restored TV tower on Mount Karachun in Slovyansk. The tower was destroyed during battles for the town in the summer of 2014. The coverage of the tower signal will make it possible to improve analog broadcasting on the territory of the Donetsk region controlled by the Ukrainian government. In addition, the tower will provide a signal of a better quality in the areas along the frontline, for example, in Torestk (Dzerzhinsk) which is located on the demarcation line.

We would like to remind the readers that when the conflict in the Donbas began, the areas controlled by the Russian Federation were left without Ukrainian TV broadcasting as a number of TV broadcasting facilities were seized and destroyed.

Not a long time ago, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko claimed once again that Ukrainian TV channels' broadcasting would be restored on the whole uncontrolled territory of Ukraine, and residents of those territories would be able to watch Ukrainian TV programs. Ukrainian Minister of Information Policy Yuriy Stets claimed that the launching of this tower would allow to watch Ukrainian TV even in Horlivka.

Under the decision of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers of March 10, 2015, the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine (MIP) formed the Commission responsible for providing stable functioning of national TV and radio broadcasting system and for restoring broadcasting on the uncontrolled territory. The MIP informs that they have already launched 60 transmitters which increased the Ukrainian broadcasting coverage by 30% in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

In 2017, the MIP is going to launch three more TV towers in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and the coverage of Ukrainian channels on uncontrolled territories will increase. However, it is important not only to provide the signal, but also to make the content attractive for residents of uncontrolled areas.

According to the data presented by GfK Ukraine company which conducted a survey in December 2015 — January 2016, only one of Ukrainian most popular channels, “1+1” was included in 10-top channels on the uncontrolled territory; however, it occupied the last place in the rating. According to the data of the survey, only 50% of residents of uncontrolled areas have access to Ukrainian TV channels. These facts cannot be explained exclusively by the absence of coverage. It is quite logical to assume that people do not want to watch Ukrainian channels because of different reasons, not only because of some technical reasons and signal blocking up. In accordance with the data of the monitoring of news programs of central and regional channels and talk shows conducted by NGO “Telekrytyka” (now it is the team of NGO “Detektor Media”), humanitarian problems of residents of uncontrolled territories are almost not mentioned in programs of central TV channels.

In May, at the conference “MM participation in the process of reconciliation: Lessons for Ukraine”, representative of Moldova — the country which has experience of coexistance with an uncontrolled territory — Petr Makovey, executive director of Moldova Independent  Press Association, stressed on the basis of his own experience (the conflict in Transnistria) that it is necessary to avoid other countries' mistakes and to start information work on the other side of the demarcation line as soon as possible since a new generation of Ukrainians is growing up there. Audience “should want” to see the content in order to make it possible for us to conduct that information work.

Specific features of the audience in Donbas

Donbas is a geological notion used to denote the borders of Donetsk coal field which is located on the territory of Ukraine and Russia. However, the term has been used in economic and political contexts for almost 100 years. Today, when people speak about Donbas in Ukraine or Russia, they mean, first of all, the administrative borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. The regional identity of residents of this industrial region had been formed in the Soviet time and took an important place in Soviet mythology constructed around working people. Donbas mythology got “the second breath” in independent Ukraine. Considerable economic weight of this industrial area in the economic structure of Ukraine and local elite's ambitions determined the growth of the region's  representatives' influence on the state policy. Donbas occupied and important, but not the key place in the Soviet Union. In Ukraine, its influence on the policy was, in many situations, a decisive one, and the Donetsk region produced 20% of Ukrainian gross domestic product before the war.

Sociological surveys conducted before the conflict showed that 37% of residents of the regional center — Donetsk — considered themselves, first of all, as residents of the city, 34% - as citizens of Ukraine, and 18% — residents of the region. The data  proves that there is strong regional identity in the consciousness of Donbas residents. 

However, the situation is typical not only of Donbas. The survey conducted to mark the 15th anniversary of Ukraine demonstrated that local identity is typical of citizens of Ukraine. 44% of respondents identified themselves with the place where they were born, 31% - with Ukraine, and 15% - with the region where they were living. The following surveys demonstrated that the number of people who identified themselves, first of all, with the state has increased, and those who have birth place identity — decreased and, according to Rosumkov Center, is 40% now.

Local identity still prevails in the southern part of the country and in Donbas (50% and 44% of respondents associate themselves with their towns and villages respectively). The greatest number of people who associate themselves, first of all, with the region are in Donbas — 23%. As a whole, regional differences are not critical.

