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Evgenija Markaryan

Sovereignty & Autonomy: Consequences of Ukraine’s New Law on Referendum

At the end of 2012, the President of Ukraine signed the law on national referendum. Indeed, as they say – history likes to repeat itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. The “parade of sovereignties” in 1990 – 1991 led to the collapse of an enormous country, resulting in military conflicts, impoverishment, crash of industries, and broken fates of entire generations. The ideological father of the parade – and the then Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR – Boris Yeltsin advised former republics of the Soviet Union to “seize the sovereignty!”. Recent events in Ukraine indicate that we may witness a repetition of the history. Please God, it would be a farce! And who says that farce wouldn’t turn into a tragedy?

Виктор Янукович, источник:

Viktor Yanukovych, the source:

The new law states that a national referendum is a form of direct democracy in Ukraine, a way of exercising power directly by the Ukrainian people. Moreover, the subject of national referendum may include territorial changes (ratification referendum). Therefore, the opposition groups in the Verkhovna Rada – the All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland” (Vseukrayins’ke Obyednannya Bat’kivshchyna), the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform of Vitali Klitschko (UDAR), the All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (Vseukrayinske obyednannia “Svoboda”) – are speaking in favor of reversal of the law (according to the press-service of the UDAR, 3 April 2013).

The law on referendum

According to Yuri Kliuchkovsky, a politician and People’s Deputy of Ukraine (III-VI convocations), the Legal Act on the National Referendum is conceptually flawed (the interview to the newspaper Delo, November 24, 2012).

“The referendum is a mechanism allowing implementation the people’s will – a way of making decisions that have nothing in common with democracy and the rule of law. The danger of this institution is that it can become a manifestation of direct democracy and – at the same time – the a tool of plebiscitary dictatorship. The practice shows that some European states do not have any referendum and those who have created also a number of legal conditions of its use. The point is that the people, exercising power, must do it in the framework of the Constitution and the laws”.

It is hard not to agree with this conclusion of Mr. Kliuchkovsky. Everything can be used for a good cause – as well as for a bad one, either. As the saying goes, it’s a double-edged sword.

Separatism and hidden agendas

While the opposition leaders and ruling authorities are crossing swords on the legality or illegality of the Law on Referendum and its adoption, in the regions, some forces are quietly trying to realize their desires and ambitions, which may result in appearance of autonomous regions within Ukraine in the near future. According to the information posted on the website, thanks to the new law Galicia may soon become an autonomous republic within Ukraine. A local group has initiated its project on autonomy, meeting the legal requirements and anticipating future changes. They have prepared notifications for the heads of the region and the city council, where they specified the time, place and purpose of the meeting. The group (20 people) has also invited more than 200 delegates.

A certain Jaroslav Monastarski, the chairman of the initiative group, assured that the invitations were addressed to “first of all, the people who are moral authorities, social and cultural activists, including writers, musicians, journalists, academics, leaders of third sector organizations, and persons with theological education”. The Secretary of the initiative group Stepan Khmel confirmed the existence of such a list and the fact that among the delegates there are “recognized leaders of the Galician nation”.

It is clear that these forces, triggering off the question on the autonomy of Galicia, clearly refer not to the government, but to the opposition. At the same time, the opposition leaders are screaming blue murder that the law on referendum was accepted as a result of not personal but card voting, what allows the whole process to be considered illegitimate? Moreover, the opposition groups are discussing the possibility of cancellation of the law by applying to the European Court of Human Rights.

Who wants to break away…?

The situation with the new law is confusing. Perhaps it is legitimate as long as it is  useful, and it becomes illegitimate as soon as its usefulness dries up… And what about charging the eastern regions of separatism in 2004? What about the claim that Ukraine is a unitary state? By the way, for those who forgot I would like to remind of the Congress in Severodonetsk, November 28, 2004. It was an all-Ukrainian meeting of deputies of all levels in the time of social and political crisis in autumn 2004, caused by the Orange Revolution (the participants of the Congress called it coup d’etat), in order to develop a common strategy to stabilize the situation in the country. The Congress was a response to the actions of local authorities of some Western Ukraine’s regions (Lviv, Volyn, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk), as well as the city council of Kyiv and the authorities of the Kyiv region, who called upon not to recognize the president-elect Viktor Yanukovych, and to recognize instead Yushchenko as the winning candidate in the presidential elections of 2004 (source: Wikipedia).

The roots in absurdity

Jaroslav Monastyrski (on

“The tension has become obvious. The difference in national and cultural traditions, religious and linguistic dominants can not just vanish into thin air. Imagine a family that has grown into a tribe (several families), but they continue to live together in the parent house. They have a lot in common, but at the same time, there are differences among them. Usually, in such situation wise people go to live separately and build their own houses, thus cementing their family relations. After all, if you are to choose between problems in a shared house and good neighbourly relations, the choice seems obvious. Again, the analogy is addressed primarily to those who are under the dominant influence of the ex-Soviet and ideological absurdity of the early independence of Ukraine. Well, those who remember the annexation of Galicia and its forced accession to the USSR have no need of such analogies…”.

From the standpoint of Mr. Monasterski, not only Galicia, and, for example, the Donetsk region, should not accept the “ideological absurdity of the early independence of Ukraine”. Kyiv and the Kyiv region can initiate the formation of the Capital autonomous region. Podolia and Volhynia may also try… In the southern regions you might find a group wishing to initiate a referendum on the establishment of the autonomous region of Tauris. Odessa may say that its cultural and ideological traditions conceptually coincide neither with Galicia nor Kyiv, and it wants to go to live “in its own house” with the Duke [Duc de Richelieu, Governor of Odessa in the beginning of the 19th cent. – transl. note], Catherine and Potemkin… Kharkov, finally, would remember that it was the first capital…

Peace may be the price for sovereignty

There is only one little step to take – making a wish – and then such initiatives will be multiplying in Ukraine… And it will be good if they remain just initiatives. And what if they will suddenly start becoming a political reality? I wonder who in such a situation, will take on the role of Yeltsin? What force will rebuff the “seize as much sovereignty as you can” slogan? Will there be anybody with the guts to do it? In the end, one can hardly appreciate what one gets without much effort.

Whatever we may say, we owe the Ukraine we have today to the USSR and the goodwill of its then authorities (“Just take it!”). We created the territorial borders peacefully, without conflicts and spilled blood, without a civil war and appeals to the international community – that’s the Ukraine who proclaimed its independence. I pray that no power, no local philosophies and no ephemeral circumstances cut Ukraine into pieces. The country is not a patchwork …  Still, who says that farce can’t turn into a tragedy?

Translated by MA

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Евгения Маркарян - журналист, редактор, PR-щик. В профессии - более восемнадцати лет. Занималась разработкой концепции, созданием, позиционированием и выводом на рынок нескольких всеукраинских изданий, затрагивающих разные сегменты рынка: Работала редактором отделов в деловых изданиях, посвященных маркетингу, рекламе, PR, HR-консалтингу, бизнес-коммуникациям, здравоохранению и фармакологии. Работала пресс-секретарем и начальником отдела PR в крупных страховых компаниях. В настоящее время - независимый журналист

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