The building of the Village Council in the village of Aleksadrivka, Ukraine (Image: foto-planeta.com)
Many commentators write as if changing borders was a simple process that only requires a decision from above to be realized, but a series of cases in Ukraine and one in Pskov oblast of Russia highlight the difficulties involved, not least of which the opposition of current officials and residents to any shift.
In Ukraine, Kyiv has called for uniting territorial units, but as Elena Bogun points out in “Delovaya stolitsa,” “far from all oblast councils have agreed to approve plans for the formation of the territories of self-standing communities” and many which have not yet taken a position may oppose such plans as well.
Ukrainian officials in the capital are now seeking new legislation that will allow them to ignore the decisions of the oblast councils and simply order the changes Kyiv wants. But it is not clear that that will solve the problem, the journalist says. Indeed, it may breed even more resistance because many in the regions see the entire process as forced rather than voluntary.
Kyiv’s consolidation drive, enshrined in a law adopted on February 5, was triggered by a Council of Europe report that said that Ukraine should radically reorganize its regional and local governments: “Besides the existing 27 oblasts, there will remain only about 150 districts instead of the current 490 and approximately 1500 communities instead of the current 10,279.”
The law’s goals are laudable, Bogun says, and “the problems which it is intended to solve deserve attention.” But consolidation is no easy thing. Many local officials will lose their jobs, many local people will lose their access to these officials, and costs may rise given that Kyiv has promised more money will flow rather than less, although how that can happen is unclear.
And because it isn’t clear, local officials and local people are opposed. As a result, on April 8, the Ukrainian Council of Ministers approved a set of rules under the terms of which oblast administrations were required “within a month” to develop projects for unification and to present these plans for approval.
This created what Bogun calls “a paradoxical situation: the organs of executive power are developing plans for ‘the voluntary’ unification of territorial communities. Somehow,” she says, “this recalls the history of the ‘voluntary’ creation of collective farms.” Not surprisingly, it is being resisted.
Ukraine is far from the only post-Soviet state that has adopted this program in the name of saving money during a period of budgetary stringency – and also far from the only one whose subordinate officials and populations are resisting such measures. While these fights are typically ignored in Moscow, they matter intensely to the people involved.
A court case in Pskov oblast of the Russian Federation highlights this reality. Local people and local officials have blocked Pskov’s effort to unite two districts in the Novorzhevsk rayon, and consequently, the oblast authorities have turned to the courts in the hopes of forcing the issue. The result, however, has been the generation of even more opposition.