Russian is a native language for a relative majority of Donbas residents (40%); 34% are bilingual; 20% think that their native language is Ukrainian.

Three times more people think that their native language is Russian than those who think it is Ukrainian (45% and 14% respectively). Bilinguists are 35% and 33%. A lot of citizens of the Donetsk region have other languages as their native ones (8%). Only 16% of Donetsk region residents and 29% of the Luhansk one think that Ukrainian is to be the only state and official language.

42% of The Donetsk region residents and 29% of the Luhansk one think that Russian may be used as an official language in some regions of Ukraine; 36% in the Donetsk region and 32% in the Luhansk one support state bilingualism.

The idea of joining another state or the one of regional autonomy are not supported by residents. 52% would like the region to stay in Ukraine, but to have wider rights and authorities of local self-government.

One third of Donetsk region residents (34%) prefer relations with Russia, and every fourth (25%) is for the EU. In the Luhansk region, the respective figures are 18% and 32%.

The majority of people of the East would not support either Maidan or Antimaidan. 17% would support Maidan; 14% - Antimaidan; in the Luhansk region — 21% and only 5% respectively. In the Donetsk region the figures are 14% and 18%.

In the Donbas, the leaders of negatively assessed historical leaders are Joseph Stalin (22.5%), Stepan Bandera (22.5%), Viktor Yushchenko (22%), and Viktor Yanukovich (20%).

For the residents of the Donbas, the negative events are Maidan 2013-2014 (32%), Holodomor (31%), and disintegration of the USSR (29%).

However, the support of Antimaidan, the status of Russian as a second state language, or negative assessment of the USSR desintegration do not mean negative attitude to the state of Ukraine.

At the same time, narratives used by the state apparatus and some Ukrainian channels make some groups of people feel inner contradiction which is applied to all actions of the power.

How does the power communicate?

Claims of some officials at the state as well as local levels are perceived as state policy directions. However, some messages of state representatives do not correspond to the social and political situation and do not support public reconciliation in the frontline zone.

Yevhen Nyshchuk, Ukrainian Minister of Culture, claimed on November 21 that there is no “genetics” in some Ukrainian towns, in particular, in Donbas as a part of its population “was brought” from other places. Later the minister claimed that journalists took his words out of the context. Representatives of the Ministry of the Interior (MI) linked criminality growth with hundreds of thousands of IDPs from the ATO zone. It particular, such claims were made by MI head Arsen Avakov and the then deputy head of the National Police, Vadym Troyan.

In December, Oleh Barna, Verkhovna Rada deputy from the Petro Poroshenko Block faction, claimed from the parliament rostrum that Donetsk and Luhansk “bastards” torture Ukrainian militaries. The deputy did not explain who he kept in mind. At present, Ukraine has a double system of local government. Local town, district, and region councils coexist with district and regional military and civil administrations. Administration heads are appointed by the president and are representatives of the bodies of the central power. Heads of law enforcement bodies as well as military chiefs are appointed by the central power too.

Those people personify the Ukrainian state power on the territory of the region, with one of its aims is “Ukrainization” as Pavlo Zhebrivskiy, chief of Donetsk regional military and civil administration, declares. However, declarations about “Ukrainization” and the region head's deeds do not correspond to  principles of democratic, open society. The following example of the state program of creating base schools in the region may be used as an illustration. According to the plan, 21 such schools will be open in the region, and in each interview the administration chief stresses that the schools will teach in Ukrainian. “Another task is the essence, meaning of the school. It is understandable that such school will teach in Ukrainian”, said the region head. The region head also stresses the necessity to search for the “genotype of a Ukrainian” in the local population.

Before the war, the number of school children who studied in Ukrainian was approximately equal to the number of school children who studied in Russian in the Donetsk region. That corresponded to the national composition of regional population. Schoolchildren parents could choose what school their child would go. Ukrainian was quite a natural thing at schools in the Donetsk region.

Interpretation of political preferences of the region residents

Personal political preferences of the Donetsk region residents who vote for parties officially registered by the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice may also cause offenses of being “non-patriotic”.

Commenting on the results of 2015 local elections, Zhebrivsky said that it was a “problem” that locals voted for “The Opposition Block”. This party got the majority in all big towns of the region. Zhebrivsky thinks that the situation should be changed. So, the official gave a political assessment of the political choice of the citizens whose interests he represents, and that he was going to influence the choice. The region chief expresses his discontent with the election results in his claims that “Donbas  has not risen from their knees yet”.

