Image Source: United States Institute of Peace
May 2019
REGION: Europe and Eurasia

In USIP’s Special Report “Ukrainian Activism for Accountability and Transparency: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back,” author Olena Tregub details civil society’s evolved role in Ukrainian anti-corruption reforms since the Euromaidan protests of 2013-2014. The report offers analysis of the successes and failures of civil society to mobilize citizens and to improve government accountability and transparency in Ukraine.

The Euromaidan cemented civil society’s role in Ukrainian politics. After thousands successfully marched to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from office, civil society remained active. Civil society actors “increasingly participate in the formulation and implementation of government,” while volunteerism related to the Russian military conflict plays an unprecedented role in Ukrainian life.

Due to civil society’s growth and vigilance, public sector transparency has increased, reducing the opportunity for corruption to occur. Since the Euromaidan, civil society has transitioned from protest agendas to legislative action and influence. In the same time period, a coalition of 82 local NGOs contributed to the creation of over 100 laws targeting transparency. In 2017, Ukraine ranked 31 of 94 countries on the Global Open Data Index, indicating activists’ success in developing government openness.

However, the increased transparency has done little to stymie the high level of corruption in Ukraine. The report states that accountability measures have largely failed and current efforts to create independent bodies to prosecute corrupt individuals are insufficient. Annually, billions of dollars are lost to corruption while the momentum of the anti-corruption reform movement is slowing. According to the report, the main reasons for continued corruption are:

  • Basic attitudes in high-level government have not changed as a result of entrenched monetary and political interests. While there is increased transparency, public officials and activists alike fail to address accountability in certain government offices. For example, the report points out that Ukraine’s tax and customs administration continues to lose money to corruption each year. The report also notes that officials from the presidency directly interfere in the investigation and prosecution of corruption, while cases are blocked by other senior officials.
  • Some reformers have allegedly engaged in corruption, discrediting the movement. For example, according to the report, the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office, a post-Euromaidan institution created to punish and deter corrupt acts, obstructed corruption cases against government officials. The body as a whole is now under investigation for corruption.
  • There is difficulty organizing Ukrainians at the grassroots level to push for anti-corruption reform. The majority of Ukrainian citizens believe that the top national priority is countering Russian control of Ukraine’s eastern regions; much civil society activity and volunteer efforts are focused there.
  • Activists are targeted for their involvement in the anti-corruption reform movement, dissuading grassroots participation. One reformer was recently murdered in an acid attack.

The report concludes with recommendations for foreign governments and donors to help combat corruption in Ukraine. For example, the report recommends that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Union, the United States, and other parties withhold financial support for the Ukrainian government if it does not meet anti-corruption goals. Furthermore, the report calls for these foreign governments, donors, and organizations to encourage and support activists, preventing attacks and keeping momentum in the movement.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Ukrainian Activism for Accountability and Transparency: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

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