In January 2021, the All-Ukrainian Initiative “Active Community” held, for the second time, a series of workshops aimed at deepening the participants’ knowledge on the functioning of state authorities and of members’ of Parliament work and helping them learn more about the functions of the Verkhovna Rada’s committees and how citizens can make an impact on the parliamentary activities.

As a result, 42 participants, out of 70 initially enrolled in the course, have been certified, after having successfully attended all 4 meetings and provided feedback. Among them: 25 are students; 3 – scholars/teachers; 6 – representatives of the civic sector; 1 – lawyer; 3 – representatives of political parties; 2 – members of local councils; 2 – legal counsels.

Oleksandra Hlizhynska, the Executive Director of the Institute “Respublica” and a co-founder of the All-Ukrainian Initiative “Active Community”, noted that “the training was aimed at helping the public interact with the authorities in an effective way”.

“The All-Ukrainian Initiative “Active Community” began its activities after the Revolution of Dignity. Our main goal is to activate citizens and engage communities in the decision-making process. As of today, our initiative works in 70 communities of Ukraine and we have our representatives in 30 localities across Ukraine. We work in 3 stages: the first stage is when we help citizens unite and solve the issues of concern. The second stage encompasses that we help people join initiatives related to local policy, in particular, this implies the development of targeted programs, draft decisions, strategies for cities and communities. The third stage is when we engage citizens in discussing reforms by joining the Public Consultations held by the Institute “Respublica” with ministries, the Verkhovna Rada and other bodies. It is important for citizens to understand what scope of responsibility a particular authority has, what its functions are, how it cooperates with other state bodies and what procedures for submitting proposals it has. Such understanding is exactly the target of the training we offer,” Oleksandra Hlizhynska explains.

Oleksandr Solontay, a policy expert of the Institute of Political Education, explained the structure of the state authorities and the interaction of the branches of power.

“When we talk about the Verkhovna Rada and its relations with all other authorities, we face a discrepancy between how it is stipulated in official documents and how it really is. From the legal perspective, the Verkhovna Rada should be the number one body in Ukraine. But, in fact, as regards the decision-making process, this body is ranked the second. In other countries, if a particular country is a presidential republic, it is so in fact. Similarly, if a country’s main body is the Parliament, one cannot say that decisions are mostly made outside the Parliament. This is the difference between Ukraine and other countries. On paper, we are a parliamentary-presidential state and the main body is the Verkhovna Rada, but, in fact, the parliament in Ukraine is not always the main one,” Oleksandr Solontay noted.

Natalia Malynovska, a PhD in Political Sciences and a policy expert of the Institute “Respublica” and the All-Ukrainian Initiative “Active Community”, delivered a report on the activities of the Verkhovna Rada.

“There is an interesting paradox in Ukraine: the parties, whose program principles and other aspects of work are opposite, find themselves in the opposition together. They do not state their unity with the opposition, they just declare that they stand in opposition by themselves. The Ukrainian legislation and practice, given that there is no clear division into opposition and coalition, do not provide clear boundaries for classifying a particular party. This implies that a party can be in opposition to the government, but, at the same time, it can periodically vote along with the pro-government party in support of certain bills,” Natalia Malynovska emphasises.

Viktor Taran, a political scientist and the founder of “Eidos” Center, stressed that the current convocation of the Verkhovna Rada is rather a heterogeneous system.

“There are different groups at the Parliament: factions, parliamentary groups and interest groups. In fact, all the associations are aimed at getting more opportunities to promote a certain legislative initiative, to protect the rights and interests of their voters,” the expert noted.

Viktoriia Podhorna, a member of Parliament (MP) of Ukraine, explained the differences between our image of the work at the Verkhovna Rada and the reality:

  • An MP is independent in decision-making. Voting discipline is a normal thing for any Parliament, but, at the Servant of the People Party, for example, it is excessively strict. There is no such level of internal political debate in the parliamentary majority of the Verkhovna Rada, as it is typical for parliaments of European countries. This means that there is a strictly vertical position, and attention is scarcely paid to opinions of individual MPs.
  • The functioning of the Verkhovna Rada is perfectly planned. But there are no arbitration institutions at our Parliament, thus if a conflict arises this can lead to the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada and, consequently, to political instability.
  • A Parliament is the nation-wide level of policy where strategies are created. However, according to Viktoriia Podhorna, the Verkhovna Rada takes many unnecessary steps, thus creating a chaotic environment at the Parliament. MPs do not have time to elaborate on draft bills when the legislative process is too fast and extensive. Thus, numerous new laws are not always good.
  • A Parliament represents the interests of citizens. However, Ukrainian political parties are not trusted enough by Ukrainians so as to be representative.
  • At a Parliament, politics is constructed as a competition of ideas, solutions and alternative approaches. Based on her own experience, Viktoriia Podhorna notes that “Parliament is a mix, a sum of individual opinions, which often fail to be based on serious research or elaboration on a problem”.

The participants of the School specified as the most valuable for them the following:

– availability of information and special attention to everyone;

– openness of the experts and the MP;

– interaction; the opportunity to pose questions and get qualified answers;

– interesting presentation of material;

– real cases from experts-practitioners;

– interesting, accessible communication format:

For example, Larysa Kholmohorova from the city of Uzhhorod noted that the most valuable thing was to hear the person who is involved in drafting bills and knows the law-making process from the inside.

“I learnt a lot of new things about the activities of the Verkhovna Rada. There is no such information on the Internet. I also liked that one could ask any question during the training process, and the experts and the MP answered it head-on. It was also important to hear the experience of people working at Parliament for many years,” the participant recounts.

According to Veronika Prykhodko from the city of Chernihiv, “the speakers spoke honestly about the processes taking place at the Verkhovna Rada”.

“Public consultations. How the public can effectively influence and interact with MPs. Foreign experience of parliamentary models, internal work organization,” the participant of the School shares her vision of the most valuable experience.

Tetiana Poliukhovych from the city of Bohorodchany emphasized that “this information about the Verkhovna Rada was completely new to me. For me, the Parliament used to be a grey-dark mass with a bunch of constantly arguing people. The mere fact that there is a system of lean processes how it works or should work is already nonsense”.

For reference. The School was held by the All-Ukrainian Initiative “Active Community” of the Institute “Respublica” within the framework of USAID RADA Program implemented by the East Europe Foundation.

Note. The mission of the “Active Community” is to achieve prosperity through the democratic development of Ukrainian communities. The goal for 2025 is to activate and involve at least 1% of citizens in decision-making and promotion of reforms in Ukraine on a systemic basis for the well-being of Ukrainian communities. The initiative was created through the activities of the Institute “Respublica”. We are working to increase the civil activity of citizens.

Authored by Tetiana Kavunenko, the head of the press service of the Institute “Respublica” and the All-Ukrainian Initiative “Active Community”