Saving Ukraine, But Sacrificing Lviv?

(Media Credit/Agence France Presse)

By Roman Kalytchak, Associate Professor of International Relations, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv

Unlike the majority of Ukraine’s regions, Halychyna is still extremely active in expressing its opinions on national issues. Recently, the Lviv Regional Council, where the right-wing All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” dominates, has adopted a number of statements, one of which has given an unsatisfactory assessment of President Viktor Yanukovych’s first year in office. Thus, Svoboda, which is deprived of national parliamentary seats, has started actively using regional and municipal councils as one of main tools in its struggle for power in Kyiv.

Statements on controversial issues adopted at a municipal or regional level have become an efficient instrument to attract general attention and gain nationwide visibility for this political force. Halychyna, and Lviv in particular, tend to be represented as a major stronghold in the struggle for Ukrainian democracy. It seems like nothing has changed 20 years after the proclamation of independence: Lviv should again be sacrificed for the national cause and thus be lagging far behind, moving from one crisis to another.

Unlike many claimed, the victory of Svoboda at the municipal and regional elections in Halychyna is largely due to its campaign promise to improve Ukraine’s socio-economic situation. In this context, Lviv is the most striking example. Tired of the twenty years’ worth of inefficient and corrupt rule of national democratic forces, Lvivians punished traditional parties and placed their hopes in a new political force that would make key contributions: improve living standards, create new jobs, combat corruption, eradicate clientelism, enhance accountability, develop health system infrastructure, build new schools, repair roads, and so on.

However, Svoboda is more versed in the nationalistic rhetoric at the national level than in efficient management at the local level. After the elections, it could not clearly articulate a coherent vision of the city’s development strategy and has started backing away from its campaign promises. March is approaching, but the municipal council has not adopted the budget yet; it seems to be more focused on issues related to land distribution or rent of municipal property, which is the most corrupt practice in Ukrainian self-government.

Yet still, Svoboda can change things. It should recognize two important factors: not to use the city and the region in its political struggle, and not to put on the front line of the confrontation with its political opponents, but demonstrate in practice how Halychyna and Lviv can make a difference nationally by achieving meaningful accomplishments locally. Lviv should not be represented only as the largest Ukrainian-speaking city in the world or popularized as an attractive tourist destination, but should be recognized for its public administration efficiency and public services quality and be renowned as a city of education and innovation. Even small steps in this direction will bring more votes to Svoboda than another attempt to sacrifice Lviv for narrowly oriented party purposes.

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