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Ukraine and Our Own Biases


Results from 2010 presidential election

Ukraine has been in the news cycle for a surprisingly long time. And it’s been a great case study in how our own biases dictate our views. Both sides—Russia and the West—are claiming the high ground. Both sides are claiming that the other is the aggressor and they are just trying to ensure that the other is not dictating its agenda against the will of the local people.

Maps tell a different story. The last two presidential elections (2004 & 2010) were both narrow victories for the pro-Russian candidate. In each election the south and east voted overwhelmingly for the victor while the north and west voted overwhelmingly for the opposition. Donetsk, the region that currently is the center of the conflict where pro-Russian militias have taken over government buildings, gave over 90% of the vote to the pro-Russian candidate in each election. Crimea posted similar numbers and states in the north and west gave similarly lopsided victories to the opposition. Language demographics roughly correlate with these political divisions with far greater percentages of Russian speakers in the south and east.

If you only consume Western media you would think that Russia was just a big bully and was orchestrating all the unrest. In turn Russian media portrays Russia as the guardian of its neighbors now under threat from a government formed in a hostile take-over. Both have some truth in them, but neither are completely true. It was perfectly reasonable for the western part of the nation to feel that the central government did not represent them from 2004 until the protests began last year. When that government fled and was replaced, it was perfectly reasonable for a region that gave 90% of their vote to that government to see the takeover as a coup that would threaten their interests.

It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a divided nation.

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