openPR Logo
Press release

Democracy Watch, 2011 - Issue 2

02-10-2011 12:54 PM CET | Politics, Law & Society

Press release from: People First Foundation

Ukrainians take to the streets: celebrating unity on the day of national independence and demonstrating intentions to protect their economic rights. Meanwhile the government is implementing hasty administrative reform, without having settled on its foreign-policy strategy.

What direction does the foreign policy of Viktor Yanukovych take?

In just one month Viktor Yanukovych will celebrate his first year in the office of the President of Ukraine. During this time the approach to national foreign policy has changed dramatically. From being overtly pro-western and Euro-Atlantic during the term of president Yuschenko it appears to now to focus on Russia. With new legislation coming into force Ukraine also declared insulation from any blocks and unions as well as cancelled the provisions for integration into NATO. Various political steps suit Russia exclusively: Russian businesses were incorporated in to privatisation tenders allowing the take-over of Ukrainian companies, particularly in strategically important sectors of economy; The agreement with the Russian Naval Base included a long term extension, in exchange for a short term gas discount. Thus even though Yanukovych tries to demonstrate that he intends to preserve friendship with president Dmitriy Medvedev Russia is gradually increasing its pressure on Ukraine. This will result in the Head of Ukraine either yielding to Moscow’s economic influence entirely, or a hasty political rapprochement with the West to balance the Russian influence.

Although the first official visit by Yanukovych as President of Ukraine was to Brussels, at present the relations with the European Union are increasingly troubled by concerns over the Ukrainian authorities restricting the democratic rights and freedoms of Ukrainian people. The latest visits of European Commissioners to Kyiv proved that the intentions of the EU's policy makers are to prevent the establishment of Belorussian-esque regime in Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych should personally value the support of the European Union as it will allow him to not only balance relations with Russia but also enjoy his trips to the EU, communicate with European leaders and be welcomed as a member of the European elite. To achieve these goals he should terminate the establishment of the Russia model of control over society irrespective of its successes in Russia and resume dialogue with the people. Otherwise we face not only sanctions from the EU and the USA, but an increased dependence on Russia and the potential for a social explosion of similar magnitude to that of the "Orange Revolution" and equally unexpected as was the case in Egypt.

People First Comment:
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs have stated that the policy of this government will be to express the independence of Ukraine. There would be no dependence on Russia but there would be close economic ties. There would be no dependence on the EU although Ukraine would follow a path of economic and later political integration with Europe. There would be no formal engagement with NATO but they would continue to participate in the partnership for peace programme. One year on the picture is very different and the country is now looking more isolated than independent.

Relations with Russia are at best cool, the EU is becoming outspoken in its criticism whilst the military, starved of funds is becoming less and less effective to a point where joint NATO exercises serve little purpose. The political parallels with Belarus have not gone unnoticed. What has happened as a result of current policy is that Ukraine is now no longer a hindrance to Russian-EU relations as both recognise that the country has backed it’s self into a corner and can now be virtually ignored in real East-West relations. Ukraine has become a problem for both the EU and the USA as the economic and social conditions deteriorate and so rather than expressing Ukrainian independence all that seems to have been achieved is an expression of Ukraine’s ineptitude.

Isolationism is not a policy; it is a result of a lack of real policy. Ukraine needs a strong economic and political relationship with both Russia and the EU. Ukraine needs to demonstrate that it has real direction, that it is serious about partnerships, that, importantly, it fully understands European and western values and that the Ukrainian culture and heritage has something of real value to the world. The present policy can only reduce Ukraine to a disruptive international problem that the world does not need.

Ukraine remains separated on the day the country declared its sovereignty

The true depth of Ukraine’s social and political disruption was illustrated recently by public action on the day of symbolic national reunion of the western and eastern regions. The authorities confined themselves to typical protocol: an on-screen presidential greeting, a concert for top officials and provocative warning by the Minister of the Interior concerning possible "bloodshed" by the opposition. The still divided opposition celebrated the Day of Independence separately. The majority, including "Batkivshchyna" of Yulia Tymoshenko, All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda" and "Narodna Samooborona" gathered at the historical Sophievska square, where they denounced the Kharkiv Agreements with Russia, called for the resignation of the government and stressed the importance of alliance between all patriotic forces. This political meeting gathered between 20-40 thousand people. Other parties, who have declared themselves as oppositional to the government, such as "Front Zmin" led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, held their own meeting on Kontraktova square. Some party fellows of the former president Viktor Yuschenko joined this meeting alongside several thousand citizens.

In contrast Ukrainian citizens, especially young people, demonstrated more aspiration for a political reunion of Ukraine than that described by politicians. Ukrainians in all major cities including Kyiv came out in celebration of unity by joining hands and creating ‘live chains’. In Kyiv young people connected the two banks of the Dnieper river with a symbolic ‘live chain’, proving that Ukrainians feel united, despite attempts by politicians to instil a sense of separation in the country. Such a burst of spontaneous patriotic activity inspires hope for the development of civil society in Ukraine. It also illustrates the vast and widening gap between the attitudes of the people, and their authorities that have chosen to ignore the citizens of Ukraine on the Day of Independence. Thus due to an indifferent government and separation within the opposition, hopes for civil society become the most powerful factor of the development of democracy in Ukraine and marginally raise its potential to become a successful European state.

