Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov signed a decree on measures to ensure the consolidation of the citizens of Ukraine and terminating the civil conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The document envisages reforms related to decentralization of power, greatly enhanced powers of territorial communities and financial framework of local government.
Similar theses were voiced by Arsenii Yatseniuk during a meeting with representatives of Donetsk elite on April 11. The prime minister emphasized three areas: decentralization, the language issue, and local referendums.
1. Yatseniuk declared the center’s readiness to establish regional executive committees that would be formed by locals and replace the currently existing oblast administrations where governors are appointed by the government in Kyiv. The head of the Cabinet also promised to amend the Budget Code of Ukraine so that more tax money would be left in the regions. These points are held in common by almost all major political forces of the country and many Ukrainians from different regions. Therefore, the specific steps towards decentralization can lead to a real decrease of tension in the south-eastern regions, in relations between the regions and the center, as well as on the inter-regional level. At the same time, non-critical concessions in favor of the regions allow the capital to retain its role as the consolidating national political center.
2. The prime minister never promised to grant Russian the status of second official language. However, Yatseniuk emphasized that the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law, actually giving Russian the official status, remained in effect and would not be revoked. This position is comfortable enough and rational, as it frees politicians from necessity to make new and dangerous political decisions, allowing them to use what is already there, and appeal to fairly broad rights of Russian-speaking population, which are provided by the law. It is especially so because there are no real language problems in the southeast Ukraine today, despite the attempts of certain internal and external political forces to paint the opposite picture.
3. Regarding the issue of local referendums, Yatseniuk did in fact make the case for such a decision to be passed by parliament. In this situation, though, it should be noted that even if this law is passed, it will hardly allow bringing to local referenda issues related to political future of a particular region. Problems of this magnitude are likely to be addressed at the national level only in the future as they are now. Local referenda, should the Verkhovna Rada allow them, will be likely to deal only with the problems of the local level, and nothing above it. This will be just in view of the decentralization policy in the conditions of the desire for national unity and preserving the territorial integrity of the state.
It will be recalled that at the end of March, Kyiv hosted the presentation of the results of sociological survey “Towards a United Ukraine – through Decentralization of Power,” conducted by the Center for Civil Society Studies under the program Strengthening Local Democracy and Supporting Local Government Reform in Ukraine. During this event, it was noted that 60 percent of Ukrainians supported the empowerment of regions to preserve the integrity of the country.
Valentyn KRASNOPIOROV, Donetsk historian, regional coordinator of the civil movement “Chesno”:
“If today’s protesters in the mining capital want constructive resolution of the conflict, the decentralization, regional status of the Russian language, and local referenda on municipal or cultural issues should certainly satisfy them. After all, it is much more than what their fellow Donetsk resident Viktor Yanukovych gave them over four years of his reign. I think you can trust the statement made by the prime minister, because both Yulia Tymoshenko and Petro Poroshenko promised to keep him on the job. Moreover, intentions and actions of the serving Ukrainian prime minister enjoy a certain level of support from influential members of Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk elites.”
Volodymyr FESENKO, political scientist, Director of the Penta Center for Applied Political Studies:
“It would be accurate to say that Yatseniuk’s Donetsk theses contained no promises, but just willingness to compromise. However, judging by recent events in Donetsk region, the main problem is not the Prime Minister, but Rinat Akhmetov, in particular, whether he still controls what is happening in the region. Any agreements can only be built on two basic conditions – surrender of weapons and the evacuation of all captured state institutions. If you talk about federalization, it can only be addressed by a national referendum. The same applies to the status of the Russian language. In any case, the main question is whether Rinat Akhmetov and Oleksandr Yefremov are ready to keep order in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, respectively. If this does not happen, no compromises can be held.”