Danu­bian Prin­ci­pal­i­ties

Decentralisation started in Odesa Oblast al­most eigh­teen months ago. The ini­tia­tive was some­times suc­cess­ful in the north, while the south has seen a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent process

The Ukrainian Week - - FOCUS - Stanislav Ko­zliuk,

In Odesa Oblast, as at one time in the Don­bas, the im­age of the re­gion's par­tic­u­lar­ity and large dif­fer­ence from the rest of Ukraine is of­ten cul­ti­vated. If we ig­nore pro-Rus­sian sen­ti­ments, the only thing that re­mains is the multi-eth­nic char­ac­ter of the pop­u­la­tion, which in prac­tice gives rise to cer­tain in­tri­ca­cies in lo­cal pol­i­tics. Ukraini­ans and Moldovans, Bul­gar­i­ans and Ga­gauzians, Ro­ma­ni­ans and Rus­sians all live in Bes­sara­bia. It seems that this fac­tor is play­ing if not a cru­cial, then at least a rather im­por­tant role in the decentralisation process.

UNIT­ING PAINS

There have been at­tempts to launch the process of com­mu­nity amal­ga­ma­tion in Odesa Oblast al­most since the rel­e­vant law was adopted. Roundta­bles and sem­i­nars on decentralisation were held in the oblast to as­cer­tain the at­ti­tudes of lo­cal of­fi­cials to­wards such ini­tia­tives. The re­sult was that the heads of towns and vil­lages have no burn­ing de­sire to sup­port re­forms and would pre­fer leav­ing every­thing as it is to be­com­ing in­volved in changes that of­fer them vague prospects for the fu­ture. There are no guar­an­tees that they would be part of the gov­ern­ing bod­ies elected af­ter the new com­mu­ni­ties emerge. In­stead, the idea that the essence of decentralisation is to "de­stroy the coun­try­side" was spread among the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, although no com­pelling ar­gu­ments were put for­ward in sup­port of this the­sis.

"In 2015, we started with a roundtable on in­ter­na­tional con­flicts. The Iz­mayil and Reni coun­ties were there. It was said that there are no prob­lems with in­tereth­nic ten­sions, but there is the is­sue of decentralisation. Al­legedly, peo­ple in the coun­try­side 'will lose their jobs' and 'vil­lages will be de­stroyed'. As there are many dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties in our re­gion, the fact that Bul­gar­i­ans and Moldovans ap­par­ently would not be able to agree on the dis­tri­bu­tion of the lo­cal bud­get be­tween them­selves was given as an ex­am­ple of 'mur­der'. But this ar­gu­ment is rather prim­i­tive, as they all get on well in county coun­cils at the mo­ment. There are no prob­lems with the al­lo­ca­tion of funds," decentralisation ex­pert Svit­lana Hud tells The Ukrainian Week.

She adds that the "na­tional ques­tion" comes up ev­ery few years. For ex­am­ple, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Moldovan com­mu­nity com­plain that the Ro­ma­ni­ans have more pref­er­ences. Or eth­nic mi­nori­ties re­proach schools for not teach­ing in their lan­guages. “Such com­plaints usu­ally come from rep­re­sen­ta­tives of mi­nori­ties in Odesa, not the coun­try­side. It seems they do not ac­count for the fact that their child will later go to univer­sity, where sub­jects are taught in the state lan­guage", adds the ex­pert.

Some politi­cians, cam­paign­ing against the ter­ri­to­rial re­form, also re­fer to prob­lems in in­ter-eth­nic re­la­tions. They ar­gue that the re­form would stall be­cause of the multi-eth­nic char­ac­ter of Bes­sara­bia. Ac­cord­ing to them, Bul­gar­ian vil­lages can­not be merged with Ro­ma­nian ones, which in turn can­not join Moldovan or Ga­gauz set­tle­ments.

"There is a wide­spread view that if we merge Bul­gar­ian and Moldovan vil­lages into one ter­ri­to­rial com­mu­nity, for ex­am­ple, and the com­mu­nity leader will be a Bul­gar­ian, he will not stand up for the in­ter­ests of Moldovans. And vice versa. Un­for­tu­nately, this is­sue is of­ten used for ma­nip­u­la­tion in Reni and Bolhrad coun­ties. The prob­lem also ex­ists in Iz­mayil County, but it is slightly less pro­nounced," adds Hud.

Off the record, lo­cal of­fi­cials point the fin­ger at MP An­ton Kisse, a mem­ber of the Vidrodzhen­nia (Re­nais­sance) Party, a spinoff of the for­mer Party of Re­gions. Yu­lia Molodozhon, di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Re­forms in Odesa Oblast, adds that "Kisse is not di­rectly op­posed to decentralisation, but the com­mu­ni­ties in the dis­trict, which elected him to par­lia­ment, are mak­ing no ef­fort to unite".

"At one time, Kisse held an en­tire con­fer­ence in Kyiv on the fact that decentralisation al­legedly ignores the

Bar­ri­ers to in­te­gra­tion. Reni has tried twice to launch the merger of com­mu­ni­ties with the neigh­bour­ing vil­lages. But both at­tempts failed

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