In one of the hardest periods of the 20th century, what can probably be called its turning point – in 1935 – one of the greate

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Nataliya Yeremeyeva

Master’s student of the School of Sociology,

V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University (Ukraine)

Political alienation in Ukraine in the light of the last parliamentary elections

In one of the hardest periods of the 20th century, what can probably be called its turning point – in 1935 – one of the greatest pessimists in Europe, Johan Huizinga, reflected on the feelings of fear before the upcoming future and uncertainty in existing social and political order, decay of culture and lose of what used to be (or maybe still is) valuable. The ideas that political institutions do not function properly and social forces are idle dominated all over Europe (Huizinga, 1992).

His words are quite universal and in fact can be applicable to almost any epoch and country in history, even if we think about the year of 2006. They pretty well describe what was going on in post-communist countries at the very end of the 1980s – beginning of the 1990s, and in general what is characteristic of the so called (post)transformational societies.

One of the most important criteria of the abovementioned situation, according to Huizinga, is overall weakening of the “ability to judgment” being the result of the decrease in the “need of critiques” and “critical ability” when people can no longer distinguish between true and false (Huizinga, 1992).

Social sciences use different means to describe some demonstrations of the negative tendencies in development that prevent societies from moving forward. At the very beginning of the 1990s, N. Panina and Y, Golovakha used the term “social insanity” (Golovakha, 1994). Similar conditions are also referred to as “social pathologies”, “anomie”, “deviation” and so forth. The concept of “alienation” is among them as well. Now the question is raised: which notions can better describe and explain how social order becomes possible?

For instance, speaking about globalization, Zygmunt Bauman points out that it goes concurrently with “growing spatial segregation, separation, and alienation” (Bauman, 2004). He destroys the myth about globalization as a uniting force, emphasizing its ability to alienate. The most vivid demonstration of it is the widening gap between the globalizing elites and the rest of the constantly “localizing” population.

Another interesting tendency of the end of the 20th century noticed by Robert Putnam, who used to make an emphasis on the role of social capital in the development of society, had to do with such individual practices as withdrawal “from the affairs of the communities”, “psychological disengagement from politics and government” and “understandable disgust” for it (Putnam, 2006). Speaking about voting turnout and, more widely, about declining social capital, Putnam referred to the described phenomenon as to the “bowling alone” process and claimed it to be true at least for contemporary American society.

These conclusions by Putnam, however, raise more questions than give answers. For instance, the researchers from the Institute for Social Research (ISR) of the University of Michigan, USA, partially disagree with Putnam’s claim. They found that in the USA and most other post-industrial nations people are more active than ever in non-bureaucratic forms of issue-specific political action. It means that social capital is not disappearing. It is simply taking a new form.

These changes in the ratio between what was earlier know as conventional and unconventional forms of political activity make social scientists revise the instruments with the help of which political action in general is stated and evaluated. They also require elaborating some new criteria to see what can happen to the individuals and / or groups exercising the “old” political practices or detaching from tem at all. It means that the concept of political alienation (or any other analytical category) also needs revision and adaptation to the new social and political order.

The abovementioned problem of “critical need” discussed by Huizinga raises another essential question for us. How much of “critical need” is enough? What in this respect is the norm? If we reformulate this situation using the term “alienation”, we can say that “critical need” might be the indicator of the state of alienation. It means that if there is a lack of “critical need” in society, individuals or groups prone to it get “deaf-and -dumb” to what is happening around them; on contrary, if the level of “critical need” for some reason goes up too high, there is a possibility of obtaining a strong opposition to status quo. Both of these situations can lead to the state of alienation. Then what is the optimal level of “critical need” in society, which lets avoid the challenges of the destructive human conditions and turn them to the constructive direction?

Contemporary sociology either due its being polyparadigmatic, or due to the development and expansion of “sociological imagination”, abounds in interchangeable notions and concepts used for the description of different aspects of social reality. Such “interchangeability” of the notions often reveals itself in the fact that different authors using the principles implied in various paradigms describe similar (or even the same) phenomena and processes, entitling them differently. In our opinion this by no means contributes to what G. Ritzer in his well-known book refers as “development of integration in contemporary sociology” (Ritzer, 2002). It rather leads to terminological vagueness, which is very dangerous for social sciences, especially if we speak about shifting from the analytical (or theorization) level to the one of policy making. Besides, terminological vagueness inevitably puts obstacles in the way of defining the heuristic potential of the notions, which is a necessary procedure in the scientific analysis, being a kind of test for sociological “professional propriety”.

