Necessary Reforms in Ukraine and the Role of the V4

CEID organized a V4 panel discussion on necessary reforms in Ukraine on October 16th at the Polish Institute in the framework of the Think Visegrad – V4 Think Thank Platform, supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

Speakers of the discussion were:

Mr. Adam Eberhardt , Deputy Director of Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), Poland
Mr. Balázs Jarábik, Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Senior Fellow at the Central European Policy Institute
Mr. Michal Kořan, Deputy Director at the Institute of International Relations, Prague and
Mr. András Rácz , Senior Researcher, Finnish Institute of International Affairs and Board Member of Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy.

The following text is a summary of the discussion:


The false image of transition

When it comes to the role of the V4 in assisting Ukraine it appears almost impossible to escape the idealistic presupposition that due to their shared experience of transition from socialism to liberal democratic systems these countries are more competent in the implementation of structural reforms. This hypothesis does not only disregard the actual extent to which transition has been successful in the region, but it also suggest that the reform of CEE countries can simply be copy pasted into a completely different political and socio-economic setting in a radically different historical context. Still, such premise proved to be so attractive that Visegrad countries themselves are holding onto this rather euphemistic interpretation of the past 25 years. While the overall development of the region since the ’90ies cannot be called into question, upholding the illusion of a fully completed and successful transition process leads to a false identity. Apart from ethical concerns, this hypocritical approach impedes us to see clearly and to detect our actual strengths and capacities that Ukraine could make use of. It is high time to face reality and start being honest about our failures and missteps so that others can learn from our mistakes. The fact that our own transition experience has not been flawless does not mean that we have nothing to offer to those countries that are just about to embark on the path of whole scale political transformation. On the contrary, worst practices also matter. Drawing Kiev’s attention to the corruption schemes that are most likely to emerge during a massive privatization process would for instance constitute a valuable contribution. Furthermore, the current political leadership has no reason to fear the negative consequences of unveiling the mismanagement of previous regimes. So instead of preaching democracy from an artificially created moral high ground, we should adopt a completely new approach towards the so-called experience sharing based on honesty and openness. In the framework of this new type of dialogue, first we should warn Ukrainians not to have unrealistic expectations that could later result in the general disillusionment with reforms. Our example demonstrates well how difficult and timely it is to change deeply rooted social norms and political culture even when the institutional framework changes radically. Therefore, disappointing may it sound, Ukrainians have to accept that the real beneficiaries of reforms will most probably be future generations. On the other hand, the historical significance of recent events lies in the irreversible nature of transformation processes. In other words, since reestablishing the Pre-Maidan status quo is impossible, there is no way back.

Current challenges ahead of the proper implementation of reforms

In accordance with the thematic distribution of relevant policy areas assigned to each V4 country – Slovakia being responsible for energy policy, the Czech Republic for civil society and Hungary for SMEs – , Poland is in charge of the decentralization project. While this is a task of outstanding importance, its implementation faces several difficulties. First of all, Polish experts working in Ukraine do not possess adequate knowledge of the region and its unique mechanisms. Second, decentralization must remain confined to the lowest administrative levels, since excessive autonomy given to regions would result in too much independency from Kiev. On top of these, the major problem is that the decentralization agenda cannot be completely separated from the sensitive issue of the Donbass region and the question of its special status. Therefore, the whole project is halted by the political controversy over what would constitute the proper response to separatist attempts in Eastern Ukraine.

There is solid consensus among politicians, experts and members of civil society organizations that widespread corruption is the greatest hindrance in the country’s road to progress. Unfortunately, such concordance cannot be detected on the solution side of the problem. In response to increasing public demand, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau has been established. Nevertheless, the newly created body will hardly suffice to significantly alter political culture and social behavior that, as it was already suggested, takes much more time than institutional reforms. In carrying out this extremely demanding and burdensome task, the help of the Visegrad countries should manifest both in the form of genuine experience sharing and through empowerment of already working institutions. It is also crucial that Ukrainians realize that instead of victory their best option is a suitable compromise, similar to the one reached during the negotiations leading to the Minsk agreement.

The dilemma of membership

Undoubtedly the most divisive issue concerning the future of Ukraine is the question of EU membership. Experts tend to strongly disagree in this regard, with the opponents of Ukraine’s European integration pointing at the disastrous consequences of hasty integration projects symbolized by Greece, while supporters arguing that without at least the perspective of future EU membership Ukrainians will quickly loose motivation and hope. There is already growing fatigue with the seemingly inefficient on the other hand quite costly reforms, and while social tension can serve as a catalyzer of social change sometimes, it can also undermine democratization processes. Setting the proper pace for the introduction of reforms – that should be somewhere between constantly postponing the implementation of reforms and intending to change the whole country overnight – seems to be a key factor. As to the membership dilemma, the solution might also lie in a delicate balance that allows Ukrainian people to hold onto their European dream, while at the same time making it clear that accession will not be possible in the near future.

The newly emerging Ukrainian identity

European aspirations versus the tremendous soviet legacy bring up the complex question of Ukrainian identity. In light of the armed conflict that devastates the country, the mere existence of a sole and unified identity became questionable. Apart from the Russian backed separatist region in the East, the rest of the country seems to be building up a new identity based on European values, such as democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights. A very crucial aspect of this emerging identity is whether it is to be interpreted as an essentially anti-Russian self-definition or it should be viewed as strictly anti-Kremlin.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.