Decentralization in Ukraine: An antidote for conflict

Image courtesy of Al Jazeera America

Recently decentralization has been surfacing in European and U.S media as a solution for the current conflict in Ukraine. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, have openly endorsed decentralization as a means to curb the continuing destruction of human life and regain safety in the region. Could power sharing between the different regions and localities in Ukraine serve as a solution?

After independence from the Soviet Union, the central government of Ukraine made power subsidiary within different regions and localities. One example of this concentration of power is seen in the fact that the central government reserves the right to assign regional governors. In regards to this, Mr. Timothy Frye, political analyst from Columbia University, stated in the The Washington Post that “[This] gives local citizens little stake in provincial politics and ensures that the provincial governor will be as concerned with satisfying their bosses in Kiev as catering to the average citizen in their province.”

An initiative for decentralization in Ukraine has been spearheaded by Tymofiy Mylovanov from the University of Pittsburgh. Backed by numerous social scientists, political leaders, including Nobel Prize winner Roger Myerson, this initiative proposes decentralization will resolve current conflict due to the following facts:

  1. Important local economic and social decisions could be made by people most affected by conflict, rather than being dictated by the party in power.
  2. It could reduce the “stakes” of conflict in national politics by directing attention toward urgent economic and political problems.
  3. It could strengthen Ukraine’s national political institutions as a system where [new] local politicians must prove themselves, gain the trust of the people, and get executive experience.

One might argue that the Ukrainian government has maintained a united and democratic country at the expense of having a decentralized system. Instead, the plan seems to lean toward financial autonomy – rather than political autonomy – of provincial regions, allowing the government to remain politically centralized. Perhaps increasing the budget authority of local governments marks a step toward a more expansive and long-term devolution of Ukraine’s central power.

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