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
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.
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