The head of the region has complained many times of the fact that the locals are “passive” and emphasized the fact that the economy of the region must be demonopolized with the help of small and medium businesses.

“I have always told that if we get 150 000 well-off people here, then we will also have democracy in the region”, said the local administration head.

In fact, a lot of major industrial enterprises whose administration influences local policy are concentrated in the Donetsk region.

However, small businesses were relatively well-developed here before the war (compared to other regions of Ukraine). According to the data presented by the  Regional Statistics Department, there were more than 27 thousand small enterprises in the Donetsk region in 2013. The Donetsk region was the second after the Kyiv region by the number of small enterprises and the number of employees who worked there. The relative share of small enterprises of the region in Ukrainian economy was 7,9%.

The Donetsk region occupied the third place after the Kyiv and Dnipropertorvk regions by this indicator. The situation with small businesses in the Donetsk region did not differ much from the general situation in Ukraine, according to the Regional Statistics Department.

This is why Zhebrivsky’s recommendations to create a class of well-off citizens look like a political proclamation not like an action plan of a manager.

What are the dangers of communication mistakes

The Donbas is not a subject of Ukrainian politics any more, it has become an object or a factor. Some representatives of the state authorities try to correspond to the  demands of the society. The rhetorics used by the head of the regional military and civil administration is a reflection of the policy of the state in relation to the Donbas. This rhetorics is formed on the basis of the opinion of the society. Thus, the survey conducted by Razumkov Centre shows that 49,6% respondents would vote at a referendum about the status of temporarily-occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. 53,6% of them would support the idea of the official recognition of the fact that the territories are occupied and their temporary isolation until they are returned under the government control. 

A part of Donbas electors remained on the occupied territory. Another part of electors who live on the territory controlled by the government are not loyal to the parties which are now forming a coalition and represent state authorities. They are not a target audience for these parties. It is more profitable politically not to destroy stereotypes about these electors but to build rhetorics which is based on them. This helps to get a higher level of support in the regions which are more loyal to authorities. Such actions can help authorities to remain in power tactically, but strategically they will not contribute to creating a stable state. The experience of other countries which have similar problems shows that if the government is oriented only on separate political trends and those who support it this will aggravate conflicts among citizens. This led to a civil war in Lybia, for example. 

The idea of reintegration is not popular enough for present politicians to use it as a cornerstone. Oleksandr Kykhtenko, the previous head of the region had certain problems with the central power as he was too mild to Ukrainian citizens who remained on the occupied territory. 

International observers have also noted a tendency towards discrimination in state rhetorics. In the report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights which was devoted to the situation with the human rights in Ukraine during the period of August 16 — November 15, 2016, it was stated that “there were more cases of provocative rhetorics and hate speech which can lead to discrimination of vulnerable layers of society”. In particular, this can be said about internally-displaced persons.

In the monitors’ opinion, this contradicts the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Words said by the head of the Donetsk region are not attached to the report, however, some of them, especially the ones assessing citizens’ political choice, look like violation of the Article 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine “Violating equality of citizens depending on their ethnicity or nationality or on their attidude to religion". The article defines such criminal conduct as willful actions aimed at national, racial or religious enmity and hatred, humiliation of national honour and dignity, or the insult of people’s feelings in respect to their religious convictions, race, ethnicity, colour of skin or language and also any direct or indirect restriction of rights, or granting direct or indirect privileges to people based on race, colour of skin, political, religious and other convictions, sex, ethnic and social origin, property status, place of residence, linguistic or other characteristics. Punishment for civil servants is more severe in this case.

The Constitution of Ukraine also guarantees the right for freedom of thought and speech, for free expression of one’s views and convictions and also the right to form political parties.

Building of a Ukrainian state propaganda system is the first sign of building an autocratic political system in Ukraine.

As it was said in the memorandum of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, if propaganda dominates in the country, it becomes a tool for establishing autocratic regime. It is not known what can the consequences of the words the authorities say today cаn be tomorrow. Verbal discrimination can turn into physical one.

What should be said and how

The confrontation period in Kyiv in winter 2013-2014 was relatively quiet in the Donbas. This is why a lot of people who live in the region see Maidan victory as the start of destabilization process in Ukraine.  They connect hostilities with Maidan and see then as the price that has to be paid for changing the country’s vector in foreign politics.

