Ukrainians mark 6th anniversary of Euromaidan: How country has changed since revolution

Photo: Euromaidan Press 

Reforms, Ukraine

21 November is the day when the first Euromaidan rally gathered protesters in Kyiv back in 2013. The protest was caused by the decision of the Ukrainian authorities led by President Viktor Yanukovych to stall the process of signing the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. That is why the element Euro – short for Europe – emerged at the beginning of the word Maidan, one of the Ukrainian words for city square which became synonymous for large-scale protests during the Orange Revolution.

The first Euromaidan protesters were indignant that Ukraine was stepping away from the path of European integration. Further on, the protests turned into the Revolution of Dignity directed against the Yanukovych regime as a whole. Even though Russia later invaded Ukraine occupying large swaths of its territory, and three Ukrainian leaders alternated in power, and the parliament got elected two times, 21 November remains the key point when it’s high time to assess what the country has achieved after the revolution. So let’s do it.

“If there was no war…” is how the discussions about reforms started in the first years after the revolution. Indeed, not only the country had to learn how to live on after all the dramatic events of the Revolution of Dignity. It also had to overcome overwhelming hardships brought by Russian aggression.

Nevertheless, with the time passing by, the reforms unfolded anyway. It also became clear that the lack of progress quite often had nothing to do with the war but it was caused by the resistance of corrupt members of the old system who had managed to stay in power. Euromaidan Press has been following the post-Maidan transformations since the very beginning and here is our overview of them.

The reforms

Judiciary

Apart from the large-scale transformations related to the military sector of the country fighting war in the Donbas region, first and foremost Ukraine was lacking the reform of the judiciary. The courts topped the list of the most mistrusted institutions and obstructed positive changes in all the other areas. Six years on, the trust of society in courts has not increased dramatically and they still blunt the reforms and serve political interests.

Nevertheless, it would be unfair to say that there was no reform at all. The first wave of changes backed by President Petro Poroshenko resulted in creating the new Supreme Court, holding the qualification assessment for judges, and restructuring courts. It was also envisaged that civil society would play a significant role in the reform. A new body was formed of representatives of NGOs, the Public Integrity Council. However, Poroshenko’s government providently empowered it only with a purely advisory role.

As a result, at least 44 out of 193 judges retained their posts in the new Supreme Court. Among them were the judges who prosecuted Euromaidan activists, pressed on independent judges, legalized false information in the declarations on integrity and family connections, and so on. The qualification assessment did not bring expected results since the bodies of the judicial self-governance covered corrupt and dishonest judges. And restructuration of courts has never been completed.

Read also: Recent outrageous decisions of Ukrainian courts prove Zelenskyy inherits limping judicial system

Having come to power, the team of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s launched their own judicial reform. In order to make the reform viable and efficient, experts insisted that the institutions responsible for the selection, assessment, and appointment of judges – the High Qualification Commission of Judges and the High Council of Justice – should be formed in a new way. So far there is a clear conflict of interests underlies the work of both bodies because half of their members are judges elected by other judges.

The new reform foresees necessary changes to the structure of the High Qualification Commission of Judges, but not to the High Council of Justice. As a result, the unreformed HCJ retains too much power being able to neglect the changes foreseen by the reform.

Anti-Corruption

Actually, Ukraine has put a lot of effort into the fight against corruption after the revolution. Why then the effort is not equal to the results? First, it is strongly related to the above-mentioned judiciary reform, the flaws of which continue to obstruct the transformations in other areas. Basically, society has not seen long-awaited punishment for corrupt officials. However, eliminating corruption is not only about punishment. It requires comprehensive transformations in multiple areas to increase transparency, educate the society and induce cultural changes in it.

Nevertheless, a great deal of effort was put into developing new anti-corruption institutions. In particular, in 2015, the government launched the National Anti Corruption Bureau (NABU) and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP) for investigating the top-corruption cases. Another newly-established body was the National Agency on Corruption Prevention, which aims to increase transparency by revealing the declarations of assets of the state officials. The agency did not prove effective due to the management issues and now it gets reorganized after President Zelenskyy signed the corresponding legislation.