People First Comment:
Is it any wonder that the good people of Ukraine are not prepared to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the nation when the political parties have singularly failed to deliver anything but more suffering on the nation. In 1991 when Ukraine broke away from the Soviet Union the nation had suffered from a lack of real investment for something like 20 years. The people had watched their standard of living slowly deteriorate as the lack of investment in industry, schools, hospitals, housing, roads and infrastructure really began to bite. Today the GDP of Ukraine is 30% lower than at independence in 1991.

With the declaration of independence the nation believed, and the politicians promised that democracy and freedom would create a new Ukrainian utopia. The reality has been somewhat different. Initially nationalist sentiment ruled and the authorities wasted valuable time on matters of national pride and ignored national priorities. The international community invested millions in promoting market economics but virtually nothing on democracy education and institution building and in this area Ukraine was left to fend for its self. As a result the authorities and the opposition began to bend the rules of democracy and democratic good practice under the weight of corruption. Money has become the deciding factor to a point where today the national philosophy has disappeared in a fog of self interest.

The political parties have become little more than money making personality cults. None have parliamentarians that have been locally elected from grass root support therefore it is little wonder that the people feel disenfranchised. None have presented well thought out and fully budgeted manifestos preferring the creation of policy on the hoof. The people have little to believe in and little faith that any politicians will work in their interests, therefore nobody should be surprised if they prefer to celebrate the Day of National Unity away from the limelight of political rallies.

False start of administrative reform

The Ukrainian authorities have decided to spread reforms onto the administrative sector. By the Presidential Decree titled "On Optimisation of Central Executive Authorities System" Viktor Yanukovych has attempted to reform the state machine, as well as middle and top-ranking state officials, in accordance with the challenges that Ukraine faces today. There are currently around 350,000 state officials in Ukraine. The declared first step of the reform involves the removal of around 100,000 officials from various levels. Moreover, the number of top-ranking officers has been reduced leaving each minister with just two deputies. Central executive authorities are divided into six types in accordance with European practices: ministries, services, inspections, agencies, independent regulatory bodies and authorities with special status. A positive outcome of the reform also includes the reduction of expenditures on the maintenance of state officials from national budget and a small restriction on the opportunities for corruption.

At the same time the authorities claim that in order to implement similar reforms in other spheres of Ukraine it is necessary to not only reduce staff in state departments but also to increase their efficiency; The IMF offers the same solutions in its official recommendations. The reforms appear to have got of to a false start prove to be poorly thought through. The majority of the reduced ministers will receive equivalent positions in extended government services preserving an old and ineffective management approach. The number of central executive authorities does not be reduced but will in fact increases from 45 to 56. There is no clear concept for these reforms leaving the government's new approach unexplained to its people. One clear effect of these reforms is the assistance to Viktor Yanukovych in further centralising power to his hands through the right to personally appoint the heads of all the central executive authorities. Due to the fact that the administrative reform was developed without requesting recommendations from the EU, thus the functions of the executive authorities will have to be reviewed once the Association Agreement enters into force. Besides, the reform fails to address the issue of self-governance which is one of the key requirements of the European Union. As a result of undue haste this latest attempt of the Ukrainian authorities to implement administrative reform in Ukraine may eventuate in failure.

People First Comment:
Playing the numbers game with the civil service is in reality a deception. The question should not be ‘how many do we really need’ but ‘what do they actually contribute to the management, development and growth of the nation’. It may well be that the country needs 350,000 bureaucrats working efficiently to ensure that the nation is consistently running at peak capacity. Cutting the numbers may well reduce the options for corruption but it does not guarantee that the nation will be run any more effectively.

The Ukrainian civil service of today is virtually identical to that of the former Soviet Union, little or nothing has been done to stream line systems as reducing the bureaucracy would in many cases hurt the revenue streams set up to maximise the opportunity for corruption. In reality the civil service has done an excellent job in protecting its own back but this relatively untrained and undisciplined civil service may well be the President’s Achilles heel. For the President to achieve the targets he promised in his election campaign he needs a civil service that not only understands what has to be done but also has the will to make it happen.

Cutting the numbers may go some way to streamlining decision making and drawing the civil service into some sort of order but unless there is fundamental reform of the systems of public administration, in reality little may change. If the President where to combine the streamlining of the civil service with a programme of incentivized targets then this would be a radical change as it would break the back of the corruption that is currently strangling many aspects of the governmental machine. The reforms are a step in the right direction but in reality may not be a step far enough.

Conflict between the authorities and entrepreneurs in Ukraine may lead to another revolution

After giving protestants' demands token consideration the Ukrainian authorities adopted a new version of Tax Code which demonstrates a somewhat nonchalant attitude towards the interests of entrepreneurs. Thus, the government led by the Party of Regions chose to safeguard the interests of business heavyweights and mark small and medium sized businesses as a primary source of taxation, without considering the hostile environment menacing the SME sector. One of the provisions of the new Tax Code provides the tax administration with the right to freeze any ‘offender's’ bank accounts but fails to present a procedure for unblocking such accounts.

