Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Decentralization in Ukraine Does Not Equal Autonomy

The events that unfolded on August 31 outside of Kyiv’s parliament had little to do with the government’s plan to decentralize power in Ukraine but was instead the result of irresponsible politicians and an overly heated and charged political atmosphere.  

A majority of Ukrainians support devolving powers and decision making from central authorities to local officials.  According to IRI's most recent national tracking survey conducted in July through its USAID/CEPPS consortium, there is broad support for decentralization in Ukraine.

Looking at differences in age, regions and political party affiliations there is almost no difference in attitudes.  For a country which is constantly reminded by the international press that it is “divided,” here is one of several issues that unites the country.  Ukrainians want to move their country to a place where local democracy is strengthened and greater decision making power is brought back home.

What brought out the worst in some of Ukraine’s political leaders and their organized (and sometimes paid for) crowds was controversy over a clause in the final package of laws stating: “The specifics of realizing local self-government in separate districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are defined by a separate law.” Which some commentators have inferred as giving the occupied Donbas regions a “special status.”  More than a hundred law enforcement officers and National Guardsmen protecting the parliament from a violent mob festooned with several political parties’ flags were injured and three died when stones, bats, Molotov cocktails and a live grenade were used against them.   

What exactly this status might confer is not specified in the text nor necessarily immediately required once the constitution is amended.   In fact the “specifics” of local self-governance will be addressed in a completely separate law that will have to be drafted, debated and ultimately voted upon.  As an example the Ukrainian constitution already provides for a “special status” for the way in which Kyiv city and the Sevastopol region are governed.  

What the vaguely worded clause in the decentralization legislation ultimately does is provide Ukraine with breathing space to continue holding out for a Russian withdrawal and full implementation of the Minsk II ceasefire agreement.  Both the U.S. and EU have pushed hard for the Ukrainian government to include this language in order to meet the spirit of the Minsk process and continue to demonstrate good faith efforts in meeting those obligations. 

Unfortunately, populist politicians decided yesterday to play on the country’s fear over losing permanently the occupied regions to advance their own agendas in the lead up to the October 25 local elections and possibly to provoke an early pre-term parliamentary election.   These actions are counter to public opinion and what the Ukrainian people want.  A shift in political forces inside and outside of the parliament is now underway and whether cooler heads prevail and a true sense of historic purpose for the future of Ukraine returns to several parties remains unclear.

Let us hope that politicians understand that they are accountable to their constituents and understand what representative democracy is and will vote accordingly.

Posted by

Michael Druckman

Resident Country Director, Ukraine