A federal rather than feral Ukraine?

Over the weekend I have been sent a few questions to contemplate, as is often the case these days.

Not unusual, other than these two following questions stand out amongst the much of a muchness from the others.

The first which caught my eye was not whether Ukraine would or would not be any more democratic under Ms Tymoshenko’s rule, but whether she has any historical precedence of being the beacon of democracy she claims to be.  In effect what actions back up the rhetoric and western media image she is given?

It is a good question but one which I will return to after the elections rather than deal with now.  With the elections less than 1 month away, I am going to enter a voluntary state of purdah relating to political individuals whilst retaining the right to comment on party policy and campaigning more broadly - unless something truly extraordinary occurs relating to a specific individual - which I doubt.  The usual name calling and circus tricks, predictable as they are, will undoubtedly continue but ultimately effect nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Thus the tangible democratic actions - or not - that would support her rhetoric and her image as built by the western media, will be left until the elections are over.

The second question relates to the federalisation of Ukraine - namely should it become a federal nation?

A very good question indeed given the quite obvious fault lines between the western and eastern regions relating to history, language, political preferences, economic output etc - not withstanding the already Autonomous Republic of Crimea in Ukraine’s south.

It could be said the recently adopted law on regional languages would support even further the federalisation of Ukraine when added to the already feral regional patriarchies  that run each oblast with scarcely any recognition of policies adopted by Kyiv if they don’t suit those running the regions.

It is no secret that the current Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, indeed toyed with the idea when in opposition as a possible election platform - but decided against it.

There is though something to be said for considering the federalisation of Ukraine.  As a firm supporter of local government and the decentralisation of power, I would be naturally inclined towards considering anything that keeps the miners of Donetsk, the nationalists of Lviv, the power projectionists from Kyiv etc, firmly at arms length when it comes to the running of Odessa and accountability of the Odessa Administration to the people of Odessa.

In fact, one of the very few electoral policy ideas over which I completely agree with my neighbour, Igor Markov, (who is standing for the RADA and will probably win his constituency seat), is the issue that far more tax raised in Odessa should come back to Odessa to improve the city rather than get swallowed up in the black hole that is Kyiv.

All of that said, I am not predisposed to thinking federalism is the way to go, despite recognising that Germany works very well under this system and the Ukrainian electoral system now matches that of Germany.  Thus there is a tried and tested model very close to Ukraine that works - and works quite well.

Whether a federal Germany will work quite as well within a federal Europe we may one day discover - but not anytime soon I suspect.

Naturally for any federalised Ukraine to work, it would need to be underpinned essentially by the rule of law.  And that simply is not the case at the moment.  To say the regional administrations are feral is not an exaggeration.  Another issue with the federal system is that, certainly within the US, one or more of the parts seem to be continually in litigation with the federal whole.  In fact it can often appear that many US States would prefer to return to the days of confederation rather than be part of a federation.

However, I do not want to dwell on the US system, as Germany is a much better federal model for Ukraine to observe.  As I have already said, the electoral models are now both the same in Ukraine and Germany.  There are major differences also - the role and power of the German President vis a vis the Ukrainian counterpart is an obvious example.  However  Ukraine is slowly but surely eventually getting around to installing “European” methods in most all walks of life, from banking to construction to alternative energy production.  There is a long, long way to go, but it is moving along nonetheless.

And yet I cannot help but feel that to allow Ukraine to become a federal state would be an acceptance of failure to unite the country as a more common sovereign national structure found within Europe.  It would seem like giving in to the differences rather than forging a truly unified future.

That said, Ukraine currently only has polarising political leaders, and perhaps until a unifying personality appears and the likes of Tymoshenko and Yanukovych are consigned to political irrelevance, nothing can change.  Both are undoubtedly guilty of seeking power for power’s sake rather than the well-being of the nation.  If so, then there is no alternative but to wait.

It is necessary to take into account also, the growing global significance of cities individually.  We have reached a point where individual cities will take on international loans, will no doubt be issuing their own bonds and managing their own global debt repayments and equity raising.  This necessarily goes some way to undermining the entire premise for the nation state at an economic level - particularly so if the EU becomes a federal entity and Ukraine subsequently joined the EU, as it may magnify the power of individual cities irrespective of larger  national governance living under a federal umbrella.

As a robust supporter of local government, local democracy and local transparency, naturally the more autonomous Odessa can be without undermining the national identity (such as it is), the better.  The fewer reasons the Odessa Administration has to point the finger of blame in the direction of Kyiv the better.  The higher the degree of autonomy, the higher the degree of accountability and the fewer the scapegoats and excuses available.

Why then do I feel a huge surge of caution when considering the federal option for Ukraine - not that this option is likely to present itself within the next 20 - 30 years anyway?  Maybe, if I am still alive in 30 years time, I will have less concerns.  Maybe Ukraine will be grown up enough to rationally consider the pros and cons of federalism by then.  More importantly, maybe it will have an administrative infrastructure that is not subject to the whims of the local fiefdoms and patriarchal leaderships that do so much to undermine the policies of governments past and present, and a belief in the rule of law and the State will have reached and embedded itself in the populous.

If that were to happen though, given the dysfunctional state of independent Ukraine thus far, who would want to change a functional state when it eventually arrives?