Meanwhile, during the first years of their work, the NABU and the SAP had a good reputation, which, though, was later tarnished by the lack of court verdicts in the top-corruption cases. In fact, both bodies are not responsible for the verdicts as their role is investigative, while the courts are responsible for bringing in verdicts. However, quite often Ukrainians buy into unsubstantiated hype and, in effect, the NABU and SAP were blamed.

Still, the representatives of the anti-corruption NGOs looked into the core of the problem and came up with the idea to create an anti-corruption court dedicated to the top-corruption cases. Poroshenko opposed the idea for a long time but following the pressure from anti-corruption activists and Ukraine’s international partners he had to give in.

The process of the selection of judges for the new court took place with the participation of the Public Council of International Experts, which could toss out unworthy candidates. As a result, civil society organizations condoned the composition of the new court.

The High Anti-Corruption Court started operating at full capacity only since September 2019.

Another positive change in the anti-corruption field was launching the system for tender purchases Prozorro which revolutionized procurement procedures in Ukraine, making them far more transparent.

Yet, political interests and oligarchs remain the main obstacles for the fight against corruption.

De-oligarchization

After the Revolution of Dignity, the government announced the task of getting rid of oligarchic rule in all areas of Ukraine’s life. However, it emerged to be just words. An oligarch himself, then-President Poroshenko was voicing this task. Formally, he launched the process of de-oligarchization, which turned into his personal fight against oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi. And now current president Zelenskyy, strongly associated with Kolomoyskyi, also speaks out about the necessity to eliminate the influence of oligarchs. Meanwhile, Ihor Kolomoyskyi returned to Ukraine in the very first days of Zelenskyy’s presidency.

The entire history of the so-called de-oligarchization after the Euromaidan revolution can be demonstrated with the story of one man as an example. Rinat Akhmetov is the richest person in Ukraine for many years. During the war in the Donbas, he lost about ten large industrial enterprises located in the non-government-controlled territory. Devaluation brought huge debts to his companies, reforms changed the game rules for his businesses.

However, now these issues are in the past. Akhmetov is afloat and remains the richest oligarch controlling several areas of life. Describing his main resources for keeping power liga.net mentions media, loyal MPs, a network of informal lobbyists, and officials loyal to his business in almost all state institutions he needs. Plus, Akhmetov is a good strategist and opportunist who can find ways of cooperation with any governments.

Political parties, elections, and media

What the political parties, elections, and the media have in common is that they are the pillars of Ukraine’s oligarchic system. TV channels remain the main source of news for Ukrainians. A TV channel of the National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine came into existence as a result of the post-Maidan reforms. However, all other nationwide TV channels belong to oligarchs, who push their agenda and promote certain politicians using these media. Such politicians get elected and promote the interests of the oligarchs. And that is where the vicious circle is completed.

However, to say that there was no progress at all during the last six years would not be true. The results can’t be achieved quickly.

In terms of political parties, Ukraine made a few steps towards releasing them from the financial control of the oligarchs. In particular, the state funding was introduced for parties. Of course, the shadow oligarchs’ funding persists, but the reform legalized the functioning of the parties. Now legal salaries for the employees became more common and the financial aspects of parties activities became more transparent.

The media sector became more transparent as well, since the new legislation obliged media to reveal their final beneficiaries. The oligarchs backing received official confirmation. However, in some cases, various schemes allowed to hide the real owners of some channels.

Another challenge for Ukraine was changing the rules of the game for elections. It became clear that the current mixed voting system creates lots of opportunities for bribing voters and for other violations. Particularly, this was true for the majoritarian part of the elections, which formed half of the parliament by voting at the single-mandate constituencies.

NGOs advocated for changes in this field immediately after the revolution. However, Ukrainian legislators agreed but took no action. Only by the end of the term of the previous Parliament, it voted for the new Election Code, which specified the procedures for presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. But the major changes affected the process of parliamentary elections. As the Code came into force, the system was changed to solely a proportional one with open party lists.