The notion of “alienation” is a good example of the concept, true meaning of which is left behind partially because of ideological and purely sociological reasons. As a result, it is often used in a very emotional way. “Alienation” derives from Marxism, and it is not surprising it was neo-Marxist conceptions, as well as Soviet sociology and philosophy, that paid more attention to it. After communism collapsed, there was constant decrease in the interest demonstrated to the Marxist theory of society, and the notion of “alienation” became less and less popular as well. Despite the International Sociological Association (ISA) having a separate research committee (RC 36) on “Alienation Theory and Research”, what its members mostly do can be called an applied science. It has nothing to do with developing a fundamental theory of alienation similar to what had been done, for instance, by Georg Lukács or the representatives of the Frankfurt School in response to Karl Marx’s writings.

Sociological reasons of “forgetting” the notion of alienation are determined by the principle of polyparadigmality. Back in 1928, in his famous article in the American Journal of Sociology Robert Park – the representative of the Chicago School, which in fact had a lot to do with the formal sociology of Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Zimmel – introduces the concept the “marginality”. Later on, starting in 1960s, sociologists actively use another notion – “social exclusion” (Böhnke, 2001). Today these two terms got so much interlaced that even sociological encyclopedias often define one with the help of the other.

In our opinion, detailed and unbiased consideration of the concept of alienation having been unfairly forgotten during the last years is an essential problem for social theory. That is why this chapter will be devoted to defining the heuristic possibilities of this concept by means of comparing it with similar terms such as “marginality” and “social exclusion”.

Speaking about marginalized individuals and groups, contemporary researchers first of all emphasize their “intermediate status”, being “on the border of different conditions”, complexity of identifications and at the same time diversity of composition that can become a considerable obstacle in the process of working out a “strict definition” of the observed phenomena. Probably, this very “diversity of composition” let some researcher make up “the qualitatively stable marginalized groups” out of the criminal elements, homeless people, neglected kids, drug addicts, as well as blue- and white-collar workers who at the level of self-identification do not reckon themselves among any of the social groups.

This approach contains two basic contradictions. First of all, all of the asocial groups mentioned above can be hardly inserted into the classical ideal-type situation of marginality built up by Park. His concept basically dealt with the cultural side of the problem and described the intermediate position of the person who “had to live in two societies and in two antagonistic, and not merely different, cultures” (Park, 1998). Though we realize that in contemporary sociology the concept of “marginality” is not limited by the cultural side as in Park’s theory. It is actively used in describing a number of phenomena in different spheres of social life, in particular, in political (for instance, the problems of political action and participation), social-economic (the problems of unemployment), religious, etc.

Coming back to Park, it is necessary to mention that he considered partial involvement of the individual into two groups resulting in individual’s becoming an “alien” for both of them, to be a necessary condition for the state of marginalization. Besides, he pointed out that the rise of the marginal situations always entails the increase in social mobility, which becomes possible under the conditions of the openness of the group borders and role diversity characteristic of each individual.

Second, the notion of “marginality” cannot simultaneously imply “mobility of social status” and, therefore, “temporariness” of this position, as well as assume the existence of the abovementioned “qualitatively stable marginalized groups”.

Moreover, the fact that the representatives of different socio-demographic and professional groups can be placed among the marginals, leads us to conclusion that the state of marginality is a natural human condition in contemporary society. In other words, marginality being a necessary element for the effective functioning of the social system and guaranteeing its dynamics, as well as mediating the process of social changes, cannot be dysfunctional. As far as marginality is a part and parcel of social mobility, “marginal” status is something temporary; and social relations in general can be understood as a process of continuous shifts of the individual conditions of marginality.

This assumption is based on the idea stated by Zygmunt Bauman who pointed out that mobility became an integral part of people’s lives: “We move even if physically stay at the same place: immobility is simply impossible in a constantly changing world” (Bauman, 2004).

