The push for reforms in Ukraine against the background of a quasi-war with Russia, and a parliament elected under former President Viktor Yanukovich, is experiencing difficulties. However, it is still manageable, analysts and representatives of Ukrainian civil society told a Brussels audience yesterday (18 June).
Olena Prystayko, head of the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels, said that the security situation in her country wasn’t preventing civil society from actively participating in much-needed reforms. Prystayko chaired a discussion on launching the reforms agenda in Ukraine, hosted by the Centre for European Policy Studies, a Brussels think tank.
Dmytro Shulga, representing the Renaissance Foundation financed by philanthropist George Soros, said that Ukrainian civil society was playing a much more important role after the February 2014 EuroMaidan revolution than it did during the 2004-2005 Orange revolution.
The main difference, he said, is that almost ten years ago, Ukrainian civil society trusted the political leadership of that time, but today, it took no chances.
“In 2005, the civil society was pretty much relaxed and waiting that the new government, the new President will make miracles. Now there are actually no illusions about it. Now we don’t expect miracles from the new government and the new President elected, we do miracles with them together, we make them make miracles,” he said.
Dmytro Kotlyar, an authority on corruption, representing the Reanimation Package of Reforms Initiative, said that a group of around 150 experts had volunteered to help facilitate the adoption of reformist laws in parliament, but also at local level. The fact that this effort was self-organised and not donor-driven was, in his words, a ‘condition for the success” of the initiative, he said.
Corruption has been the main problem in Ukraine since its gained independence from the USSR, in 1991, Kotlyar said. This still remained the case, because no tangible results in fighting corruption had been achieved so far, he stressed.
One of the problems, Kotlyar explained, is that those sitting in Parliament were reluctant to adopt strong anti-corruption legislation and a specialised agency, as in his words they might be “the first clients” of such an institution. In spite of this, he said that some achievements were already there, such as the new law on public procurement, as well as draft legislation designed to unveil the secrecy over the real owners of commercial companies.
Another big issue is the financing of political parties, Kotlyar said.
“Political party financing is being done now in the shadows. There is no information (about) who finances which party, and this leads to the current regime, where oligarchs still control political parties, still control parliamentarians,” Kotlyar said.
The analyst also said that the perspective of achieving a visa-free regime for Ukrainians in the EU had been a powerful driver for reforms in the field of immigration policy, institutional set-up and human rights, even under the previous administration. He regretted that the EU had adopted a more “political” approach and was closing its eyes to some of its own requirements, and expressed hope that pressure would be kept.
Taras Kachka, Vice-Chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, said the reformatory chaos in Ukraine was still manageable. He said he and his colleagues represented “different branches advocating different ideas”, but that all of them had one common enemy – the sabotage of reform.
“Ukrainians are masters of pretending to reform a lot, without changing anything. That’s the challenge we are trying to overcome,” said Kachka, who who has been in the recent past one of the key Ukrainian negotiators of the EU Association Agreement.
Experts also said that the country needed parliamentary elections. President Petro Poroshenko understands that he needs a strong majority in Parliament to deliver the reforms agenda he promised. The present coalition in Parliament backing Poroshenko includes groups that are former members of the Party of Regions, which has split into many groups.
For each vote, they are negotiating and bargaining, like “we won’t prosecute you”. This is “not a good process, not a healthy situation”, Kotlyar said.
The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.
Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.