14. Oct. 2014

Commentary to the seven-thesis-presen­tation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:
«The Swiss experiences on federalism»

Our own recipe for happiness, or why the Ukrainians are against federalization

Comentary by Anatoliy Khlivnyi

The idea to share powers between the center and regions is not new for Ukraine. Back in the Constitution of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR), adopted on April 29, 1918, stated that: «without breaking the unity of its power, the UPR gives power of large self-administration to her lands, volosts and communities, adhering to a principle of decentralization».

Then, in the turbulent post-revolutionary years, these words were only a declaration, as a young country, formed after the collapse of the Russian Empire, fell under the onslaught of the Bolshevik army, which came from the East. The territory of Ukraine was divided between her neighbors. The main part went to the USSR (after World War II other Ukrainian lands were annexed to the Red Empire). As you know, the Soviet Union, in spite of a declarative federation, was a strictly centralized state. Its capital, Moscow, resolved everything: beginning with really important issues of national security and finishing with how much metal should be made and how many eggs should be stored up.

Such excessive, burdensome and inefficient centralization inherited the independent Ukraine in 1991. It was clear that the construction of a democratic country depends not only on the establishment of various independent branches of government that can mutually control and balance each other, but also on a reasonable sharing of powers between the center and the regions.

The problem to reform local self-government and territorial organization of power in Ukraine was particularly acute after the Maidan of 2013-2014. Then it became clear that the excessive powers in Kiev and a lack of powers in Ukrainian regions make the center and regions weak, and that may lead to hanging about, if we speak of quick, quality and necessary reforms. And even more it may raise a query about the existence of Ukraine.

But it is not that easy as it seems on the first gaze. It ought to be noted that when it came to the real implementation of a local self-government reform, the thought of how to carry out it divided. If you look at the successful international experience of countries with a balanced sharing of powers between the center and regions, it appears that there is no common algorithm of such sharing. We can draw a parallel: many people, when asked whether they feel happy, say «Yes». But if ask them what makes them happy, we may hear different answers. Similarly, the various states, recognizing together that decentralization is a necessary thing, keep their own recipe in making such decentralization.

In Ukraine, in particular, many people spoke of a necessity for federalization. Like fuel to the fire were some statements of managers of Russia – a country that annexed the territory of Ukraine in the spring time and promoted terrorist groups in Donbas. Then the leaders of the Russian Federation (which is actually a pseudo- federation) began to assert that the only way for Ukraine is its federalization, where some regions would have, in particular, the right to veto foreign policy initiatives of the central government. It is easy to size up, what will this mean in practice: hovering and no movement towards European values. There are good reasons why such proposals were called by most Ukrainian politicians and experts an outright manipulation and a time bomb for the state of Ukraine for its collapse.

In addition, if we look at the nature of the phenomenon of the federation, we may find a consistency. Federations forms as a way to associate different areas. In other words, a federation is integration. Switzerland was formed initially as a union of several local communities. The basis for the existence of the USA was an agreement on unity of 13 states. Various lands of Germany decided in a historical moment to unite around Prussia, and modern Germany, although has no direct relationship to the German Empire of 1871, follows this historic choice. We can say something similar about other successful federations.

It is pertinent to quote the words of the Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel during her visit to Ukraine: «Germany supports decentralization. But there is a difficulty – if we’re talking about German federalization, in Ukraine it is understood differently, it can damage the unity of Ukraine. What we mean by federalization is called decentralization in Ukraine, and that is what the President of Ukraine wishes for».

So, summing up, I would say: the vast majority of the Ukrainians that are truly seeking a united and strong Ukraine, will never accept federalization. This word for us, considering how hard and often this word was pronounced in Russia during the annexation of the Crimea, is unacceptable. (Let alone the fact that there is really no historical reason to transform Ukraine into a federation.) But the Ukrainians fully understand that a common-sensible decentralization should take place. Then we will achieve a strong unitary state (perhaps with some autonomous entities, such as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea which exists all the years of Ukraine’s independence), where the central government and regions would have enough power.

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