Participatory democracy: lessons from Ukraine

Author : Žiga Turk

Source : 112 Ukraine

Žiga Turk, Slovenian minister, Government Office for Growth, on Ukraine’s democratic practices: from Maidan to electronic governance
10:38, 3 April 2017

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In the EU, we have a great opportunity to contemplate what would we like more - Europe of the common or different speeds. We voice our claims, when national governments or the EU do something that we do not like.

Every four years we are serious about our democratic right when we go to the polls. If we are really fed up with something, we vote for the beginner who criticizes the main political forces. Often, this is populist.

And then we get back to our normal life. Perhaps we pour our displeasure on Facebook or Twitter. This can be called democracy of running wheels - it uses steam from the system, but nothing much changes.

However, there are some countries in Europe that do not have such luxury.

Related: European People's Party adopted resolution on development of "Marshall Plan" for Ukraine, — Poroshenko

Why Ukraine succeeded and why Ukraine failed

Ukraine is the only one of the former communist countries that had not one or two but three major revolutions - in 1990, 2004 and in 2013. What people have learned after these revolutions? Coming to the streets is not enough to achieve some political change.

Ukrainians have learned from their mistakes, that change must occur after the revolution. There should be a logical continuation of the revolution, improvement, modernization, reform, and real change.

The current Ukraine’s revolution is not happening on the street. It is conducted through the Internet, social networks - real and digital revolution, created by the civil society. Ukrainians are witnesses of defeated centralized governance under communism and democracy. First one has miserably failed, the second has gained a controversial success.

Related: EUR 600 mln of macroeconomic assistance to reach Ukraine next week, - Poroshenko

Soviet times have left the country some a dysfunctional services - education, health, public administration, justice, and police. Corruption – in a small and large scale - has always been a tool for people to achieve something.

Democracy has made corruption even stronger. For before, the Communists had privileges without corruption. After 1991, the public service has not become one that could provide quality services to all citizens. Instead, elements of illicit enrichment at every level have been saved - monopoly institutions and receiving income due to proximity to power.

Ukraine failed to create a common infrastructure for all possibilities. That is why the nations decline, says Daron Acemoğlu.

After Euromaidan people were set to change this - and the desire of citizens was stronger than government’s one. I am from Slovenia, where we are tired of the lack of reforms. We were so happy to see many young people taking the problem into their own hands, building the state not becoming politicians.

Related: Poroshenko discussed reforms in Ukraine and counteracting Russian aggression with G7 ambassadors

Resuscitation reforms

An example of this approach is the "Emergency reform package" - a movement that actually performs the functions of "the ministry of reforms", which I spent in Slovenia in 2007-2008 or the Prime Minister of our country in 2010.

Ukrainian civil society promotes and monitors the progress of reform in the field, talking to deputies, ministers. An example of a democratic state are numerous online services developed by civil society. Some of them have already reached the level of similar services that create bureaucracy in the West, or even exceed them. These are online services that make the costs of the national budget transparent, or provide programs that allow citizens to decide how to use part of the municipal budget. The first fight against corruption, the second improve the level of urban communities control and ensure the correct flow of public money.

Related: America to allocate $54 mln to Ukraine for reforms

But more importantly, these online services create a sense of belonging to improve governance and trust in society. Thousands of those involved in the creation of these services, and hundreds of thousands who actively use them, form stable independent social network. These are people who would come to the streets again, if necessary, and defend Ukraine's independence and democracy.

In a sense, Ukraine is a large living laboratory for participatory democracy.

Moreover, it is an example of how to create the state in this way. This is something that should be after the revolution - people take power into their own hands.

The quiet revolution

I think the idea that people freely collaborate via the Internet can bring results, where the state bureaucracy is powerless. This is not the next revolution on Facebook or Twitter. It is not about clicks, retweets or likes.

This includes serious elements of state building - online democratic state building, from the bottom up.

If Ukraine becomes successful, it will be an example of what can be done for online democracy. With faith in the positive impact of technology on society and faith in Ukraine, I hope this would bring the success.

Related: Pro-European party wins elections in Bulgaria

It also puts Ukraine on the world map not as a country with some annexed territory and problematic neighbor, but as a hub for participatory democracy technologies and know-how reform that promotes civil society.

Moreover, this technology and other related social know-hows would help us to take the wind out of populists sails.


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