Oleg Onopkp
Europe Insight's expert on Eastern Europe

Manageable autonomisation

Ukraine is prepared to grant autonomy only where it sees a clear benefit

Emboldened by the domestic political situation and announcements from President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s national minorities demand autonomy from time to time.

The Transcarpathian Hungarians were the first to express their wishes along these lines back in March 2014. They were followed by the Bucovina Romanians and Bulgarians of Odessa. Although reports that the Gagauz living in the historical and geographical region of Budjak have joined them were not confirmed, this does not eliminate the possibility of similar clams in the future.

However, each case has its own specific political characteristics upon which depends the outcome of whether or not a given ethnic community will receive autonomy. And in comparison with 2014, the demands for autonomy have significantly decreased in intensity.

The Crimean Tatars have the best chance of all. There is currently a consolidated position regarding them in Ukrainian political circles. The changes to the Ukrainian Constitution initiated by President Poroshenko are not a big deal for the Ukrainian authorities. However, the formal institutionalisation of autonomy for Crimea is yet another way to secure the loyalty of Crimean Tatars for Ukraine.

In a conditional second place are the Hungarians and Romanians. For both, the strong side of their projects for autonomy is the existence of a powerful ethnic lobby at the level of a regional elite, as well as support coming from national governments. On one hand, up until late they were so active that they periodically aroused in Кiev the fear of yet another annexation of border territories. On the other hand, impressed by events in eastern Ukraine, neither the government nor the ethnic groups are so active these days.

Those with the least hope of being granted autonomy are the Gagauz and Bulgarians. Their misfortune lies in the convergence of three factors. First of all, both minorities want to receive autonomy in the Odessa region, which is “disadvantaged” from the point of loyalty because any autonomy project there is tacitly looked upon as anti-Ukrainian and separatist. Secondly, the Bulgarians and Gagauz have historically held pro-Russian positions, and, adding to that, the territories where they are settled compactly happen to share a border with Gagauzia and the self-proclaimed Republic of Transnistria which are the strongholds of Russian influence in Moldova. Thirdly, the Bulgarian and even more so the Moldovan governments (fearing the pro-Russian inclinations of the minorities would be strengthened) decline to support the aspirations of their ethnic brothers and sisters.

In these conditions, the most likely outcome will be that only the Crimean Tatars – as the only natural ally Ukraine has in its confrontation with Russia over Crimea – will actually receive formal national and territorial autonomy. The other minorities should only expect increased attention on the part of the Ukrainian special services.

Other materials