Temporariness of the state of marginality presupposes that the individual will soon be able to overcome it and to become a member of the group, thereby, accepting the norms, values, behavioral models etc. characteristic of it. Therefore, the concept of marginality does not consider such a state to be a final one and presupposes that it can be overcome. It however does not give an answer to the question of how the status of the individual will change if he/she at some point of time does not become the member of the new group. In our point of view, such vagueness can be overcome with the help of the concepts of social alienation and exclusion.

According to one of the view regarding the relation among the discussed notions, alienation and marginalization (along with discrimination) are thought to be the forms of barring, or the elements of the process of social exclusion. Here the notion of “social exclusion” is considered to be an opposition to “integration” understood as not merely “mechanic inclusion” into a community, but rather as the individual’s perceiving oneself as its part. Then alienation in this case is reduced to one of the forms of social exclusion.

This approach reflected the key problem of using the term “social exclusion”. Being rather “new” but at the same time actively used by sociologists, the notion of “social exclusion” nevertheless has neither sufficient theoretical and methodological base nor empirical verification (Böhnke, 2001).

Generally, social exclusion can be viewed as a process having the following features:

  1. barring the individuals and groups from life supporting resources (economic constituent), political and social rights, or in other words, from “”the basic possibilities offered by society” (Giddens, 2000);

  2. their simultaneous breaking off with many functions of the social system;

  3. excluded being at the very “bottom” or “out” of society (Tikhonova, 2003).

The study of the problem of social exclusion is therefore directly concerned with research on poverty, which in this context is understood as not only an economic issue. It is not so much about the lack of the financial resources, but rather about the decrease in individual possibilities to fully participate in social life (Böhnke, 2001). Furthermore, it is necessary to take into account that this phenomenon “is not about gradation of inequality, but about mechanisms that act to detach groups of people from the social mainstream” (Giddens, 2000).

Thus, social exclusion is an integral indicator assuming that the individual or group is not able (for some reasons) to fully participate in all spheres of life. Political, economic, cultural or any other type of exclusion alone is neither sufficient for total detachment of the individual from society nor is in fact possible in contemporary society, unlike the similar types of alienation. It can be explained (in terms of F. Fukuyama) with “the global convergence of political and economic institutions”, as well as with the fact that all emerging problems are always formulated “in terms of culture”. Acceptance of such an interpretation of the notion of “social exclusion” is real step on the way towards overcoming the one-sidedness of both the Anglo-Saxon (analysing mostly the problems of poverty and redistribution) and French (emphasizing the problems of citizenship and social rights) traditions of studying this phenomenon.

The result of the process of social exclusion is the establishment of the so called “zone of exclusion” (Tikhonova, 2003), or “social bottom”. However, it is not clear yet what will happen to the individuals and groups not being able to overcome the state of marginality for a long time, but nevertheless not being excluded. We suggest considering this intermediate condition as the situation of alienation, the major feature of which in this context is an increasing social distance between the individual / group / society, making the process of social mobility difficult and decreasing the capacity of participation. Such a relation is demonstrated on Diagram 1.




Diagram 1.

Relation among the key notions

Consequently, the state of alienation has an intermediate position in between the two “poles” represented by marginality having functional nature and social exclusion being dysfunctional. This idea is quite accordant to the “model of the allocation of positions in the social space of society” introduced by N. Tikhonova (2003). So the condition of marginality is an integral part of the “core”; the situation of alienation determines the type of social relations in the next concentric circle – in the “periphery”; and the most outward circle represent the “zone of exclusion”.

A more thorough vision about a complex phenomenon of alienation can be found on Diagram 2.

Social alienation, which was first described as an integral social phenomenon by K. Marx1, appears in two major forms – as objective and subjective alienation. Marx uses the former following the Hegelian tradition and, therefore, perceives it accordingly – as “embodiment”. In Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 Marx views objective alienation – Entäußerung – as a demonstration of the opposition “Labor product Vs. Labor”, as objectivation of labor, or in other words, alienated labor.

Social alienation

objective alienation (Entäußerung)

subjective alienation (Entfremdung)

according to the level of diffusion

according to

the spheres of life

  • individual

  • group (alienation of a group)

  • political

  • social-economic

  • cultural, etc.

Diagram 2.

Typology of social alienation (Yeremeyeva, 2006)

Marx and his followers who studied this problem paid much more attention to the so called “subjective alienation”2, or alienation “From whom?” instead of alienation “Of what?”. Here the actor turns out to be the central problem.

