Valerii Dema: “The State Can Not Be Reformed from the Center Only”
My expectation was that after two attempts to step into mainstream politics I would see a slightly disappointed person, because so much time, effort and nerves have been wasted. Besides, I’ve seen many cases when political failures have broken people. But what I noticed was something different. A run for the Verkhovna Rada seat, then the long story about the appointment to the post of the Head of the regional administration only added sturdiness and resolution to him, as well as wisdom to almost all of his statements. He treats the past political year as a school of life that one has to go through in order to set new goals. The Kharkiv elite always valued him as a successful businessman, experienced analyst and one of the best specialists in the field of foreign investments attraction.
For two decades he denied the idea of going into the mainstream politics. But everything changed since Ukraine went into suffering from turbulence and foreign aggression. The country surely needed fresh people and public authority that would be capable of making fast decisions and uniting the people.
And the society has quickly determined who those leaders were. They have created a volunteers movement to support the army and ATO volunteers and suddenly found themselves in the center of the Kharkiv region’s civil life. There was no alternative for them. Someone had to protect the country from war and devastation. Valerii Dema was one of those leaders.
Today he is one of the most authoritative leaders in the public sector, who grows stronger, unites with others, and begins to influence politicians and authorities.
“Valerii Ivanovych, if the Ukrainian-style decentralization will be effected after all it will lay a fundamental brick in the construction of the contemporary country-to-be. The implementation scheme that was declared by the government is quite acceptable and it may produce expected results. But what stands or may stand in the way?”
“There will always be things that can make the scheme better, worse, or broken down. In the modern history this happened on numerous occasions: someone offers a good solution, works out a robust implementation scheme, and ultimately it results in nothing. In our case there are also many concerns like “won’t it happen as usual?” One of such concerns is the source of the reform. The thing is that a state can’t be reformed from the center only. And if we follow this way then we have to set very high standards for people, who will realize that. They must have strong will, strong team, rigid approach, and be very honest and decent.”
“But this is unrealistic, it’s idealistic. None of the standards you named is a guarantee. Why should the society trust politicians that much? The society has changed. It doesn’t give its full trust. And it shouldn’t if the society is developing its own self-preservation immunity.”
“That’s true, and one could observe that in the past year and a half. It is impossible to reform Ukraine from the center. History shows that reformation from the center is only successful in the states with at least basic level of democracy and legal consciousness... or with the dominant regime. Examples of successful reformation from the center come from Chile and Singapore, but those examples are not the best for our country. We know what regime they brought into rule. The model of Canada, Ireland and Argentina are better for us. But those states had a powerful foundation of democracy and the culture of legal consciousness.”
“…and that’s what we have lack of for the time being. Yet we also have the experience of Poland that underwent reforms a decade ago. There was neither hardline regime, nor consolidated democratic framework.”
“Poland managed to preserve democratic traditions even in the soviet system. Fifty years of totalitarianism is the scope of one generation only. As for Ukraine, it remained under various totalitarian systems for over three hundred years.”
“Three hundred and sixty one year – to be precise – if we date it with the so-called Pereiaslav Rada (the Council in Pereiaslav). By the way, there is no single document in archives confirming that it really took place.”
“Just compare those figures – three hundred sixty one year and fifty years. This tells a lot. Besides, local reformation in Poland took place in the period from 1998 to 2009, whereas its overall country-wide reformation lasted for about 10 years. So they established the base or the foundation first, and then they held reforms, whereas we have to do this all at the same time. We have to lay the foundation or the base, as well as deal with the local governance at the back of war and partial occupation. My personal conviction is that in such conditions reformation of the state is beyond the center’s power. Yet the center has to establish all conditions for that.”
“And largely, it is disadvantageous for the center, I mean the army of officials who represent it. They can bury any kind of the initiative.”
