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Ukraine: Chances of Anti-Patronal Transformation after the War

Democracy in Ukraine has seen both promising and difficult times in the last thirty years. The collapse of the Soviet Union provided the country with the opportunity of independence and freedom from dictatorial oppression. Although Ukraine under the rule of Leonid Kuchma was facing toward autocracy, his autocratic attempt was thwarted by the Orange Revolution of 2004. Later, the Ukrainian people further demonstrated their strong will for the country’s Western orientation in the Euromaidan revolution of 2014. While international observers hoped these revolts would lead to genuine democratization, none of them resulted in liberal democracy but in regime cycles, leading back to where the country was before.

Regime cycles emerged because, in the case of both revolutions, democratic transformation was not accompanied by anti-patronal transformation. Since before the regime change, Ukrainian political life has been dominated by region-based informal patronal networks, or political-economic ‘clans’, competing to occupy key positions in the political and economic spheres. While the presence of informal practices has had a deteriorating effect on democratic institutions, the landslide victory of president Volodymyr Zelensky in 2019 was a sign that the people, and particularly the emerging ‘creative middle class’, wants to break with the patronal legacy of the country. When such intentions are translated to governmental action, careful consideration of current opportunities, risks, and the possible effects of alternative policies is required to plan successful reforms of the Ukrainian political and economic regime weakening the influence of patronalism.

The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine puts the country’s independence and chances at a Western type of development at risk. However, the heroic stance of the Ukrainian people against Russia, together with a solidifying national identity, makes domestic foundations for a Western turn stronger than ever. After the invasion, moving Ukraine in a Western direction will be a top priority. Rebuilding the country must be done by laying strong foundations of democracy where the liberal components of free and fair elections, civil rights, and strong institutional controls against corruption and informal practices are present. In short, the government must, beyond mitigating immediate problems, institute anti-patronal reforms to free Ukraine from its post-communist legacy and create the basis of a more stable democratic development.

The aim of this project is to assess: (1) the effect of the invasion on the process of nation-building in Ukraine; (2)the changes of the structure and level of patronalism; (3) the institutional conditions of anti-patronal transformation, learning from the experience of previous anti-patronal reforms in Ukraine and other countries; (4) the immediate, mid-term, and long-term possibilities of anti-patronal transformation as part of the program of rebuilding Ukraine as a more stable democracy than before. The project will be a joint effort of CEU DI fellows and Ukrainian scholars who have previously worked and published extensively in the fields of patronalism, neopatrimonialism, informality, post-communist regimes, and the case of Ukraine in particular. The result of the project will be a ca. 40-50-page paper detailing the findings of the project.