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New generation for the new country

Ukraine: The European frontier – a blog curated by Valerii Pekar.

May 23, 2017 - Yuriy Husyev - Articles and Commentary

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Recent history of independent Ukraine is a good example of how institutions affect the development of the state and society. Central and local government institutions were inherited from the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, just changing their name, and therefore the new Ukrainian government began to suffer.  In the first decade of independence Ukraine lost 65 per cent of its GDP, which declined by 59 billion USD to a level of 31.3 billion USD. By the year 2013, Ukraine’s population declined by about six million, and a similar number of Ukrainians are currently working around the world, often illegally. In 2014, Ukraine lost control over areas of its territory: Crimea was annexed, and war began in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. These processes were accompanied by the unique requests from the people for European integration and reforms.

In fact, two different countries coexist in Ukraine, two different generations with different values ​​and views of the country’s past and future. One generation grew in the USSR and were brought up in a social model of paternalism with the dominating principle being, “If I am a boss then you are a fool.” This “Soviet” generation now misses cheap substandard sausages and the First of May demonstrations. People of the USSR generation often do not even know their native language very well, not to mention foreign languages; they rarely travel not only abroad, but even around the country. Some of them support the ideology of the “Russian world” and will not accept any reforms and changes in the country. Another generation is that of people who were born in the 1980s and 1990s. This generation does not remember the sumptuous Communist Party Plenums and the capital in Moscow. The first Ukrainian generation since gaining independence has no other homeland and is more responsible towards the protection of its state. This generation was the first to come out during the Maidan protests in 2004 and 2013 and the first to sign up as volunteers for Ukraine’s armed forces at the frontline in 2014. This generation travels a lot, knows at least three languages ​​and actively uses social networks. 

However, both of these generations live in one institutionally inefficient state. Therefore, the new generation does not want to work for the state service for minimum wage with doubtful reputation and minimal efficiency of public service. At the same time the old generation does not want to lose their honorary positions of state officials. Of course, there are people who are ahead of their time and generation. These were the poet Vasyl Stus and singer Nazarii Yaremchuk, dissident Myroslav Marynovych, psychiatrist Semen Gluzman, human rights activist Yezhen Zakharov, philosopher Myroslav Popovych, writer Iban Dziuba and others. There are currently many of them among the civil society, among experts, advisors and moral authorities within Ukraine. On the contrary, nowadays there are many young people who live in the past, sometimes without even realising the realities of Soviet life.

The institutions that were created to support the processes of transformation are often unable to achieve results and implement the necessary changes in this tough transition time. The 100 year-old, revolutionary motto that the higher classes cannot and the lower classes do not want to live as it was before is becoming more relevant for Ukraine in the context of generations and institutions. The system is not able to change itself. Therefore, from 2014 reform project offices were established in many government bodies, which actually duplicate the activities of the existing departments. People in these project offices are well motivated and receive almost market-level wages through donors. Under their pressure the old bureaucratic system has begun to crack. The success of the ProZorro transparent public procurement platform, new patrol police, volunteer groups in the Ministry of Defence, and reforms of the Naftogaz state oil and gas company proved the effectiveness of this approach, but…

The post-Soviet system in 2017 is striking back. Experienced bureaucrats are often sabotaging the changes which sooner or later could relieve them of their previous range of influence and power. Endless meetings, approvals and signings are delaying implementation which is desired by young Ukrainian society. The statement that the new generation is going to fail is gladly supported by an old generation of bureaucrats who do not accept any changes. The majority of technocrats who came with the wave of Maidan have left office and a desperate society has imposed on them the idea that everything is moving in the right direction, albeit slowly.

At the same time, new leaders, who left office or remain working in the government, continue to work together with civil society experts on the development of public policies and drafts of bills that could be quickly implemented during the next window of opportunity. For example, work is in progress on land market reform, establishment of anti-corruption courts, the improvement of corporate governance in the public sector, implementation of large-scale privatisation and so on.

Realising the inevitable collapse of public administration institutions, the new generation is actively discussing the structural reform of new institutions, and yet this generation takes into account the security challenges that still put pressure on the political elite when considering critical decisions.

The global context of events in the US, Europe, Middle East and Asia demands that world policy makers consider events in Ukraine in a more responsible way. It is clear now that Ukraine needs a complete reboot of public administration. The existing system is unfixable and defies fundamental change. And the guilty are not the heads of governments or ministries, but the society and international partners of Ukraine, who are just watching the collapse of the post-Soviet legacy and allowing the waste of resources spent on trying to improve what cannot be improved.

Forty years of wandering finally eradicated the slavery of Biblical Jews and prepared the next generation for new life. In the same way the post-Soviet paternalistic mentality of society is changing through the change of generations. Today the new generation protects the state on the military front, studies abroad and discusses new policies for the new country. One day this new generation of Ukrainian leaders will build a fundamentally new model of the state with new effective European-style institutions and the remnants of the old system will remain forever just in the history books of an unconquered nation.

Yuriy Husyev is a former Deputy Minister of Defence of Ukraine (2015-2016).

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