Vienna, April 30 – Although the Sevastopol base deal and Kyiv’s shift on the nature of the Terror Famine have attracted far more attention, plans being developed by the new government in Kyiv to transform Ukraine from a unitary state to a federal one may have a greater impact not only on that country’s internal development but on its relations with Russia.
In an interview in the current issue of “Gazeta 2000,” Viktor Tikhonov, the new vice prime minister for regional policy, says that he is “a convinced supporter of the ideals of decentralization of power and federalism,” arguing that this is consistent with Ukrainian history and Ukrainian needs for the future (2000.net.ua/2000/derzhava/vlast/66465).
Tikhonov is not only the first such vice premier of Ukraine – earlier Ukrainian governments did not have that post – but he is the author of the book, “A Federalism Manifestoa, or The Path to a Democratic State,” in which he outlined his commitment to the decentralization of power and the reconfiguration of Ukraine’s local and regional governments.
The new vice premier says that he is following in a long line of Ukrainian leaders who believed that their republic must be a federation. “At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century,” he notes, “Mikhail Dragomanov and Mikhail Hrushevsky saw Ukraine as a federation” rather than as a unitary state.
“In 1991, at the time of the first presidential elections,” Tikhonov continues, “two of the four candidates – Vyacheslav Chornobil and Vladimir Grinyev – [also] spoke out for a federal system. [Moreover,] the then-chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Ivan Plushch also publically called for the decentralization of power and the federalization” of Ukraine.
The 1996 Constitution, he says, put an end to this discussion and defined Ukraine as a unitary state, “but at the same time, many questions of the territorial organization of the state were not resolved.” And subsequent events “have shown that the existing model does not correspond to contemporary tasks.”
“However much we talk about seeking to achieve the same level as the developed countries of Europe,” Tikhonov says, “if we do not change anything, then we will hardly be able to achieve positive results.” Consequently, President Viktor Yanukovich has made “the decentralization of power” a “strategic task.”
Obviously this is a many-sided task, he continues, and the government has been in place only a short time. But its focus in this area is already clear: “Today, regional policy is the collection of measures directed at the establishment of effective measures of social-economic development of the regions.”
On the one hand, that will require the expansion of accords between Kyiv and particular regions as called for by the September 2005 law. But on the other, Tikhonov continues, it will require the consolidation of local and regional governments. Ukraine currently has “more than 12,000 organs of local self-administration,” he says, and “this is too many.”
And he goes on to say that “without changes of administrative-territorial arrangements other reforms, in the sphere of economics, the budget, taxes, land reforms and so on – cannot be effectively achieved.” Consequently, “the new powers that be have the political will to conduct serious transformations” in this area.
In pursuing that course, Tikhonov says, “we will not avoid the amalgamation of administrative-territorial units at the lowest level (villages, settlements and cities).” There are too many of them and in rural areas they are too small to be economically and administratively effective.
But it is clear that Tikhonov wants to do more than just combine some rural governments, even if he says that at present “the main task of reforming the administrative-territorial arrangement of Ukraine is the establishment of self-sufficient, capable territorial community at the base and providing it with corresponding resources for development.”
Even the first steps he outlines will lead to struggles between those who will head the new larger entities and those who will lose their political base, and that division in many parts of Ukraine is likely to take on an ethnic dimension, especially in places where ethnic Ukrainians or Crimean Tatars are minorities of a larger area but now have their own political structures.
And if Tikhonov follows the ideas in his manifesto, he will likely seek to combine some existing oblasts, sparking controversy not only by allowing the predominantly ethnic Russian regions of the eastern part of the country to secure more power but also by permitting the ethnically Ukrainian western areas to gain more power locally even as they lose it nationally.
In that event, these moves toward federalism could undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine. At the very least, many Ukrainian opposition leaders and many Ukrainian citizens are likely to view Tikhonov’s program as a threat, a perception that will do nothing to cool passions in Kyiv.