It was Marx (even though he does not write it directly) who laid the foundation for distinction among the types of “subjective alienation” – Entfremdung – depending on the spheres of social life. Following Rousseau, he thought over about the opposition of the individual and collective interest and described the situation of political alienation, which turns out to be a derivative not only from the relations of appropriation3, but also from the contradiction between the individual preferences and the state4. In result of political alienation, it is much harder for the individuals to develop their abilities and skills, which means that they become less free. This condition can be overcome only through revolution.

Further Marx’s ideas regarding the opposition “individual Vs. collective” resulted in the analysis of democracy, its efficiency in the situation when “particularized universality”, or “universalization of particularity” (by E. Laclau) takes place Eventually, this problem lies in the ability of the political regime to define the configuration of relations between state and society, authority and individual, as well as in the strength of such an influence.

Another type of Entfremdung is the so called “socio-economic alienation”. This is the concept, which is often referred to as central in Marx’s theory. Not all social scientists agree with this idea, however, it is hard to deny that the interpretation of alienation as a process of the labor product turning into a force, which is alien and independent from the worker, resulting in the relations of supremacy and appropriation, laid the foundation of a whole number of Marxist conceptions of the first half of the 20th century. In 1960-80s this very understanding initiated researches on the problem of conveyer labor and “conveyer alienation”. Nowadays, there are also some studies on the problem of alienation among civil servants as a result of social relations at the work place.

We also need to say a few words about cultural alienation as a special type of alienation. Considering the idea of culture, Georg Simmel, for instance, pointed out that there is detachment (or even hostility) between living and creative emotional process. The problem of culture was also paid a considerable attention by the representatives of the Frankfurt School. Herbert Marcuse, for instance, was writing about “repressive culture”, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer were speaking about its paradoxicality, emphasizing that “cultural industry” promotes creating the illusion of freedom and suppression of personality.

Demonstrations of alienation can also be found in other spheres of life. Some sociologists of our time discuss the peculiarities of, for instance, “ideological alienation” connected with the phenomenon of creativity; the problem of alienation of the body in the context of its domination and “colonization of agency”; the problem of “alienated citizenship” in the case of immigrants and so forth.

Entfremdung can also be viewed from a different perspective – as either an individual or group phenomenon. In other words, any individual who is aware of his/her being alien regarding any group(s) or society in general can face the situation of alienation. Even the entire groups representing what B. Anderson had called “imagined communities” can get alienated.

All of the types of Entfremdung mentioned above can be realized on four basic levels:

  1. personal, as a demonstration of self-alienation;

  2. institutional, as a form of “enslavement”, or control from some social institutions;

  3. societal, as a result of inability of different social institutions to perform their social functions;

  4. super-national, when individual or group alienation leads to geopolitical consequences.

Let’s consider them in more details regarding specific demonstrations of alienation in political sphere (Yeremeyeva, 2005).

On the personal level, political alienation appears as a certain condition of individual thinking, or “self-alienation” in the process of thinking over political phenomena and making political (first of all, electoral) decisions. Such a situation was vividly described by José Ortega y Gasset who paid attention to the loss of the “major quality, which is the ability to think, to deepen into oneself”. Self-alienation, in his opinion, “dazzles, makes people act automatically, as if they were sleep-walkers” (Ortega y Gasset, 2000)

On the second – institutional – level the factors of the political regime play the most important role. In this situation, political alienation is on one hand the result of satisfying the “false” needs (Marcuse’s term), over which the individual does not have any power, but on the other – the consequence of the existing social control, because of which a person is turned into a commodity, or an instrument. Putting it differently, it is no different from enslavement, and a person can be viewed as a “slave” of one’s own political choice.

On this level, political alienation can appear as an increase in social distance between the object of political alienation and his/her social surrounding, as an internal and external break, the loss of connections and positions that the individual previously held in political space. The latter can be indicated through transformation of the value system and behaviour of the alienated, their loss of political identity (Self).

The situation of political alienation on the societal level is determined by functioning and interconnection of different sub-systems (for instance, politics, economics, culture, etc). E. Fromm gives an interesting explanation to this situation deriving it from the religious factors.

