Decentralization must happen

Iveta Radičová talks scenarios for Ukraine with Wojciech Przybylski

Iveta Radičová
24 June 2015

This interview comes from the new issue of Visegrad Insight. Get your copy here.


Wojciech Przybylski: Could you tell me why you are here in Kyiv?

Iveta Radičová: I am not only a citizen of the Slovak Republic, but also of Europe. And Ukraine is part of Europe; it is our neighboring country. What’s going on in Ukraine is also an issue of the future of Europe and the future of bilateral relations between the Slovak Republic and Ukraine – that’s the first reason.

The second reason is that I’m a sociologist, so monitoring and observing elections is part of my profession, and I try to participate in several countries when it’s helpful to offer support there.

Last but not least, these elections are crucial not only for Ukraine, but even more for the stabilization of the situation in Europe. These are the three main reasons why I am here.


What are your impressions of the observation mission and the political outcome of the elections?

First of all, people are very sad and angry. Some of them are distrustful; they don’t believe anybody. After several attempts to change this society to fight corruption, to increase the standard of living, it’s very understandable that part of the population does not believe that it’s really changeable. And they don’t believe in the powers and possibilities of governance. On the other hand, I have seen people crying in the fields, and the first sentence I heard was always: “Please, peace. We need peace. Help us to have peace.” These were patriots. And it is true that Ukraine, like many other countries, is divided. Europe is a typical, multicultural society with several ethnic groups, different religious groups, etc. So the only way by democratic instruments and measures is true decentralization, giving competences to different regions, so that they feel comfortable in the country.


To regions, or local governments, or both?

To both. To give more competences to local governments is part of the democratization process – together with financial decentralization. And it makes sense, just look at Great Britain. In September 2014 there was referendum on Scotland, and with the result as it was, the prime minister, David Cameron, reacted with: “Yes, I understand. You need to have more own competences, just as you have different preferences in different parts of Great Britain.” Look at the level of decentralization in the United States, where only a small part of common politics takes place at the federal level. But others, together with taxation, are totally different from state to state. So there is a way to fulfill the expectations of different groups in the country and keep the state together. This is one dimension of the problem.

Another dimension is that Ukraine really is de facto in default economically. This is highly comparable to the situation in the Slovak Republic in 1998. Our banking sector was in collapse, we had 20% unemployment, and a terrible situation in the country. As you know, the European Union told us: “Sorry, you can’t be a member state because you haven’t consolidated democracy, you have a pseudo-democracy, so you have to make deep reforms to be an equal partner, and fulfill the criteria of human dignity and democracy.” And we did it; it took us six years. And this is the challenge for Ukraine. They can do it. We also used the support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the banking sector. It was during my government in 2011 that we paid back the last part of the loan for the restructuring of the economy and banking sector.


Could you evaluate the results of the Ukrainian parliamentary elections that took place on 26 October 2014?

The turnout of 52.44% means that around 47.5% of the population decided not to participate for various reasons: because of distrust, because of the choice of different political parties, and also because they really want to have a totally different political program. But the democratic principle is that the results are not only legal, but also legitimate. Three new issues have arisen as a result of the elections.

First, a new political subject, Samopomich, which means self-help, was the biggest surprise of the elections, as nobody expected such support for a party with the platform: “Don’t wait for the state do something for you, you have to something for yourself.” So, this was against state paternalism, but based on civic activism.

Second, this is the first time in the history of Ukraine that there are no communists in parliament. This is an extremely significant result. And finally, complete reconstruction of the parliament and government, which under Viktor Yanukovych was pro-Russian, is now the opposite, with a pro-European and pro-reforms oriented parliament and government. This is a deep change. The question is still on the table whether the parliament and government will really start to act and not only talk, and talk, and talk, with slogans. On the one hand, there is pressure from two sides: from international organization, such as the IMF, the EU, the World Bank, etc., and Maidan. People have shown that they will no longer be silent, and that they expect change. So these two forms of pressure, together with the will of the new political establishment, may give some guarantees that they will really begin to “re-start” Ukraine and “re-construct” trust in the country. But I would not like to be the prime minister of Ukraine, because the circumstances are extremely difficult and complicated: the war, Russia’s position, division in the country, and the overall economic situation in the country. It’s really complicated, too complicated.


Politics is always about talking and the decisions are always in written form, but actual implementation is another matter. What would be a sign of positive change that would show that things are going in the right way, apart from the peace process in the East?

