Political change from below? Local politics in Ukraine

Project coordination: Prof. Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse

This project aims to systematically analyse the new political balance of power at the regional/local level in Ukraine. The project is based on three regional case studies (Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odesa). To date, these regions have in most cases been presented in research and in the Western media in an undifferentiated way as part of (south-)eastern Ukraine. In the wake of the political changes since 2014, such an understanding is not sustainable and yet the current political dynamics at the local level remain largely unknown. Such local dynamics are critical for the scientific analysis of a country in transformation which is characterised by regional diversity. The research provides a better  foundation for German and European policy through its assessment of local actors and the potential for reform. One fact that is frequently overlooked is that the municipal elections of 2015 resulted a far higher degree of political diversity. Reports of the elections may have emphasised a revitalisation of the opposition party, a successor to the Party of the Regions, but in many key regions, the gap between a conglomerate of reformist forces and the opposition parties was far narrower than was generally assumed. The contours of the fragmentation of the reformist block at national level are known, but there is a lack of knowledge about the patterns of cooperation or confrontation at local and regional level, even while there has been progress in reforms to local self-administration.

The project focuses on three issues. How important are party political differences at the regional/local level? How do the representatives of the different parties and interest groups negotiate/cooperate/compete with each other? Do these dynamics change with the political and economic incentives created by the reform of local self-administration? From these empirical questions, larger conceptual issues emerge regarding democratisation “from below” and possible tensions between national and regional/local politics. In methodological terms, this project aims to analyse the debates and voting behaviour at municipal meetings. This will be supplemented by interviews with regional/local politicians and journalists.