Promising Structural Change Begins to Show in Ukraine

The seemingly unchanging nature of Ukraine’s dysfunctional politics can easily mask the reality: Ukraine itself is changing. Three sets of data illustrate the point.

The Ukrainian Week recently published numbers on the changes in Ukraine’s ethnic composition brought about by general demographic trends and, above all, Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and occupation of one third of the Donbas. According to the magazine’s demographic extrapolations from the 2001 census, the number of ethnic Russians in Ukraine has fallen from 8.34 million to 4.58 million—a 45 percent decrease. Ethnic Russians used to constitute 21.1 percent of Ukraine’s total population; now, they constitute 11.8 percent. In contrast, the ethnic Ukrainian share of the total population has grown from 72.7 percent in 1989 to 83.8 percent today. 

In effect, if not in intent, Vladimir Putin’s aggression has transformed Ukraine into an ethnically Ukrainian state. Russia’s war against Ukraine has also imbued those Ukrainians with a sense of identity and patriotism that they failed to develop on their own. Both trends are likely to be mutually reinforcing in the years ahead—which bodes well for Ukraine’s nation and state building efforts as well as for its ability to sustain painful reforms. As many social scientists argue, culturally solidary communities are more prone to agree and to sacrifice than culturally fragmented communities.

Less optimistic is Ukraine’s overall demographic condition. As demographers Anatole Romaniuk and Oleksandr Gladun argue in Population and Development Review (June 2015): 

Ukraine experienced, during the first half of the twentieth century, a series of demographic catastrophes almost unparalleled in history. It withstood these largely thanks to high fertility. It now imposes a demographic crisis on itself. Even with fertility having recovered from its lowest point and emigration having slowed, it is difficult to foresee a future in which Ukraine’s population does not continue to decline—age structure alone will see to that—albeit at a more moderate pace…. There are three possible responses to ameliorate the trend: reduce the hemorrhage of young people leaving the country, increase fertility, or improve health, especially male health. 

Note that all three responses identified by Romaniuk and Gladun presuppose a prosperous economy, one that will offer young people opportunities, enable couples to envision a future for their children, and improve health facilities. And a prosperous economy, needless to say, presupposes painful economic reforms.

Kyiv’s reforms have been sluggish, but there may be more going on than meets the eye. That at least is what the indispensable website VoxUkraine suggests in a recent article measuring the degree of personnel change in Kyiv’s state bureaucracy. The results are heartening:

  • The Central Apparatus of the Central Executive Authorities has been downsized, but the change is minor. Average reduction for the period from the beginning of 2014 till mid 2015 is 5 percent.
  • At the ministry level, the picture is more nuanced and heterogeneous. Some authorities have cut the number of employees: Ministry of Economic Development and Trade—34 percent, Ministry of Social Policy—15 percent, State Property Fund—13 percent, Anti-Monopoly Committee, Ministry of Infrastructure, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agrarian Policy—11 percent, Ministry of Ecology—8 percent, Ministry of Regional Development and Trade—3 percent, Ministry of Culture—2 percent.
  • Others have increased the number of employees of their central offices from the beginning of 2014 till mid 2015: e.g. NBU [National Bank of Ukraine] increased for 3 percent, Ministry of Justice for 12 percent, Prosecutor General Office for 11 percent, and Ministry of Youth and Sports for 15 percent.
  • Some Authorities have substantively reduced their regional units. The leaders are law enforcement authorities and the central bank. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has cut 14 percent of local people, the Ministry of Justice and Prosecutor General Offices reduced their sizes for 22 percent, the central bank—21 percent.
  • The renewal rate among the top levels of the government (ministers, deputies, heads of departments) is about 80 percent, benchmarked to the beginning of 2014. The management of the State Fiscal Service and the Prosecutor General Office are renewed at 91 percent.
  • The renewal rate drops dramatically for lower levels of the hierarchy in the government.

In other words, the bureaucracy is getting streamlined, though not evenly, and outsiders are increasingly getting positions of authority. The current Poroshenko-Yatseniuk government may be indifferent to rooting out corruption and introducing radical reform, but the proverbial facts on the ground may be making systemic change inevitable.

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