Previously, voters could not vote for the specific people put on the party lists. The new Election Code provide voters with the opportunity to not only vote for a party, but for specific politicians on its list.

President Zelenskyy, however, vetoed the legislation saying that it included unconstitutional provisions, and came up with suggestions to amend the Code.

Decentralization

The decentralization reform has been considered as the most successful. It foresaw providing local communities with powers and finances to deal with local issues. Its first stage was creating the necessary legislation. Later, the reform moved on to practical levels. As of July 2019, about 924 united territorial communities – the new territorial-administrative units – were created in Ukraine.

Some territorial communities witnessed the results almost immediately. In some others, local oligarchs have been obstructing progress. But the main drawback of decentralization is that it has not been completed yet. Not all territorial communities have been formed. The local elections which are scheduled for the fall of the next year depend on the territorial structure. The experts predict that holding the elections on the old administrative basis would testify to the 100% collapse of the reform.

Law enforcement

Reforming the law enforcement institutions started with the police. The Ukrainian police changed its name from militsia to politsiya (“police”), and a completely new law enforcement unit was created – the patrol police. However, it made up for only a small proportion of the law enforcers – 12,000 out of the total 140,000 policemen.

The core of the police, operational units of criminal police and pre-trial investigation bodies, remained almost unchanged.

In 2016, the attestation of the policemen took place, but it did not make significant changes.

Only about 8% of policemen were dismissed. Moreover, a large part of the 8% got reinstated through court appeals and was paid compensation for inability to work during the court hearings.

Another major law enforcement reform was creating the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI).

It was launched in November 2018 to tackle issues related to crimes committed by top officials, law enforcers, military officers, and judges.

The long-awaited reform of the public prosecution occurred only in 2019. Previous attempts to change this post-Soviet institution had mostly superficial nature.

The newly adopted changes foresee personal reboot and reorganization of the Prosecutor General’s Offices. The investigative function has finally been transferred from the prosecutors to SBI investigators.

Read also: Ukraine launches large-scale reform for its post-Soviet prosecutor’s offices system

However, it is too early to make any conclusions, since the implementation is key.

The Security Service of Ukraine is an outsider law enforcement institution in terms of the reforms and remains a closed structure.

Other reforms

The changes affected other areas as well. Some of them were successful, some controversial, and some are still ongoing.

Among the univocal success stories has been the policy of decommunization, despite a few controversial aspects. It was designed to move the country away from the Soviet past. Even though some of the changes it imposed have been sued in courts, the process has been launched and seems to be irreversible.

The list of the most controversial reforms has been topped by healthcare since for many Ukrainians the changes in this field seemed radical in every way. The reform has been led by acting minister Ulana Suprun. As Zelenskyy and his government came to power, the fight for the conception of the reform continued.

However, the reform of the healthcare is no longer the most controversial one since the Parliament has voted for the introduction of the land market in Ukraine. The idea of creating a land market is highly unpopular with Ukrainian society but many experts see it as a major incentive for Ukraine’s economic development. Other experts criticize the recent law on the land market, claiming that it is premature and carries risks for monopolization.

The changes also came into the fields of education, culture, taxation, and other areas of life.

The majority of Ukrainian reforms are still ongoing and new turns are expected after the new government came to power.

It is noteworthy that following the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine has clearly chosen to move in the Western direction. In particular, to follow the path of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Even though there are forces trying to prevent it, their messages do not prevail in public discourse. Multiple changes were guided by the EU Association Agreement and the requirements of the International Monetary Fund.

Last but not least, the Revolution made the voice of civil society much louder. This voice is now heard amid the transformation of the country. Yes, unfortunately, there are attacks on prominent activists, there are many disappointments and obstacles. Still, civil society can’t be totally ignored as it was in the years before the Revolution. Also, some civil society activists managed to enter the previous and current government and take part in the reforming processes from the inside.


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Edited by: Yuri Zoria

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