Has Ukraine become more democratic since Euromaidan?

A right-wing activist is throwing a brick into a Sberbank's office, guarded by police. Credits: Hromadske TV

A right-wing activist is throwing a brick into the Sberbank’s office, guarded by police. Credits: Hromadske TV

On 22 February 2014 ,Viktor Yanukovich was forced to flee Ukraine under the pressure of mass protests. And a coalition of pro-European parties came to power.

In the last two years, Ukraine has found itself in a deep social and economic crisis, and having lost Crimea and Donbas. The situation in the east of the country has taken on the characteristics of a “frozen” conflict. Even parties and movements that are presumably pro-Russian have been driven out of the domestic political arena, and their supporters have become the victims of repression and murder while, at the same time, the public investigation of the most high-profile crimes have yielded no results despite politicians’ many promises.

However, Ukraine continues on its path towards European integration. Relatively fair and competitive parliamentary, presidential and local elections were held in the country.

In order to determine whether or not Ukraine has become more democratic since Yanukovich’s overthrow, Europe Insight has asked experts to assess how the level of democracy has changed since that time on a scale of -5 to 5 where -5 means a transition to severe authoritarianism, 0 represents the lack of any changes and 5 indicates the country has become a full-fledged democracy.

Oleksii Sydorchuk, analyst at the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiative Foundation

Score — 3

The level of democracy has grown significantly. There is no longer a monopoly of power at the highest political level. A balance is found between political actors, who have their jurisdictions and interfere less in each other’s affairs. There is no longer one, single centre where decisions are made… The interests of other political actors are now taken into greater consideration, as well as the interests of society.

Great strides have been made in the area of human rights. Freedom of speech is currently at its highest level. Political rights and civil freedoms have grown noticeably in this time. But with all this I must make the important remark that none of these gains have spread to the territories under occupation, where democracy has entered into the negative.

Maxim Rozumny, Head of the Political Strategy Department of the National Institute for Strategic Studies

Score — 2

We have returned to political pluralism and real political competition, but the institutions of participatory democracy are still weak and ineffective.

Natalia Ligacheva, media expert, Honoured Journalist of Ukraine, Chief Editor of Telekritika

Score — 2

The level of influence that civil society has on decision-making in government has definitely changed. It rose markedly after the Revolution of Dignity. This is demonstrated not only by the fact that anti-corruption bodies are being set up but also by the fact that in these two years laws have been passed in the sphere of media that took us ten years to achieve. These are the laws “On Public Service Broadcasting”, “On Transparency of Media Ownership” and “On Privatisation of the Media”. We see in these examples that the people’s deputies and the executive power are both forced to act in a way they do not like due to the pressure of civil society and Western partners. But they understand that the voice of civil society carries much more weight than it used to.

Power cannot exist for long – as the example of Yanukovich’s power shows – if it is completely self-perpetuating and does not listen to the voice of the people.

Alexei Antipovich, Director of the Sociological Group Rating

Score — 1

The score is made up of two parts:

Positive steps have only been made in the development of civil society, which is, of course, fundamental for the development of democracy; so the score in this area is 2. Euromaidan, volunteers, radical movements, new political parties, young politicians, the reduction of the justification of corruption by society, a higher level of patriotism, and readiness to defend one’s interests – all this is pushing Ukrainian society in the direction of democratic development.

But no changes whatsoever are observed in the governmental sphere – 0. Power continues to be seen as a means of getting rich. Those who have power do not observe laws and avoid responsibility. The courts and law enforcement agencies need substantial changes, and reforms in the economic sphere are substituted with imitations and further corruption schemes.

Svetlana Kovalevskaya, Regional Development Expert at the Institute for Social and Economic Research

Score — 0

At the level of sense impressions and superficial analysis of social phenomena, I would give a score of 0 because we are on the path to democracy. And when we finish the process of decentralisation (if we do this the right way), then we will, probably, already be on level 3-4. The 0 is predicated by low public involvement in the decision-making process and the insignificant number of public organisations and members of such, which speaks to the extreme passivity of the population towards government affairs and their lack of an attitude of ownership towards these affairs despite officials and deputies’ emphatic announcements regarding experts’ active participation in reform preparations.

At the same time, the government is also implementing certain measures: instruments for raising the level of citizens’ involvement in government decisions are being provided. Included among these are electronic petitions, an updated procedure for citizens’ appeals and public information requests, procedures for the publication of normative-legal acts and taking comments into account, and electronic governance (which is, unfortunately, being implemented very slowly). In practice, however, these procedures remain only on paper for now.

Viktor Melnik, specialist in international politics

Score — 0 / -1

My assessment fluctuates between 0 and -1, and I probably lean towards -1. What is taking place today is the redistribution of Yanukovich’s oligarchic legacy. And the president is taking all steps to consolidate all levers of power in his own hands. In line with this, the economic situation is suffering greatly. The political disorder hits the economy hard. Things are worse.

Andrey Vasiliev, Executive Director of the Centre for the Development of Regional Policy and Local Self-Government

Score — -3 / -4

I give this score because the past two years have seen the deep degradation of state institutions. There cannot be democracy without an effective governmental apparatus. The typical characteristics of crisis are corruption; nepotism; a low level of professionalism among officials, even those invited from other states; and unwillingness to undertake reforms. Under these conditions has begun the curtailment of the democratic transformation launched by Euromaidan. There has not been a power reset. There has been no lustration – the whole mechanism Yanukovich built has been preserved; it has only received a new personification now.

The population is highly deprived. The values that Euromaidan proclaimed – freedom, de-oligarchisation of power, national unity, choosing Europe – have been flouted. The influence of oligarchs in political processes is absolute. The territorial integrity of the country has been violated. European prospects have been replaced with external control.

Olyesa Kirilenko, professor in the Department of Political Science at Rivne State Humanitarian University

Score — -4

The level of democracy in modern Ukraine can be assessed at -4, as close to severe authoritarianism. The process of virtually swerving entirely off the road to democratic development in the country reflects this. Until the events of Euromaidan, the level of democratisation in Ukrainian society was evaluated as insufficient by the World Democracy Audit. In other words, the political regime in Ukraine received the “transitional” status, which means it was evaluated as being in the process of transitioning from an authoritarian to a democratic regime.

After the power shift in 2014, the processes of democratisation in Ukraine have not advanced beyond the form of declarations, and in fact have begun to collapse. This is why in the two-years of the rule of the team of Euromaidan leaders, the country has experienced a reverse drift towards turning into an authoritarian regime of a special character.

The modern state of the political system and Ukrainian society overall may be characterised as a satellite, media-manipulative and speculating autocracy with elements of military and national-patriotic totalitarianism. Society’s phase of transition has morphed into a special type of crisis and stagnatory functioning whilst the prospects of escaping it are difficult to determine due to the growing economic crisis in the country and the deteriorating geopolitical situation in Europe and the world.

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