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Can Federalization Save Ukraine?

Can Federalization Save Ukraine?

1. Federalization

In Ukraine, parties on the losing end of the electoral process take turns demanding federalization or even secession.

The idea’s been floating around for years; The Svoboda party, formerly known as the Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine, includes decentralization in their official platform.  After Viktor Yanukovich, whose power base is located in Ukraine’s Russian- speaking south-west won presidential elections in 2008, the Svoboda stronghold of Galicia was talking secession.  Their head, Oleh Tyahnybok, is currently against federalization, however:

Regarding the idea of federalization, this structure suits Russia, where in some regions ethnic minorities make up a majority of the population such as Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Ingushetia, Buryatia and others. The idea of Ukrainian federalization is nothing more than another underhanded attempt to weaken Ukrainian statehood and subordinate Ukraine to Putin’s geopolitical ambitions.

That Ukraine is a homogeneous society would be news to people mildly familiar with the country.

The current push for federalization is spearheaded by, among others, Ukrainian Communists as well as Vladimir Putin, who, while massing his troops on Ukraine’s border, continues the talk of extending self-rule of Ukraine’s regions, something that Russia does not allow.  Federalization is a frequent demand of separatists in the south-east.

Mikhail Dobkin, the former Kharkiv mayor and gubernatorial appointee of the deposed Yanukovich, is running for president on the platform of federalization.

Dobkin, however, is not a serious candidate because a) his Party of Regions is all but dead; b) he’s a bona fide Jew in a country where politicians go out of their way to hide their Jewish roots and c) he doesn’t appear to have support outside of Kharkiv.

[Ukrainian GDP by region. Dnipropetrovsk governor and second richest person in the country Ihor Kolomoisky had formed his own security force in the wake of Maidan’s victory]

To be sure,  federalization is not a popular idea, and Ukrainians view centralized government as the perfect expression of the nation-state.

And yet it continues to be tossed around by all sorts of politicians, among them the mayor of the western-most city of Lviv, Andriy Sadovy.  Proponents of federalization include high profile Western figures, most notably, Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics Roger Meyerson.

[Ukrainian budget. Regions colored in green give more than they receive in subsidies. Orange regions are currently a drain on the budget]

Russia and the West don’t have a lot of common ground when it comes to this subject.

In American understanding, federalization implies direct elections of regional governments (currently Ukrainian governors are appointed by the presidents, as are their Russian counterparts) and local tax collection.  This idea of local tax levy is more attractive to the few regions producing Ukrainian GDP.  Most of them are concentrated in the east, but Kyiv, where many companies are registered and pay taxes, looks good also.

Many in Ukraine’s industrial east are not thinking it through; once subsidies are factored in, Donetsk is a drain on the budget.  Presumably, Russia will have to invest in the region to modernize it after the takeover — if he goes that rout.  That is also factoring in natural gas reservoirs in Kharkiv and Donetsk into the geo-political calculus.

Putin wants to push federalization further, creating a structure in which each region will be conducting its trade and foreign policy.  Greenland, he says, is a part of Denmark, but while Denmark is a member of the EU, Greenland is not.  But Greenland doesn’t have Russia on its border.

It’s not hard to see where such an arrangement will lead.  At this moment, Putin is not interested in Chernovtsi or Ivano-Frankovsk, but he wants Donbas, Kharkiv and Odessa in the Custom’s Union.  Ukraine was never known for the rule of law, and its politicians are sell-outs.  The Kremlin will bribe and twist arms, going from region to region, bringing them under their sphere.

2. Going Bulba

Putin may have something else in mind.

Ukrainian independence is an intensely personal issue for the Russian public.  Russians are an imperial people; they regard all of their formerly subjugated people as little brothers and sisters, but Ukraine and Belorussia have a special place in their psyche — those are the Slavic brothers, the holy trinity of Eastern Europe.  There is a lot to the “close relatives” idea because so many Russians and Ukrainians live in ethnically mixed families and have relatives in each other’s countries and Russia drew so heavily on Ukrainian talent.  Belorussians know their place, but Ukrainians have an ornery streak about them.

Last month a video of a young Ukrainian woman reading her poem “We Will Never Be Brothers” went viral in Eastern Europe.  A few weeks later a Lithuanian composer set it to music.

