Decentralization in Ukraine: an Opportunity for National Minorities?
Taras Khalavka: Ukraine inherited a rather centralized governance system from the Soviet regime. The authorities of villages and small towns have neither resources, nor authority to manage educational, medical or cultural spheres. At the district level the power belonged to executive bodies (administrations). The impact of the local self-government bodies on these processes was limited.
The process of decentralization started in Ukraine in 2015. It foresees the transfer of powers from the executive bodies at the district level to the administrative units of the basic level – the amalgamated territorial communities (ATCs). The ATCs are formed on a voluntary basis as an association of several settlements (towns, villages, townships) pursuant to the Law on Voluntary Amalgamation of Territorial Communities and the Methodology approved by the Government. This process is absolutely voluntary. In fact, there are ATCs formed as an association of just two settlements (the smallest community in the region of Chernivtsi has 2,500 people). There are also large communities of up to 40,000 persons which include ten or even more settlements. The ATCs receive significant financial resources, as well as powers to manage the spheres of education and culture. The process of the ATC formation in the poly-ethnic regions, where various national minorities reside, is very interesting. There are three districts in the region of Chernivtsi where Romanians compactly reside, and one where Moldovans live. The communities with a mixed ethnic composition are being formed in these regions.
According to the Law on Voluntary Amalgamation of Territorial Communities, “when deciding on the voluntary amalgamation of territorial communities, historical, natural, ethnic, cultural and other factors which affect social and economic development of the amalgamated territorial community shall be taken into account.” The criteria included in the Methodology for the formation of ATCs are the historical, geographical, social, economic, and cultural features of the development of a specific territorial unit.
The Ukrainian legislation establishes no further specific criteria for the ATC formation in the areas of compact residence of national or linguistic minorities. A more precise regulation of the national minorities’ needs will be required in case of transformation from a voluntary to an administrative association.
As mentioned before, the process of the ATC formation is currently voluntary. The local authorities (the council and the chairman) independently decide on the merger with the neighbors. The Methodology for the Formation of Capable Territorial Communities also foresees public discussions which implies the involvement of the residents of the communities in question. Therefore, the voluntary nature of the decentralization process implies various configurations of the ATCs:
- The ATCs with a mono-ethnic population (Ukrainians or Romanians). The representatives of national minorities compactly reside in the following amalgamated territorial communities: Chudei, Krasnoilsk, Terebleche, Ostrytsia, and Mamalyha (there is only one village with the Ukrainian majority out of six settlements which formed this community);
- The ATCs with a multiethnic population. In some cases members of the country’s titular nation form a minority (Mahala, Voloka), while in other cases Ukrainians constitute majority (Vashkivtsi).
Ukrainians compactly reside in other amalgamated territorial communities.
Powers in the spheres of culture and education are being transferred to the authorities of the amalgamated communities that give them the opportunity to form independently their cultural and educational agendas, including those in the minority languages. However, the new ATCs often lack specialists who could provide professional methodological work in the sphere of education. Small ATCs are financially limited in organizing their cultural events (festivals, competitions, etc.). Previously these events were held at the district level; now they were transferred to the ATC level. Consolidation of the capacities of several ATCs could be one of the possible solutions, as is stipulated by the Law on Cooperation of Territorial Communities. However, the ATCs have not used this opportunity in practice.
Thus, I believe that the most urgent issues of research pertinent to the role of minorities in the process of decentralization are the following:
- formation of models of multi-ethnic communities and consideration of the needs of national minorities in this process. This issue will be actualized during the transition process to the administrative formation of the ATC;
- Legislation on local elections. Elections in the rural ATCs (with villages as the community centers) are held on a majority basis, while in the urban ATCs (with cities/towns as the community centers) the proportional representation system applies. It is important to determine the possibilities for participation of representatives of national minorities in the electoral process, especially in the case of proportion elections;
- Application of the provisions of the Law on Cooperation of Territorial Communities in the context of realization of the rights of the persons belonging to national minorities in the ATCs;
- Use of minority languages and the state language in the ethnically mixed ATCs;
- Formation of the hub-schools in the poly-ethnic regions.
This list is not exhaustive and can therefore be extended.