“They will happily turn the decentralization into some visual illusion, a marker, or window-dressing. They will visualize decentralization, which will not exist in fact. We don’t need its appearance, we need its real form. We need this process to lead to real reform of local authorities. Besides, there is a concern that the decentralization scheme that is currently under discussion will grow stronger instead of growing weaker. For example, the prefect, who will substitute the head of the regional administration, will lose control over the local budget only, which will be given to the executive committee of the regional council. And the rest will still be in his hands. So he will retain his influence on the tax administration, the prosecution service, the police, other defense and law-enforcement agencies, as well as all other government agencies. Moreover, the prefect will get more powers than the head of the regional administration has today. He will be able to dissolve local councils…”
“Right, but in order to do that one has to have the President’s decree …”
“The prefect may find a drawback in the local council’s decision, and this may be a non-political decision relating to the budget, for example… Then he concludes that the decision is unconstitutional. Afterwards he submits it for consideration to the President. As a result, the President dissolves the regional council and applies to the Constitutional Court to… put the prefect in charge of the regional executive committee. In the meantime, the Constitutional Court may take as much as two years to consider the decisions. Thus the prefect will rule the entire region single-handedly for two years. Of course, this is a simplified scheme, so that we would realize what may happen. But there are risks. By the way, the applicable legislation prescribes that the regional council may pass a no-confidence motion against the head of the regional administration by two thirds of votes. Then the President must change him. After the reform the regional council will not have such powers. But there must be a balanced system. So this is one of the main “bombs” underlying the local self-regulation reform. This scheme will be productive in case all prefects have angel wings. And what if they won’t?”
“And they won’t. Experience teaches us that in our political circles people with angel wings are extinct. Is this another “bomb”?”
“According to the applicable legislation, the head of the regional administration approves the appointment of heads of local public structures using the rights delegated to him by the regional council. According to the reform, the regional council will not be able to influence any kind of such appointment. Thus, the fact that local public structures may not be controlled by the local self-government authorities is another “bomb”. May be the reform will be more successful if that bomb would be eliminated.”
“So are you more pessimistic about that?”
“No, I am more optimistic. I assume that the first step was made, but there are some concerns… like come-and-go style. This is the third “bomb”, when the communities are united based on the assigned order, i.e. when the initiative that comes from the bottom of the vertical is substituted with prescriptions and assignments of specific officials.”
“Just like in the case with the initiative to turn the entire district into one community that was given to the Vovchansk district… The same initiative was communicated to almost half of such districts.”
“This shows us that local officials build the system to fit their own aims. They realize that if some powers will be delegated to the community, the functions of regional agencies will be neutralized. That is why they transform the district into one community in order to stay in charge of it. This will change the sign on the office’s door plate, but this won’t change the level of their influence. Communities must not be dictated with whom to unite, they should be motivated by what is expedient for the community: logistics or connection between settlements. In the region we have this typical situation when two village councils are located on both sides of a district border being closer to one another than to other village councils within their districts. They are united by close distance, schools, history, or family ties. They are willing to unite, but they are not given a chance to do that.
“Regional officials say that they have to employ administrative measures because no initiatives come from the bottom. But since the process began already and it has to be realized…”
“It’s true. The majority of village councils make no haste. They need time to think over and consult with locals, whereas officials want the fulfillment of the plan and indicators... There was no hurry in Poland. It’s like the case with a disease – one may not report that flu was cured in two hours. Well, of course one may give such a report, but it won’t cure the flu.”
“All disputes are around the association of communities. If we recollect the reform that was discussed in Ukraine in 2004 there was the same attempt to change regional borders. Are you a supporter of such a reform?”
“I am an opponent of that. In medicine when treating a difficult and complex polytrauma there is the rule of the common sense. The most critical risks must be eliminated first. The same principle applies to politics and social life. We do have problems with regions. But do you really believe that changes in the regions’ borders will make a break-through in the political, economic, and social matters? No way! That’s why we have to lay the foundation. The creation of the community is the establishment of the running base that is able to resolve both social and household issues. That is crucial. “Social-being” determines consciousness. After this, one may move on.”