There are two distinctive groups of population in the Donbas. We shall call them the vatniks* and the suits (or "burgundy jackets", if you will, those were the "uniform" of choice among the nouveau-riche businessmen and all kinds of criminal and semi-criminal characters back in the 1990s).
Vatnik has become a derogative term for the paternalistic lumpenized population (aka Homo Sovieticus), completely devoid of own initiative, incapable of taking responsibility even for own life and wellbeing. This demographic is totally dependent (first and foremost mentally) on the authorities that are perceived as a sacral phenomenon, the be-all and end-all. To vatniks Soviet Union exemplifies perfect state system.
Their needs are almost entirely limited to eating, clothing, dwelling and fairly primitive entertainment: a drink, a fight and a game of football. "Lofty matters" tend to irritate them or sometimes even infuriate. They see the Russian Federation as a contemporary form of the USSR, very much in line with the Soviet slogan of the 1930s: 'Stalin is today's Lenin'. The vatniks take well to both the hand-outs and the punishments from whoever is the authority in power, while a liberal and humanistic system of government is utterly alien to them, and is perceived as weak and generally pathetic. A simple unpretentious living, in which the authorities are there to tell you what to do, is held as the ideal. They are hostile to those who have beliefs contrary to the party line, those who dare to stand out in a crowd, those demonstrating nonconformist behavior.
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Luckily for Ukraine, vatniks do not make the majority of population in the Donbas. They, however, represent a considerable and a very significant segment of the society in those parts, the base masses for all pro-Russian and pro-Soviet movements and moods. The "suits" are the modern elite of the Donbas, the new money that emerged in the time of primitive accumulation of capital and social miscegenation between yesterday's nomenclature of the Communist Party, the law-enforcement, courts and special services, the Komsomol and industrial enterprise directors with the underground entrepreneurs and thugs. At the time such processes took place all over Ukraine, but in the Donbas they took completely grotesque forms due to the cult of everything Soviet and the orientation on Moscow as the social and cultural Mecca in the worldview of the Donbas suits.
On the rest of the Ukrainian territory the situation was somewhat tempered by the existence of nationalistic and patriotic ideological movement, by Ukrainization, even if it was often purely symbolic. Meanwhile in the Donbas, much like in Crimea, there was no Ukrainization to speak of, whatever some over-impressionable locals would have you believe.
As the local suits of the Donbas marked their territory it was decided that Russian and Soviet identity should be the only one welcome in Donbas. And since it perfectly matched what the local populous had been raised on for seven decades of the communist rule, this ideology rather seamlessly glued together the alliance of the vatniks and the suits, which eventually led to the creation of the "DNR" and the "LNR" (militias that call themselves Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics – Ed.). Yet neither vatniks would be able to pull this off on their own, nor the suits. The latter wouldn't have the social "ground forces", the masses that can be led.
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It's only as a result of their alliance coupled with the crucial impulse from Kremlin the phenomenon of powerful armed insurgency could come into being, organized by Russia using the Donbas suits and the local vatnik "biomass".
Moscow journalist Yevgeniya Albats, who published a great deal of incriminating articles about the Cheka/State Political Directorate/NKVD/Ministry for State Security/KGB during Perestroyka, also did some research on how Nazis came to rule Germany in the 1930s. Albats reached a conclusion that Hitler, who never managed to get more than 40% of votes in elections, had zero chance of coming to power, if it wasn't for the financial and industrial elite, namely Krupp, Thyssen, Flick and the others, betraying the Weimar Republic and engaging in all kids of machinations to put the Nazi leader at the reins. The efforts of small merchants, the plebs, the vatniks alone wouldn't be enough… Similar phenomenon occurred in the Donbas. Without the help, the cooperation, the funding and the instigation by the suits, without their active servitude to Kremlin the war raging today in the region would never have happened.
It wouldn't be possible without the financial and industrial elite of the Donbas betraying Ukraine. Interestingly enough, according to the People's Deputy Mykola Rudkovskyi, in one of the towns of the Donbas the deputy head of the municipal administration complained: 'We were told that we only needed to rock the boat just little bit to get bigger budget subsidies. Nobody thought that we'd end up being bombed'.
