The Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation (Kyiv) and the Center for International Studies, Odessa I.I. Mechnikov National University held the Round table "Political autumn in the South: Odessa’s sensitive points" on October 8 in Odessa.

Experts and guests discussed the following issues at the round table:

  • what reforms are the most expected in the Southern Ukraine? Are they consistent with expectations in other regions?
  • how the public assesses progress of reforms implementation?
  • What or who is driving force and restraining force?
  • Southern Ukraine foreign policy orientation: what is current public opinion on NATO, the EU and Russia?
  • how is the Russian-Ukrainian conflict perceived by the Southern Ukrainians?
  • local elections: will they make for renewal of local elites?

Oleksiy Haran, scientific director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, professor of the "Kyiv-Mohyla Academy" National University stressed that the local elections should should rather be postponed. But the old local authorities are not able to successfully perform their duties. At the same time elections take place under very difficult conditions (recession, lustration is not carried out, corruption is not dealt with). In addition, the current Law on elections is not the best one, including the fact that this law has been approved under the pressure of promises that were given earlier. He guessed that it would have been better temporarily to use the previous Law on elections passed in 2010.

O. Haran also emphasized that no matter what outcome of elections will be the local elections are not a reason for early parliamentary elections. Those will be a destabilizing factor, and will act in favor of the Kremlin's policies.

It was noted that a truce in the East will most probably survive. Putin is interested in softening of sanctions against Russia that is why elections in the DPR and in the LPR still have not been carried out yet. However, they are not cancelled, they are only postponed. That means that the elections will be used as an element of bargaining, manipulation. There are many unanswered questions about the local elections in the territory of the DPR and the LPR - which flag will hang at polling stations, which forces will provide security?

As to foreign policy alignments, O. Haran said that the attitude of Ukrainians to NATO has fundamentally improved, but regional differences still remain. If we hold a referendum on entering NATO right now, most Ukrainians vote "for", O. Haran suggests, but it can be used as a tool to split the country.

Maria Zolkina, expert of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, presenting the results of opinion polls, pointed out that the combination of such topics as local elections, reforms and foreign policy goals related to the fact that, firstly, these issues are indirectly correlated, and secondly, there are certain changes in society’s attitude towards these issues.

Oksana Lychkovskaya, associate professor of Department of Sociology, Odessa I.I. Mechnikov National University, agreed with the findings of opinion polls, which M. Zolkina presented. At the same time Odessa and Odessa region have their own peculiarities, which are reflected in the public opinion polls. The main difference is focus on themselves and self-organization, concentration on local and socially important problems as well.

It should be noted that in Odessa almost 40% of respondents are opposing to the Ukraine membership in any bloc or alliance. Only 20% favor EU integration and 16% support the Custom Union.

Anatoliy Boykohead of Odessa regional organization of CVU, emphasized the need to intensify the work of sociological centers in Odessa, where there is a strong school of sociology. Also he stressed that Law on elections does not promote the renewal of local political elites pointed out the following factors:

  • reduction of number of seats in administrations which leads to increased competition; so acting Deputies can maintain their mandates easier than for activists to get them;
  • necessity to run on political parties' lists;
  • raising the threshold.

A. Boyko emphasized that these elections are transitional; however it is very important to vote and to facilitate the changing of political elites. This will improve the situation before the next parliamentary elections in 2017 under the Law on decentralization.

The question about the new law on parliamentary elections is still open, the current act is advantageous political forces represented in Parliament today.

Oleg Khoroshylov, associate professor of Department of Political sciences, Odessa I.I. Mechnikov National University, focused on the factors that hinder the renewal of the local political elites. Among those he pointed out the following:

  • tentative unity among reformers;
  • potential political elite (reformers) are opposed by the ruling political elite;
  • "President's bench" - the lack of reserves on the President’s team; so that team in Odessa regionconsists of the representatives of different political parties, including the ones in opposition;
  • the definition of a term "renewal" - the appearance of new faces or quality upgrades. This point point raises most disputes when analyzing lists of candidates.

Volodymyr Dubovyk,director of the Center for International Studies, Odessa I. Mechnikov National University noted that naturally the growing figures of public support for the idea of Ukraine joining NATO is caused by the fact that this country has found itself vulnerable and defenseless before an enemy. The figures on support for an EU membership have gone back to the pre-revolution of dignity level. What surprises, indeed, is that increased number of people who have not defined their positions on foreign policy alignments, those who say that Ukraine should not join any blocs and alliances. So, a systemic information campaign on these issues is needed. Another thing which needs to be done is an adequate PR work on the part of the government aimed at informing public about some successful steps that were taken, as this is not being done.

He has also focused on the regional level of the reforms process in Ukraine and specifically on that of the performance of Odessa governor, noting that insofar it is not possible to give a definite mark to Mr. Saakashvili's activities. What has been done so far is clearly not a failure but, also, not a breakthrough that some were expecting. Some doubt his ability to work in such a complex region, others point to the restraints and limitations that he faces. Yes, there are achievements, steps in the right direction. Among those one can point to his new working style, attitude to business at hand - transparency, interaction with local community, bringing issues to the fora of public discussion.

As for the weaker points, questions linger about the capacity of his team, "chemistry" within this team which might be called "a Noah's arc of reformers". Also, perhaps, what could be noted is governor's tendency to opt for having a grand, strategic vision instead of actually attending to various little details and nuances which need to be taken care of (those being relegated to the members of his team). Summing this up, it was posted that there must be doubts as to whether Odessa region experience under Mr. Saakashvili can be, indeed, used as model, an example for other regions in Ukraine, as apparently current Odessa governor enjoys very specific and unique position, which others governors do not have.

S. Glebov, D. Kuzmin, I. Maksymenko took part in the discussion.

Sergii Glebov, associate Professor of International Relations Department, Odessa I.I. Mechnikov National University, stressed that the worsening of the public attitude to the EU is a natural occurrence caused by objective and subjective factors:

  • anti-corruption policy under the aegis of European integration;
  • "delayed demand" and "delayed expectations" - with regard to a visa-free regime. If it takes place in 2016 – European integration public support will increase;
  • the Association Agreement’s entry into force in 01/01/2016. Ukrainian Government must push the timely implementation of AA provisions and to counter the efforts of Moscow to postpone this step again.

But here successful reforms have vital importance to provide for growing support. Otherwise, we should expect a new drop, possibly all the way to the internal counterrevolution.

Denys Kuzmin, the coordinator of European program of the Center for International Studies, Odessa I.I. Mechnikov National University, argued that we should not deceive ourselves with the increased support for Euroatlantic integration. The reason is simple: the fighting, aggression, but there is no progress in information policy. It must be remembered that the general anti western position has run underground now. The patriotic sentiments are high today, including in the Odessa region. At the same time, society is not sympathetic to radical parties. So patriotic optimism resource is limited and might quickly elapse without successful reforms.

As for the EU he stated that there is no political force that refers to the foreign policy goals. The basis of a sincere desire to change and to reform are practical steps for the implementation of the Association Agreement. We need to avoid populism, however to focus on patriotic and constructive work in the region that guarantee the high level of EU and NATO support in Ukraine.

Iryna Maksymenko, assistant professor at the Department of International Relations, Odessa I.I. Mechnikov National University, stressed a tendency to connect temporary difficulties caused by by pace of reform with Ukraine’s European integration process. This situation will solidify the negative public attitude towards the EU.

The results of this Foundation's poll and previous ones carried out five or more years ago show that the general public awareness and understanding of NATO has not been changed. Even among youth. So it’s very important to correct information policy at regional and national level paying attention to weak points and previous mistakes.