Economic interest is a strong factor as well. Despite the war, the Russian Federation remains one of the main consumers of the goods which the region exports.  According to the data of the Main Statistics Department in the Donetsk region, the amount of goods exported from the region (without the Anti-Terrotirst Operation zone) in January-September 2016, equalled 2.5421 million dollars. He majority of goods were exported to Italy (504.5 million dollars which equalled 19.8% of the general amount). The Russian Federation occupies the second place (422.6 million dollars which equalled 16,6% of the general amount). To compare, in 2013 the amount of goods exported to Russia equalled 1.937 million dollars which comprised 20.5% of all export.

Of course, disruption of economic ties is seen as a negative factor by many as it directly influences the level of well-being.

The strategy of re-teaching the Donbas residents, which has been much spoken about by Pavlo Zhebrivsky, head of the region, does not work in this situation. A person cannot change their political views and economic interests which were appropriate a couple of years ago in no time.

State ideology and informational policy often resort to messages which emphasize the difference between the Donbas residents instead of trying to establish some common ground.

Despite the fact that some events are perceived negatively by people who live in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the majority of them do not doubt the fact that the state of Ukraine exists and they want to live in a united country.

According to the survey conducted by Rating Group, which was ordered by International Republican Institute, 75% of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions residents want their regions to remain a part of Ukraine. 32% of them responded that they want to be a part of Ukraine and they had thought the same before the beginning of  Russian military aggression, 35% want to remain a part of Ukraine but to have more freedoms as a result of decentralization reform, 8% want to be “an autonomy in Ukraine”, 7% of respondents who live in the Donbas want to become a part of Russia, 1% of respondents chose the variant “to become an independent state”. Thus, as for the main question of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, there are practically no disagreements among the Donbas residents.

Still, SCORE Ukraine research proves that despite the war, citizens’ preferences in foreign policy are polarized depending on the region they live in. Here, the Donbas does not differ from the general Ukrainian context. According to surveys, about 50% of citizens support pro-Russian view here. The figure in the South of Ukraine is practically the same, 46%. There are 34% of citizens who support pro-Russian views in the East of Ukraine.

In general, 15% of Ukrainians have a “polarized pro-European position”, 17% have a “polarized pro-Russian position”, 34% are politically indifferent or have not decided yet, 15% are “tolerant pro-European”, 19% are “tolerant synthesizers” which means that they see positive features in both positions but do not share them. It should be said that “pro-Russian” does not necessarily mean that a person is against Ukraine as people’s motivation is more complex.

Index SCORE gives recommendations how to work with these people and how to involve them in national processes:

-  To involve them in the development of the society and making decisions at local level;

-  To discuss benefits of Euro integration and membership in the EU, to broaden political space to make their fears and concerns to be heard.

Researchers think that the above measures will contribute to gradual transfer of these people from being  “radically pro-Russian” to “tolerant synthesizers”and “tolerant pro-European” citizens.

Such recommendations initiate dialogue in the society. The research of “Democratic Initiatives” foundation conducted in November 2015 showed that the idea of compromise as a way to overcome the armed conflict is popular in the Donbas. It is supported by 75% of respondents. However, 54% think that it is worth to agree, but not to everything. A year later- in the summer of 2016 — the survey conducted by the foundation demonstrated that 47% of respondents were ready for compromises to achieve peace, but not compromises in everything.

The research of NGO “Telekrytyka” (now — NGO “Detector Media”) among journalists who cover events in the Donbas showed that there was a desire to have a dialogue even among journalists, but they did not understand who the dialogue is possible with. Journalists think that absence of the theme of the dialogue in MM is caused by the absence of a particular articulated state policy concerning the future of the occupied territories and residents of the uncontrolled territories.

Taking into consideration polarization of Ukrainian society, dialogue is necessary not only for Donbas residents, but for the whole Ukrainian society. Information policy should take into consideration the fact that the majority of citizens would like to live in one country, but these citizens are different and have the right to have their own opinion. The state should not propagate the ideas of one group only even if the group is the most numerous one.

To improve the state policy in this sphere, it is necessary.

To introduce principles of tolerance, to abandon simplifications and propaganda cliches; human rights should be the basis of the Donbas information reintegration strategy which the Ukrainian Ministry of Information Policy is working at now;

To make unity through diversity the main principle of information policy;

To hold a public discussion of Maidan as a phenomenon, its consequences for the country and the region, and for the military conflict with the Russian Federation;

To arrange a broad public discussion of a new model of relations (or breaking up the relations) with the Russian Federation;

To focus on consolidating factors for Ukrainian society;

To arrange a broad public discussion of a new model of relations with the European Union, NATO, and the security system.

Expert group: Vitaliy Syzov, Alex Mazuka

Editor:  Vitaliy Syzov

December 2016

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