Ukraine: “We don’t need a good tsar, we need an effective political model”

Treffpunkt Europa interview with Maksym Folomieiev

, by Arthur Molt

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Ukraine: “We don't need a good tsar, we need an effective political model”

Ukraine is under shock after violent clashes overshadowed a voting on constitutional reforms last monday. Protesters in Kiev opposed the amendment on decentralisation saying that it would tolerate separatism in Donetsk and Luhansk. One member of the national guard was killed by a granade, dozens injured. But what is really at stake in the constitutional reform on decentralisation? How does the Russian media react to the attack on Monday? Is decentralisation a step towards a European model of governance? Interview with Political Scientist Maksym Folomieiev.

Maksym Folomieiev is associate professor at the Karazin National University in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He holds a PhD in Political Science and works for the department of applied Sociology and for the department of international economic relations at Karazin University. His home town lies in the Donetsk oblast.

Arthur Molt: What are the major changes that the reform on decentralisation will bring about?

Maksym Folomieiev: The Ukrainian adminstrative system still functions in large parts like in Soviet times. It is very inefficcient because there is no regulation for self-governance. The constitutional amendment affects predominatly economic power. We still have a very centralised model when it comes to public money. The capital Kiev decides over budget allocation. And there is doubts about the correct usage of this money.

A.M.: People blame the central government of corruption?

M.F: Yes, partly they do.

A.M.: Fighting corruption was one demand of the Euro-Maidan. So, why do people protest against decentralisation?

M.F.: Decentralisation was not among the major demands of the Euro-Maidan. In experts opinion it was an important aspect, but not in the public. People mainly spoke out against corruption and Ukraine’s future orientation in foreign policy. Decentralisation is a concept that remains to be explained to people.

“The problem is that people think decentralisation means federalisation.”

A.M.: Did Poroshenko fail to explain his reform on decentralisation?

M.F.: The problem is that people think that decentralisation means federalisation and that the reform will grant special status to the territories controlled by rebels in the Donbas. The goal of the reform was maybe not well enough explained.

A.M.: The amendment already passed the constitutional court and now got a clear majority in the Parliament. How do you explain this spontaneaous violent reaction?

M.F.: On monday we saw only the first reading in the parliament. The discussion will still go on. And we should remember that it was rather a small group of radicals that used violence. It is dangerous to judge about the whole country on grounds of one man’s behaviour who threw a granade on security forces.

A.M.: Do you think the government needs to pay more attention to radicals who perceive themselves as Ukrainian patriots?

M.F.: In times of war there is a lot of people who are disapointed and want to decide everything right now. There is a series of compromises that are sometimes hard to accept.

A.M.: I see, but how do you deal with people who are not ready to accept political compromises and use violence?

M.F.: If it was only about political issues, we could discuss them more easily. But now we have a lot of victims of the war in the East. And under this circumstances it is difficult to explain political procedures.

The amendment of decentralisation. A loophole for separatism?

A.M.: In article 18 of the transitional provisions of the amendment it says that „local governance in certain counties in Donetsk and Luhansk regions are defined by a separate law“. Is this a loophole for separatism?

M.F.: In Luhansk and Donetsk region there is no elected government right now, so the reform on self-government does not apply to them. According to the Minsk Agreement there must be first an end of military actions, a control of the borders and then free elections under Ukrainian law. Only then we can speak about the implementation of this amendment in the territory that is currently under control of the rebels.

A.M.: Some in the Ukrainian opposition see this reform as a risk of further separatism. How do you respond to this?

M.F.: That is too dramatic. Only economical power will be given to the hromada and raion (local government bodies). They will not be granted political or legislative power. Apart from that the president will have the power to stop actions that are against the constitution and the territorial integrity of the country.

A.M. What is the function of the newly introduced prefects?

M.F.: They are supposed to be representatives that control obedience to the law. However without interfering into the budget planning on the local level.

A.M.: Are the prefects a useful arrangement to undermine further separatism?

M.F.: Yes, they have the potential to prevent separatism. But only if they work effective. What happened to Luhansk and Donetsk was due to an inefficient work of local institutions. They closed their eyes as people intruded the territory.

A.M.: Pro-Russian activists claim that Ukraine is under threat of radical “fascists”. How does the attack on Monday affect this discussion?

M.F.: In social networks there is already a joke saying that after the attacks on Monday president Putin can open a bottle of Champagne. Judging on the actions of one person, Russian media will now try to spread the idea that the whole country is under influence of radicals. Now we have pictures for the propaganda television.

“We don’t need a good tsar, we need an effective political model.”

A.M.: Your city, Kharkiv already saw struggles between pro-Russian forces and Euro-Maidan-protesters. Is it likely that this tensions rise again?

M.F.: We know the threat of violent attacks in Kharkiv. There was a bomb attack by anti-maidan protesters this february, three people were killed. One of them was the coordinator of Euro-Maidan in Kharkiv. We are only 56 kilometres away from the Russian border.

A.M.: European advisors like the Venice Commission approved the Ukrainian reform. Is decentralisation a way to create a more European model of governance?

M.F.: Decentralisation can be seen as a way to Europe. But federalisation on the other hand will lead to the break up of Ukraine. This is the idea that Russia is promoting. The Soviet model was a model of a power vertical: all party officials were under the Kremlin. We are now getting closer to a normal European model where local levels are engaged with their own problematics. We don’t need a good tsar, we need an effective political model.

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