Three major differences between the German and Ukrainian policy world

By Alex Vasylkivskyi.

Con­tem­po­rary Ukraine is on the way of trans­for­ma­tion from a social­ist post-sovi­et repub­lic to a demo­c­ra­t­ic state. In that, it is one of many East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries that strug­gle to become an equal mem­ber of the Euro­pean fam­i­ly. Ukraine has already signed an asso­ci­a­tion agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union, a proof of its government’s intent on inte­gra­tion into the EU. The ‘Rev­o­lu­tion of Dig­ni­ty[1] and the war with Rus­sia fur­ther strength­ened the Euro­pean vec­tor of Ukraine’s for­eign pol­i­cy. Yet, the Dutch ref­er­en­dum on the EU’s asso­ci­a­tion with Ukraine shows that not every­one in the EU is hap­py with Ukraine’s advances. And despite major achieve­ments in terms of demo­c­ra­t­ic change, Ukrain­ian soci­ety still dis­plays sovi­et-like behav­iour at times. This slows down any devel­op­ment of demo­c­ra­t­ic reforms and influ­ences on Ukrain­ian pol­i­cy world.

So what are the chances for a fur­ther, clos­er asso­ci­a­tion of Ukraine with the EU? What are con­crete dif­fer­ences between Ukraine and cur­rent EU mem­ber states? A two month intern­ship at d|part in Berlin allowed me to observe what is going on in the world of Ger­man pol­i­cy and civ­il soci­ety from an insid­er per­spec­tive. Dur­ing this time I lived and worked in Berlin, Germany’s polit­i­cal hotspot. Com­pared to my expe­ri­ences of liv­ing and work­ing in Kiev, I observed sev­er­al dif­fer­ences of how things work in pol­i­tics in Ger­many ver­sus in Ukraine. These obser­va­tions help me to under­line three key dif­fer­ences between Ger­man and Ukrain­ian pol­i­cy mak­ing and civ­il soci­ety development.

Dif­fer­ence #1: The presence/absence of ideology

The first dif­fer­ence between the Ukrain­ian and the Ger­man pol­i­cy world is one of ide­ol­o­gy. Or rather: the pres­ence and absence of ide­ol­o­gy. Ukrain­ian polit­i­cal par­ties rarely have clear ide­o­log­i­cal prin­ci­ples. The pro­gramme of a polit­i­cal par­ty in Ukraine can eas­i­ly con­tain posi­tions of what would be called oppo­site polit­i­cal spec­trums in the rest of Europe. For instance, one of the most pop­u­lar Ukrain­ian polit­i­cal par­ties, «Home­land», sees itself as a social­ist par­ty. Despite this, the elec­tion man­i­festo of this par­ty com­bines typ­i­cal social­ist approach­es with tra­di­tion­al lib­er­al ele­ments. For exam­ple, «Home­land» pro­motes huge expan­sions of the state bud­get ded­i­cat­ed to the pro­vi­sion of wel­fare. At the same time, this polit­i­cal par­ty pro­motes low tax­es for small and medi­um-sized enter­pris­es, which is not typ­i­cal for social­ist parties.

In con­trast to Ukrain­ian polit­i­cal par­ties, Ger­man polit­i­cal par­ties have a rather defined ide­ol­o­gy and sys­tem of val­ues. Fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of ide­ol­o­gy usu­al­ly deter­mine the sug­ges­tions Ger­man polit­i­cal par­ties put for­ward on eco­nom­ic and social pol­i­cy. This how­ev­er is not com­mon for Ukrain­ian polit­i­cal par­ties.  Social­ism was the dom­i­nant polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy in Ukraine for 70 years, dur­ing its sovi­et peri­od of his­to­ry. Polit­i­cal plu­ral­ism In Ukraine became avail­able, so to say, only after inde­pen­dence in 1991. Dur­ing this short time of inde­pen­dence, polit­i­cal par­ties were not able to devel­op demo­c­ra­t­ic fun­da­men­tal val­ues togeth­er with appro­pri­ate eco­nom­ic and socio-polit­i­cal mod­els. This is one rea­son that explains why con­sis­tent ide­ol­o­gy is often miss­ing in the Ukrain­ian pol­i­cy world. This absence of ide­ol­o­gy is also a suit­able tool for pop­ulism. With­out defined ide­ol­o­gy, polit­i­cal par­ties can make flex­i­ble elec­tion man­i­festos, suit­able for var­i­ous cat­e­gories of voters.