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Clearly, she wasn't told that by random strangers, but by the "seniors" of the Donbas.
Therefore it becomes crystal clear that without a fundamental change of the ruling circles the region's future looks bleak. One of president Poroshenko's advisors having returned from the Donbas enthusiastically proclaimed that 'Nothing can be done at the Donbas without Akhmetov!' On the contrary, nothing can be done to the Donbas while there are the likes of Akhmetov, Yefremov, Levchenko, Lukyanchenko, Rybak, Shtepa, Kravchenko, Samsonov… And I'm not talking about personalities so much as the general phenomenon.
These "kings", "counts" and "barons" of the Donbas, accountable to no one, turned the region into a territory of financial and industrial feudalism, into a state within a state, an island. Playing the part in Kremlin's geopolitical game in Ukraine, it will forever be reanimated as a kind of anti-Ukrainian, pro- Moscow black state.
They are unable to realize that such short-sighted games inevitably lead to the collapse of the Donbas itself, because Moscow only needs it as a ram against Ukraine, as a modern incarnation of the Donetsk-Kryvyi Rih Republic (that used to be a Bolshevik separatist quasi-state formation in the East of Ukraine after the October Coup). The Donbas on its own represents zero value for the Kremlin.
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So far the Yanukovych's mafia is trying its best to save the ruling circles that nurtured separatist and pro-Moscow moods in the Donbas for 20 years and are now cooperating with the DNR and the LNR. Yuriy Miroshnychenko, the former Parliamentary Representative of Yanukovych, practically wept at a recent talk show demanding amnesty for those residents of the East that cooperated with terrorists and separatists. But it rapidly became clear that the residents he had in mind were not the likes of Vasya the plumber, who suddenly pinned on some separatist insignia on his clothes in the state of deep hangover, nor the likes of Fedya the mechanic, who decided that he had nothing better to do than grabbing a shotgun. The ones that Miroshnychenko had in mind are the mayors of the Donbas towns and the heads local administrations that sided with the DNR and the LNR. The Party of Development of Ukraine (the recently renamed infamous Party of Regions) is keen to preserve its trusty nomenclature and therefore to preserve its reign over the region so that things forever stay the way they were.
No lustration in the form of election (Poroshenko's naïve dream: "elections are the best kind of lustration") is going to work there. A special electoral system was shaped over the years, one that relies on administrative resource, criminal terror, media as a powerful brainwashing machine, total corruption of all bodies, complete lack of any independent control. Techniques of intimidation and bribery were perfected. Only after this system is completely demolished, only after a radical de-separatisation any elections and any decentralization of power can be carried out in the Donbas. Doing this now is nothing short of political suicide for Ukraine in the East.
What really should be on the agenda right now is the radical overhaul of local authorities in the Donbas through appointments rather than election. Otherwise we'll see the triumphant coming to power of same old suits and vatniks with black and orange insignia. If the Americans, the Brits and the French held free elections in the West Germany in 1945, the Nazi Blockleiters, Gauleiters and Reichsinspekteurs would, no doubt, come out victorious. Eventually elections were held there, but only after profound denazification. The new Donbas elite must be formed from those local residents and the Donbas natives that took up arms and joined volunteer battalions to protect the sovereign Ukraine. These are the best officials for future Donbas administrations, the local bodies of Interior Ministry, the Security Service and the Prosecutor's Office.
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The media of the Donbas must be reformed radically. And not only by means of encouragement, but also through prohibition and penalties: all the separatist and terrorist media must be closed, those responsible for DNR and LNR propaganda must be punished. It is also extremely important to overhaul the education sphere in the region, because the idea put forward by the Party of Regions member Mykola Levchenko that every region can have its own version of history and its own set of heroes is unworkable within one country. When it comes to cultural policy, it cannot be based on the dominance of cheap Russian pop. A lot should and can be changed if there is a political will for it in Kyiv. As was aptly put by Yevhen Horodnichyk of Lozova town, Kharkiv Oblast, the wounded soldier who is currently recovering in hospital: "The East needs a different policy on a state level. If things are left as they are, sooner or later it will explode again.”