When family metaphors start flying around expect interesting turns of events.  Putin might be careful to avoid  *heavy* bloodshed in Ukraine, but he can finish off the country.  I think of the quote from “Taras Bulba”*, a historical novella by Nicolai Gogol, a Russian writer of Ukrainian origin, set during the Bogdan Khmelnitsky uprising against Poland (and Jews) that lead to the Cossack alliance with Russia and eventual loss of their autonomy.

The novel went through many big screen adaptations, the latest one, a slick-looking ultra-violent epic Taras Bulba: The Conqueror (the conqueror?), was released in 2008 in Russia.  In that production, the Polish characters spoke Polish, but both Russians and Ukrainians spoke Russian and the filmmakers portrayed Polish atrocities that were not in the book.  Scenes from the film are used in social media outlets of Ukrainian separatists.

In Gogol’s story, Taras kills his son who switched over to the Polish side, uttering “Я тебя породил, я тебя и убью!” or “I gave you life, I will take it!”  Russia didn’t invent Ukrainian nationhood, but it put together the modern Ukrainian state which it now wants to destroy.

[Taras Bulba over the body of his son. Illustration by a Soviet Jewish artist Evgeny Kibrik.]

Duma court jester and radical nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky proposed a partition of Ukraine between Russia on the east and Poland, Romania and Hungary on the west.  It must be emotionally satisfying for a Russian nationalist to set an example of Ukraine for their other former subjects.  It sounds far-fetched, but so did the takeover of Crimea a few months ago.

This is a guest post by the author of the blog , an American citizen who grew up in Eastern Ukraine.


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Federalism has failed in the US. How likely will it work anywhere else?

The economic maps are irrelevant to the issue. Go look up the electoral map for Yanukovych’s election. He and his party won the east, Crimea and Odessa by very large majorities (60 to 90%) and lost the west by equally large majorities. That is the reality. Ukrainians are divided into to very different peoples with very different goals. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that most local officials are appointed by the central government, so there is a huge winner-take-all outcome in the elections.

The only alternative to federalism and local control is partition. Considering the events on the ground, partition seems to be the only possible outcome.

    Kozak in reply to bob sykes. | April 29, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    You’re mostly correct, Bob, although some things have changed since then. An analysis of social media showed that only in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea were the majority of posts in favor of Russia. Dnipropetrovsk, while still Russian-speaking, has turned into a hotbed of patriotism, at least among the young. Also, you can’t equate Russian-speaking with wanting to be part of Russia. Best guesses are that even in Crimea that group was no more than 40%.
    There is also a huge generational divide. The under-40 crowd is much more pro-Ukrainian.

      I agree that civilizational issues are the most important. However, economics of federalization is one of the issues Ukrainians themselves are talking about.
      Language is an interesting issue. According to this map (which raises more questions than it answers) few Ukrainian is not the dominant home language in most of Ukraine:
      Interestingly, the ultra-nationalist Pravy Sektor is heavily Rusophone. Unlike what Yatsenyuk is saying, it’s not a proof that they are all Kremlin agents, they are just Russian-speaking Ukrainians (although I’m sure Putin has a few of his people among them).
      I don’t have the exact number, but most of Ukrainian book market is in Russian.
      As far as Dnepropetrovsk being a hotbed of Ukrainian patriotism…. I think it has a lot to do with the power structures there, namely Kolomoisky forming a mercenary guard to secure the region.

        That map looks about right, although language is always interesting there. I saw another map of “ridna mova”= “mother tongue” and it was majority Ukrainian except in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea. I’d say that’s a pretty good proxy for identity.

          I think I saw that map too, and I find it suspicious. Cities like Kharkov and Odessa are close to 100% Russian-speaking, and the regions surrounding them are Surzhyk-speaking.
          I think the ethnic division maps are equally odd. That many people are ethnic Russians, and that many are ethnic Ukrainians, as if there are distinct Russian and Ukrainian communities there.

A very informative article, Mr. Sandbox. Thanks.

Nice analysis, edge. The fact that Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are net recipients of budget money is a rude shock to them. They’ve always been told they’re feeding Ukraine.