The administrative pressure on entrepreneurs participating in the protests at the end of 2010 was indicative of an aggressive attitude among the authorities. In Kyiv and other regions of Ukraine there have been reports of the authorities purposefully shutting down the trade places of those entrepreneurs who participated in protests. Substantial increases in the number of inspections and interrogations by the militia have become common indicators of pressure.

Thus the population engaged in small and medium sized business - the bulk of the middle class and a fundamental of civil society in Europe - has begun to mobilise itself. As a result, fresh protest actions against the government have already been planned for February 2011. The schedule of demonstrations was recently confirmed by Igor Gurnyak, head of the Coordination Council of the Assembly of non-governmental organisations of small and medium-sized businesses in Ukraine. New protests will voice such demands as the cancellation of the new Tax Code, resignations from the Cabinet of Ministers, pre-term elections for the Verkhovna Rada and the cancellation of a new Labour Code that jeopardises the social security of hired workers. The ongoing battle between entrepreneurs and the policy of the Party of Regions demonstrates a shift away from the typical apathetic population, as segments of the population band together to protect their rights. If the government proves incapable of accommodating the demands of its people, instability in the socio-political and economic fields may get significantly worse before the end of the year.

People First Comment:
What is interesting about the recent public out cries in Tunisia Jordan, Yemen and Egypt is that these revolts are characterised by cries for democracy, jobs, lower food prices, an end to corruption and political reform. This public reaction to social injustice has not been by a radicalised few but by the middle class and ordinary people who simply want a better standard of living. Recent national research carried by the People First Foundation has found that the average middle and working class Ukrainian family’s primary concerns are: jobs, food prices, education, medical care, corruption, representation in government and the rule of law.

Successive governments have ignored job creation, in fact now we see the opposite as the tax police, enforcing the new tax code, force thousands of small and medium sized enterprises to the wall. Food prices continue to rise not simply because of world pricing but also because of the cartels that have been allowed to develop unopposed in the food and food supply industry. Education and healthcare bare the brunt of budget cuts. Corruption is costing the country literally billions in illegal offshore transactions, VAT scams and over pricing, democracy is under direct attack and the majority of Ukrainians now believe that justice is a tradable commodity.

The parallels between the social conditions in North Africa and Ukraine are uncannily similar particularly with the authoritarian clamp down and the middle class tax revolt. The only difference being that in Ukraine the opposition is even less likely to solve the problems as they are cast from the same die. The authorities had better rethink their policies lest Ukrainians learn from the North African and Middle Eastern examples and follow suite.

Historical quote of the week:

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of potage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money; is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves become the greatest grievance. Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God's help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do; I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place; go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! Go! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, 20 April 1653

Democracy Watch is the weekly monitor of the People First Foundation and serves to raise public awareness of how government and parliamentary action is impacting upon Ukrainian democracy and democratic due process. The information is copyright free and may be reproduced but we ask that any comments are reproduced in full and with reference to the People First Foundation.

People First Foundation
1 Skovorody Street, Kyiv 04070, Ukraine
Telephone: +38044 536 1508 / Fax +38044 536 1509

This release was published on openPR.

Permanent link to this press release:

Please set a link in the press area of your homepage to this press release on openPR. openPR disclaims liability for any content contained in this release.

You can edit or delete your press release Democracy Watch, 2011 - Issue 2 here

News-ID: 161966 • Views: 1906

More Releases from People First Foundation

Democracy watch 2012, issue 12
As the weakened relationship with the EU reaches breaking point, Ukraine's regime blames local representative. With the media reduced to promotion only content, the cultural elite calls for a new national direction. Manipulation takes over mass media The gap between Ukraine’s reality and its television news reports is widening. This year has seen a steep drop in stories covering political developments, leaving the upcoming parliamentary elections nearly uncovered. Recent research from the
Democracy Watch 2011, issue 35
Insulated from the people the government is pursuing a corruption policy that has only increased the number of political prisoners and complicated visa regime process with EU. The situation is unlikely to be helped by the governing coalition ignoring the recommendations of the Venice Commission and approving a biased election law. Ukraine – EU: excessive migration, slow liberalisation The simplification of visa regulations with the EU remains one of the
Democracy Watch, 2011 - Issue 26
20 years of Ukrainian Independence: progress or servitude? Evaluating Ukraine’s 20 years of Independence, to be celebrated on the 24th of August, is a complex and contentious task. However, this anniversary provides a unique opportunity to reflect upon the social impact and reality of the many dramatic reformations that make up Ukraine’s brief history. Ukrainian leaders are rightly characterised by their many missed opportunities to better the quality of life for
Democracy Watch, 2011 - Issue 25
With International observers continually ringing alarm bells Ukraine’s government pushes through questionable reforms, as the Ukrainian people experience ever-worsening poverty. Ukrainian reforms: for the people or for the elite? The new government brought in its wake the promise of 21 strategic reforms intended for immediate implementation. Despite a consolidation of power into the President’s hands and over a year in office only two of these reforms have been attempted, a new tax

All 5 Releases