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Federalisation of Ukraine? – A bad idea in the circumstances

February 15, 2014

On twitter back in the middle of January I wrote:

If they weren’t publicly considering it when I wrote that (and publicly they weren’t), seemingly some are now.

That some are considering such a move is of course no surprise when the current political stalemate seems destined to continue indefinitely with no peaceful strategy to progress any form of voluntary compromise from any side.

One of the most circumstantially relevant benefits of federal governance when seen through a central control lens is that – as my tweet states – it keeps a great many uncomfortable and unnecessarily time and energy sapping political and governance issues within the provinces for local officials and their constituents to deal with when problems arise.  To a great extent it insulates and inoculates both other provinces and central government from contracting any contagious issues emerging within any particular region and “snowballing”.

Although the federal option may appear to be raising its head only now, at a time when political paralysis and polarisiation seem entrenched, it was an option considered quite deeply by President Yanukovych long before he became president.

However, it would seem that upon becoming president, inserting a power vertical was deemed far more beneficial personally – and for those who immediately surround him – than the necessary decentralisation of power and budget to the regions that federalism requires.

Only now when absolute control of the nation has been lost and is unlikely to be regained by this president and administration, has the idea regained momentum within some quarters.

That said, under every president and government of Ukraine, whilst no official federal system has ever operated, a feral – almost federal – patriarchal system certainly has, often frustrating whomever was in power at the centre, sat in Kyiv.

To be quite blunt, it seems on occasion, that the Oblast and City Administrations more closely mirror the often dysfunctional loose confederation that is the EU, rather than any centrally governed sovereign state or federal republic.

So if a formal federal system requires the decentralisation of power and budget to local government, and with it far greater local democratic responsiveness and accountability, why is it as a democracy advocate, that I consider it a bad idea?

Quite simply, by adopting such a system of formal internal fragmentation in a time of political crisis and institutional weakness, it would provide external (and perhaps internal) parties with vested interests, an open invitation/temptation to “break bits off” from the current geographical territory of Ukraine in which they may have a particular interest – and retaining the current territorial integrity of Ukraine is as critical as the consolidation of democracy within those existing boarders.

After all, when all is said and done, a federal system is not required to decentralise either power nor budget to the peripheral regions.  It simply takes political will to provide local government the space, legal instruments and finances to provide good local democratic responsive governance – and the political will to provide the local constituency with the space, legal instruments and independent state institutions to hold their local governance to account.

If federalism is the future of Ukraine, then now is not the time to rush into such a decision.  Now is the time for the political class to deliver a great many things, but federalism isn’t one of them.

The possibility of two governments for two regions within a single state? – How is Bosnia-Herzegovinia rubbing along with that system?

Politics is not only about policy – timing and perception matter!

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One comment

  1. “The possibility of two governments for two regions within within a single state? – How is Bosnia-Herzegovinia rubbing along with that system?”

    Bad, but better than it would have with just one government. Of course Bosnia and Herzegovina actually supports twelve governments, where three would be sufficient.



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