Perhaps we can show this through some concrete examples. First, the promise to change the election law was not fulfilled before the elections; so now, after the elections, is the time to change this law. The current law creates opportunities for criminal behavior in elections. So, we will see if the first step really is to change the election law, because there is a chance of having a constitutional majority. Second, decentralization has a chance, because of the constitutional majority, to change and give the competences to the regions that are unsatisfied. Third, there are anti-corruption laws that are already prepared in parliament; we will see whether they are passed, what these laws really contain, and how they can be implemented by the current state administration. Lastly, there are economic reforms, which are the most complicated and which need to be carried out hand-in-hand with social reforms. The Ukrainian government has had many offers from other governments and countries in the vein of: “We have experience and we are prepared to help,” so why repeat mistakes when there is plenty of experience of what really works and what does not.


The Ukrainian government has introduced a new lustration law, how do you see it and what does the law consist of? And are reforms of the judiciary and law enforcement to be expected?

Implementation is always a big problem. The Slovak Republic also had a lustration law that never really worked and ended in silence. I will be very, very blunt: in looking at the list of candidates of President Petro Poroshenko’s bloc, I believe we won’t see real implementation of the lustration law. There is Samopomich, but radicals will really want to implement the law, so we will see who the winner in this fight will be; it will be a battle of strength.


And the judiciary and law enforcement reforms?

They need to do it; take another example from the Slovak Republic. An anti-corruption program without deep changes to the judiciary system will never work. Our anti-corruption package was interconnected with changes in twelve of the most important laws. Immediately, the opposition sent it to the Constitutional Court. We had to wait three years, but the Constitutional Court decided that the laws were fine. So now they have been implemented. Sometimes the procedure needs more time, as we have a democracy and the opposition has the right to take such steps. But it also shows that the opposition wasn’t interested in an anti-corruption program. I’m not sure people always understand such steps in this way, and it is up to us to interpret why they didn’t want to have an anti-corruption system. Because if they had wanted to have such a system, why did they take this step, when according to the Constitutional Court, the laws were fine? So, reform of the judiciary and law enforcement might need more time. I don’t think that people really understand that some laws need time to become stable, without changing every two or three months. This is the duty of the elite and NGOs to interpret, so people understand that some things can be changed quickly, while others need more time.


Let’s look at the reverse perspective. What does the last year in Ukraine mean for Central Europe and the Visegrad Group?

There’s been a very good message from Ukraine that the present government, parliament, and the majority of the country are pro-European and that Ukraine is prepared to start fulfilling the Maastricht criteria and joining some of the most developed countries in the world.


But how would you comment on recent discussions, which have been quite intense in recent months, as to whether the Visegrad Group is coherent when it comes to helping Ukraine, and when it comes to its position toward Russia?

This is not only a problem of the V4. We are in a deep crisis, and it’s not over. And we have to explain at home that if you support another country, the normal question from ordinary people is “We have 14% unemployment at home. How can you help others when we have such a problem at home?” And it’s not easy to explain the very logical and vital stabilization process that will ensure a stable Europe. Other countries are for ordinary people farther than their own homes. And it’s normal for politicians to explain. The worst thing is to have two faces: one half is a Brussels face and the other a national face, because then the people see double morality and double standards. So if the politicians are not clear, they re-open the floodgates for the opposition to shared solutions. Sure, that’s fine if your politicians are dancing between two different positions, or saying two different things in the same sentence. It’s really cognitive inconsistency. So, why should we expect cognitive consistency of the people if the politicians don’t have it? But they try to keep stability and social peace at home. The second point is globalization – economic space is so open that every step has an immediate reaction. Every step in one country has an immediate reaction in several other countries, especially those countries that are economically stronger. Remember what happened when Lehman Brothers collapsed. The whole of Europe had problems. In Slovakia, we immediately lost 100,000 jobs. Everything is totally interconnected and interrelated. I know we are talking mainly about sanctions against Russia, because this is the crucial discussion moment and point. And, yes, every such step has had immediate consequences at home. But I am sure that in the middle term or long term, there is no way forward other than with a rigid position toward Russia. There is no other way. And, yes, each such decision has a cost. Nothing is free. So, yes, there are different attitudes mainly toward sanctions, also among the V4, but I think there is a clear, common position concerning Ukraine as a part of the EU. The differences are mainly in attitudes toward Russia, not toward Ukraine.

Iveta Radičová was the first woman prime minister of Slovakia from 2010 to 2012. She led a coalition government in which she also briefly held the post of Minister of Defense in the last five months of the coalition. She was a leader of the International Republican Institute’s delegation (IRI) to monitor voting and ballots in the recent Ukrainian parliamentary elections on 26 October 2014.

photo: Associated Press/East News