Finally, on the super-national, or meta-level, the entire states or regions can be viewed as the objects of political alienation. The central idea here has to do with the concepts of freedom and social contract as they were introduced by T. Hobbes and J.-J. Rousseau discussed at the global – geopolitical – level.

Besides, the analysis of the situation of political alienation would be incomplete without consideration of its objective and subjective demonstrations, in other words, without moving to the level “individual – society”. Thus, the objective demonstrations of this phenomenon include absence of citizens’ access to the resources of political influence; situation when the electors do “not recognize themselves” in the results of their own electoral choice; a gap between those in power and society, etc.

The subjective side of the problem is first of all reflected in a number of social-psychological conditions including the feeling of political weakness; political isolation; understanding that it is impossible to achieve the goals using the legal means; or self-withdrawal as a result to do something that would bring satisfaction (Kutsenko, 2000).

We can make several important conclusions from the discussion on the major concepts introduced above. First of all, it is not sufficient to define social alienation simply as any forms of detachment of the individuals or groups from the phenomena or processes taking place in society or group. It is obvious that there exist different demonstrations of the gap in social relations, and they can be described with the help of different terms.

Second, marginality is a necessary condition for the rise of the situation of alienation. As a temporary state, marginality inevitably results in either overcoming of the “intermediate status” of the individual or in his/her further detachment from the group(s) and/or society in general.

Third, it is not correct to view alienation as one of the forms of social exclusion. The situation of alienation can be overcome whereas social exclusion is a final stage. It means that the individual (or group) can be marginalized not getting alienated; find oneself in the situation of alienation not being excluded; but when someone gets excluded, there is no way to move even a step forward.

Finally, following K. Marx, we define alienation as such a condition when an object and a subject change places, resulting in the “machine” turning into an independent force over the “worker”, which leads to the relations of appropriation and supremacy. But Marx’s writings contain both a socio-economic and political interpretation of the concept of alienation. The latter reveals itself in a correlation between the individual and collective interest (this idea had initially belonged to Rousseau).

This very line of argumentation is widely used by contemporary Marxists (first of all, E. Laclau and C. Mouffe who in fact do not use the term “alienation”) for the analysis of social reality. Thus, following E. Laclau, we define political alienation (in a wide sense) as a consequence of establishing “particularized universality”, or “universal particularity” in contemporary society, which is both a result of democracy and mechanism by means of which it is possible.
A number of narrower definitions can be derived from the levels on which they are found (i.e. personal, institutional, etc.).
With regard to everything said above, I would like to analyze what is going on in Ukraine right now and find some trends showing the level of spread of political alienation and the effects it makes on the configuration of the political system. In other words, now I am going to apply the conception of political alienation to contemporary Ukrainian conditions.

In this paper I will discuss the following major indicators of political alienation, which are (but not limited to):

  • political activity and participation,

  • knowledge about politics,

  • attitudes towards politics in general,

  • trust to political institutions.

I would like to start with the fact that after the “orange revolution”, a number of people not being interested in politics decreased from 20.8% in 2004 to 11.3% in 2005. Such a “shift” in opinions has never been observed in Ukrainian history before. Accompanied by the so called “controversial”, or “unconsolidated” voting, it makes a specific indication of the situation of political alienation.

Besides, the parliamentary elections – 2006 demonstrated lower turnout than in previous years (only around 59% showed up compared to the average of almost 70% in 2002 and earlier). Thus we view absenteeism as an important indicator of political alienation.

The number of people claiming their membership n political parties increased slightly from 1.9% n 2004 to 2.5% in 2005.

It is also necessary to point out that in 2006 the electoral system of Ukraine changed. Due to new law, we gained the so-called “proportional” elections for the first time in Ukrainian political history. The electoral reform was at the same time accompanied with the constitutional reform (starting since January 1, 2006) according to which the president’s credentials got limited. Basically, it means a shift from a rather strong president (like in French model) to the president as a symbol (a German model). At the same time, the opinion polls say that Ukrainians think quite the opposite (see Table 1).

in %





Strong president like in the US



Both president and prime-minister, appointed by the parliament (France)



President as a symbol (Germany)



No president needed



Do not know

Table 1.

What should be the role of the president in Ukraine?