How many divisions of infantry and tank battalions does “Federalization” have ? Putin will take what he wants no matter what you try to do to appease him …

Go ahead, grovel as fast as you can … maybe you will be eaten last …

    Admittedly federalization has 0 infantry and tank battalions. However, many Ukrainians are not too eager to give their only sons (and so many families there have no more than 1 child) to serve. They are not necessarily enthused about shooting at Russians either, certainly not in the south-east.
    Another thing to take into consideration is that NATO expansion is not free. Are we prepared to defend Ukraine?
    Plus, for reasons of demography alone, Russia has no long term. This is not 1930’s Germany.

BannedbytheGuardian | April 29, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Humpty Dumpty saton a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall ,
All of Kiev’s horses & what’s left of their men ,
Could not put Humpty together again.

The egg was chosen for a reason in this rhyme.

Excuse me my English,but

Ladies & Gentlemen, let me express my point of view on the situation. My father was Ukrainian, my mother was Russian, Russian language is native, I was born in Sevastopol, living in Odessa. Already 6 years in Afghanistan assisting ISAF to do their job. Shame on me, but I’m not well speaking Ukrainian because have no chance to practice it.
Most of you already know about Odessa, Slaviansk, Donetsk, Kramatorsk…I just would like to indicate the turning points, which led to the situation. Millions of the Ukrainian (I’m Ukrainian, despite on 50% of Russian blood)

shall be thinking like me, for sure.
Beleave me. So, since beginning:
Given, that:
1.In the Center of the Europe largest country exists, populated with 46 000 000 people-Ukraine.
2.Population is devided 50 by 50:
-native language spoken (Russian -East,Ukrainian-West,Surzhik-Center)
-different mentality: Western oriented -Eastern oriented
-style of beheavour: Ukraine passionary West/Nationally tolerant East.
-different mythes: West recepients, hating Estern Slaves
East donors,hating Stepan Bandera followers

This is black and white picture.But really the situation is much more complicated.
So, this cocktail more or less was in rest 23 years surpriselly. Beleave me, life in USSR was easy, much more easy than in independent Ukraine.I have been around and seen a lot of the Countries, namely 53. USSR was most comfortable to live for ordinary person. Many Ukrainians at the East do remember that and this is sourse of nostalgy, because industrial region prosperity depends on long term planning and huge market.It was in the USSR era.

Since Independance obtained, Ukraine falled into collapse, but recovered and started to move up. Westerns obtained good possibility to travel into EU and seen the Paradise.Many Easterns have the relatives in Russia and currently travelled down there to meet them. Russia is powerful and rich peace of the planet and visitors from Ukraine noted that. But first years of UA independence namely EU was looking like a candy, Russia was partly destroyed with Perestroyka. So, for sure people would like to join EU. But energy crisis shown, that Russia is lucky to have huge potencial to withstand any crisis due to huge sourses.Owing that 80% of Ukr industry is oriented on the Russia, Easterns started to dream about Custom Union.

So, Yanucovoch has got into the trap:
– Westen electorate would like to join EU
– Eastern electorate would like to stay in good relations with Russia.
– Huge portion of population understood, that civil war will be an unavoidable factor once getting a choice between EU and CU and claimed to stay away from any kind of the Unions.More over, 80% of heavy industry will be destroyed.

Westerns labor migrants would like to have open door to EU.

Do not forget, that Ukraine was not looking like today 200 years ago. It was the battlefield, Wild Stepp. Many Ukrainians, Germans,Polish, Turkish, Crimea Tartars falled here for the centuries. But namely Russians lost their lives in overwelling numbers. And finally won. So, Russian called Crimea as a Russian Glory Land.

With this basket of circumstances Mr Yanukovich arrived to damned 2013.

1.Ynukovich reject the EU proposition,people assemlied at Maidan
2.Self-defence forces of Maydan started to attack police and goverment buildings.

3.Yanucovich left Ukraine
(to be continued)

All Ukraine stuck in expectation. What the New Government going to do.
One of the first law was against Russian language.
This law was mistaken, russian speaking population interpreted it as anti-russian.
It was trigger of riot. Federalization cliam in South-East was a respond. Federalization would be a mistake. Temporary government proposed good choice: wide decentralization of the power. Why not?
25 of May president elections shall be held. Why not?
Instead of that civil war is coming.
Only choice: start negotiations immideatelly.
God bless all.