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Ukraine's Europe

Inter-European dialogue, EU-Ukrainian relations

Regional application of the (in)security concept: a case study of Ukraine´s Transcarpathia region

Apart from protection from hostile forces, security also refers to a wide range of other issues, such as the absence of harm, the presence of an essential good, quality or conditions in which equitable and sustainable relationships can develop within political systems, institutions and states.


There are various hazards, faced by the Ukrainian state in the region of Transcarpathia (Zakarpattya), rich in cultures, ethnicities, political preferences and bordering Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. The challenges of insuring constitutional order, prevention of separatism by co-opting and locking-in, surprisingly, could be done by promotion of neopatrimonial ties, clientalism, patronage and policies of controlled corruption and other informal mechanisms.


In the December 1991 referendum 78% of the region´s voters approved a proposal for Transcarpathian autonomy. Rather than employing force, the Ukrainian state exerted other kinds of control on local officials. Regional movements were defused through co-opting and brokeraging mechanisms, in which local politicians were included into the political networks with the center, whereby the voices demanding autonomy were stifled.


Dissatisfaction and high aspirations for separate identity recognition and redistribution of resources and power present obstacles for stability internationally and successful nation-building/consolidation domestically. Various political groups thus tend to vigorously compete for their right to influence the level of societal (in)security. Since 1991 Ukraine demonstrated an easily identifiable polarization along regional and cultural lines. These cleavages attained political dimension through regionally based political parties. This polarization often led the country to the brink of political confrontation. An examination of this regional case shows the importance of the actual control means in the ability to defuse separatist movements.


Regionalism is the constant factor in Ukrainian political life, and is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. The country’s principal regional cleavages are result of a historically separate political development under heavy foreign domination. In this context, unconstitutional establishment of autonomy structures may inflame tensions and raise various hazards, as groups may mobilize different ethnicities around the issue. Furthermore, once an autonomous structure has been established, it can easily serve as an institutional foundation for separatist movements and inflate claims. Region´s elites advancing their own political careers may use autonomy as a vehicle for the mobilization of ethnicity, thus producing violent conflict.


Authoritarian governments often view autonomy claims as a zero-sum game, responding harshly and provoking further resistance. Violent conflict may also be more likely under authoritarian regimes because minority groups often fear that extreme action will be the only way to produce a response from such a government. More democratic regimes, however, are more likely to deal with demands more pragmatically, with a strategy resulting in non-violent compromise. In the state hierarchy, based on the Weberian legacy, the center is stronger than the periphery and commands the local agents, who entertain control on the exercise of power in the region. The exceptions to this model may include the situation, where local actors hold stronger de facto control, often by informal means.


Ukraine´ state leadership successfully exercised informal mechanisms of control in relation to the periphery. It allowed and even encouraged corruption by local elites. But the state also collected information on illicit activities of local elites and carefully stored it. When directives from the center were given to local elites for implementation, the locals had nothing but to comply in order to avoid criminal prosecution.  Another means of control was the promise of jobs and positions to individuals who support central policies of elites. These types of patronage control are quite effective and inexpensive, compared to direct coercion.


Hub-and-spoke pattern of a network with little connection between subunits is a more effective way of control, compared with other. This type of structure balanced the power in favour of the center, as regional actors had to go through the center in order to communicate with each other, and “blackmail state” could effectively forbid collusion between regional actors.


The elite that emerged in independent Ukraine came out of the old Soviet-era nomenklatura bred in a neo-patrimonial culture. Thus in Ukraine emerged the system of party of power, characterised by dependence on state, rather formal ideology, barely realized in practice, and strong linkage to specific interest groups, who increasingly took control of political power. The parties were not meant to become autonomous political forces in their own right, but were utilised by the center. They also served the regime in upholding a network of patronage relationships with the major socio-political, economic and administrative actors.  At the same time Ukraine has not managed to achieve a level of national consolidation where regional and national identities could be complementary rather than competitive.

Alexander Svetlov


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