Another tendency shows that more people than ever see themselves as “citizens of Ukraine” than ever before: 54.6% (compared to 44.2% in 2004); and only 8.1% perceive themselves as the “citizens of the USSR”. But these attitudes did not prevent Ukraine from being divided.

“Orange revolution” of 3004 made very vivid the historically established line of division in the country – the one between its Eastern and Western parts. What before 2004 used to be the so called “red belt”5 transformed into “white and blue belt”6 in the East. It led to two important conclusions:

  1. the elections of 2006 proved that for Ukraine there is no return to the communist idea – the Communist Party got only 3.66% of the votes (see Table 2);

  2. the electorate of the Communist party gets alienated – the party has not been in power since 1991, has no representatives in government, and the number of its members in parliament decreased considerably.


Name of the political party / block of parties

% of the votes


Party of Regions



“Yulia Timoshenko’s Block”



Block “Our Ukraine”



Socialist Party of Ukraine



Communist party of Ukraine


Table 2.

Results of the parliamentary elections – 2006 in Ukraine

Finally, the block of political parties “Our Ukraine” that had been the core of the coalition wining the presidential elections in 2004 got only 13.94% of the votes in 2006 (see Table X). This lack of support to the parties in power is also a clear indicator of political alienation of those people voting for Victor Yushchenko in 2004. But in this sense, the phenomenon of alienation appears to be rather constructive than destructive, giving a chance to the opposition to offer a different strategy, approach, or program to the country.


  1. Bauman Z. (2004) Globalizatsia. Posledstvia dlia cheloveka. – Moscow, Ves mir. – P. 188. (in Russian)

  2. Böhnke P. Nothing left to lose? Poverty and social exclusion in comparison. Empirical evidence on Germany. – April, 2001.

  3. Giddens A. (2000) "The third way". The renewal of social democracy. - Polity Press.

  4. Golovakha Y., Panina N. (1994) Sotsialnoye bezumie. Istoria, teoria i sovremennaya praktika. – Kiev, Abris. – P. 168. (in Russian)

  5. Huizinga J. (1992) Homo ludens. – Moscow, Progress. (in Russian)

  6. Kutsenko O. (2000) Obshchestvo neravnyh. – Kharkov. – P. 316. (in Russian)

  7. Ortega y Gasset J. (2000) Izbrannye trudy. – Moscow. (in Russian)

  8. Park R. (1998) Kulturny konflikt i marginalny chelovek // Sotsialnye i gumanitarnye nauki. Ref. zhurnal. Seria 11. Sotsiologia. - #2. – P. 172-175. (in Russian)

  9. Putnam R. Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital // Available at: (10.02.06)

  10. Ritzer G. (2002) Sovremennye sotsiologicheskie teorii. – SPb, Piter. – P. 688. (in Russian)

  11. Tikhonova N. (2003) Fenomen gorodskoy bednosti v sovremennoy Rossii. – Moscow. – P. 408. (in Russian)

  12. Yeremeyeva N. (2005) Fenomen politychnogo vidchuzhennia: postanovka problemy // Metodologia, teoria ta praktyka sotsiologichnogo analizu suchasnogo suspilstva: Zbirnyk naukovyh prats. – Kharkiv. – P. 435-437. (in Ukrainian)

  13. Yeremeyeva N. (2006) Poniatie sotsialnogo otchuzhdenia: trudnosti sotsiologicheskogo opredelenia // Vestnik KhNU im. V.N. Karazina. “Sotsiologicheskie issledovania sovremennogo obshchestva: metodologia, teoria, metody”. - #723. – P. 85-90. (in Russian)

1 In spite of it, the concept of social alienation has a rich methodological base. It was not only Marx’s followers who contributed to the investigation of this phenomenon, but also representatives of functionalism, formal sociology, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, etc. Most of them described its demonstrations not even using the term “alienation”.

2 Marx uses the notion of Entfremdung meaning alienation as a feature of the subject, literally – “dissociation”, “estrangement from someone”.

3 It has to do with people deprived from property.

4 The state according to Marx is personifies the collective interest and is represented by the proprietor class.

5 The regions where the Communist Party of Ukraine got the majority of votes during the period of independence

6 White and blue were the colors used by Victor Yanukovich during the presidential electoral campaign of 2004; therefore, “white and blue belt” refers to the regions where he got the majority of votes in 2004

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