Kyiv, July 7, 2015. One of the important tasks in promoting decentralization reform is to provide citizens across Ukraine with accurate information on both how the reforms will progress and how they will affect the life of the individual. Often it is the lack of information on reforms, which hinders their progress. The Swiss-Ukrainian project “Supporting Decentralization in Ukraine,” or DESPRO, and the NGO Association of Independent Experts, presented the results of research from a series of focus group at Ukraine Crisis Media Center on the topic “Decentralization in Ukraine: How People’s Opinion Change.”
“We have tried to explore the attitudes of ordinary citizens regarding the reforms as well as their understanding of the reforms themselves. Decentralization is necessary and irreversible. People should both understand and see their place in the reform process of local self-governance, administrative-territorial structure and in the whole life of our country,” said Oksana Garnets, head of DESPRO.
The research was conducted in two stages: from October and November 2014, and from April and May 2015. The work was carried out in the form of group discussions that lasted 1.5-2 hours. “This research involved more than 100 people from all regions of Ukraine, including Luhansk and Donetsk regions. The two eastern regions were represented by internally displaced persons who live in Cherkasy or Kyiv regions,” explained Olha Dancheva, psychologist and head of the Association of Independent Experts.
In 2014, the research participants had only cursory knowledge about decentralization. For instance, they did not have a complete understanding of the essence of the reforms. Also, there was some confusion between “separatism” and “federalization.” By 2015, the participants have already gained an understanding of decentralization as devolution of powers and finances to local authorities from the central government.
“They became aware of decentralization as a link in a chain of reforms, without which Ukraine cannot develop further and become a full-fledged European state. People already feel that each provision of the reform will affect them personally,” said Olga Dancheva. She also added that in 2014, there were some regional differences in terms of readiness to accept reforms. “Last year, Odesa was at the stage of denial of the reform, Poltava and Kharkiv – at the stage of doubt, Ivano-Frankivsk – at the stage of research and Vinnytsia – at the stage of support of the reform. As of 2015, we have not found any regional differences. Most regions are currently at the stage of research and support of reforms,” explained Dancheva.
In 2014, the research participants were divided into two groups: supporters and opponents. The supporters were more aware that decentralization implies community participation in local problem solving, the rendering of more power and resources to local authorities, and ultimately the transferring of responsibility to local authorities for the results. The opponents believed that decentralization is a threat to national security and leads to disintegration of the country, confusion, and increased corruption.
As of 2015, the research participants are being divided into two different groups: “democrats,” who emphasize the social and public importance of the reforms and consider decentralization as a necessary step toward the development of both civil society and the democratic governance of the state, and “economists,” who emphasize socio-economic feasibility and significance of the reforms, and consider decentralization the local use of resources and opportunities and, above all, an effective form of management.
The research also found that awareness of the essence of decentralization is formed by understanding the concept “community,” namely, that citizens understand that community should be the driving force at the heart of these reforms.
The results will be presented to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and to the Ministry of Regional Development, Construction and Housing of Ukraine. “It is for all those for whom it is important to determine what steps should be taken so that information on the reforms will be effective, and will reach its audience,” concluded Olga Dancheva.