Dif­fer­ence #2: A gov­ern­ment body ded­i­cat­ed to the polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion of citizens 

A sec­ond dif­fer­ence per­tains to the lev­el of polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion and, more gen­er­al­ly, the polit­i­cal cul­ture in soci­ety. From a Ukrain­ian point of view I observed that Ger­man soci­ety, in con­trast to Ukraine, demon­strates a high lev­el of civic polit­i­cal cul­ture [2]. That is a high lev­el of engage­ment with pol­i­tics, a valu­ing of active par­tic­i­pa­tion in local com­mu­ni­ties and civic asso­ci­a­tions, mem­ber­ship in polit­i­cal organ­i­sa­tions and tol­er­ance towards oppos­ing views. Sev­er­al fac­tors may con­tribute to this dif­fer­ence in polit­i­cal cul­ture between Ger­many and Ukraine, but, in my opin­ion, polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion is the most impor­tant fac­tor. In con­trast to Ukraine, Ger­many has a gov­ern­ment body ded­i­cat­ed to the polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion of its cit­i­zens. The Fed­er­al Agency on Civic Edu­ca­tion (Bun­deszen­trale für poli­tis­che Bil­dung), togeth­er with numer­ous non-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions, signs respon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing train­ing and knowl­edge on how pol­i­tics works. In Ukraine, in con­trast, non-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions are the only actors pro­vid­ing civic and polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion to cit­i­zens. The Eidos Cen­tre for Polit­i­cal Stud­ies and Analy­sis, Insti­tute of Polit­i­cal Edu­ca­tion, The Ukrain­ian Cen­ter for Inde­pen­dent Polit­i­cal Research, and Civ­il net­work OPORA are few organ­i­sa­tions from the list. How­ev­er, it is evi­dent that NGOs do not have the same capac­i­ty and not near­ly as much fund­ing to pro­vide polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion to all types of cit­i­zens as a ded­i­cat­ed gov­ern­ment body such as the Ger­man Fed­er­al Agency on Civic Edu­ca­tion has avail­able for this task. In con­trast to Ger­many, the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment does not have a spe­cialised insti­tu­tion for the pro­vi­sion of polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion. As a con­se­quence, com­par­a­tive sur­veys attest Ukraini­ans crit­i­cal­ly low lev­els of polit­i­cal inter­est. In the 2012 Euro­pean Social Sur­vey only about a third of Ukraini­ans said they were inter­est­ed in pol­i­tics com­pared to near­ly two thirds of Ger­mans. This can be viewed to cause spe­cif­ic prob­lems in the Ukrain­ian pol­i­cy world. For exam­ple, the lack of polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion cre­ates a gap in com­mu­ni­ca­tion between cit­i­zens and politi­cians that leads to low lev­el of cit­i­zens’ trust in the gov­ern­ment and pub­lic offi­cials. In the same sur­vey, more than 40 per­cent of Ukraini­ans said they have «no trust at all» in politi­cians, polit­i­cal par­ties, their country’s par­lia­ment and legal sys­tem. In con­trast, less than 10 per­cent of Ger­mans would say the same about their coun­try. Ukrain­ian cit­i­zens do not know how to use their rights to exer­cise pow­er. This par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics of devel­op­ment and prac­tice of polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion in Ukraine also cre­ates favourable con­di­tions for populism.

Let us zoom in on pop­ulism as a char­ac­ter­is­tic fea­ture of polit­i­cal cul­ture for a moment and look at the dif­fer­ences for this par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal phe­nom­e­non between Ukraine and Ger­many. Pop­ulism became a recur­ring wide­spread trend in the Euro­pean polit­i­cal world over last few years and Ukraine is not an excep­tion from this case. Usu­al­ly the most con­tro­ver­sial top­ics in soci­ety become a breed­ing ground for pop­ulism. Far right pop­ulism, the kind that pre­dom­i­nate­ly sur­faced in Ger­many recent­ly, uses con­ser­v­a­tive, anti-migra­tion, anti-glob­al­i­sa­tion or Euro-scep­tic slo­gans. Pop­ulism in Ukraine, in con­trast to Ger­many, has always exist­ed. It is also more left-ori­ent­ed, focus­ing on promis­ing social equi­ty. Prob­lems in the pro­vi­sion of polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion pre­pare the ground that allows Ukrain­ian pop­ulists to manip­u­late pub­lic opin­ion, mak­ing pop­ulism not just a one-off top­i­cal phe­nom­e­non, but a last­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic in Ukraine.

Dif­fer­ence #3: High­er lev­els of engage­ment in civ­il soci­ety and polit­i­cal associations

The third dif­fer­ence between doing pol­i­tics in Ukraine ver­sus Ger­many per­tains to the lev­el of civ­il and polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion. It is nec­es­sary to look at this dif­fer­ence at sev­er­al lev­els: engage­ment in local gov­ern­ment activ­i­ties, engage­ment in civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions and mem­ber­ship in polit­i­cal associations.

Com­pared to Ukraini­ans, I observed that Ger­mans are more active in deci­sion-mak­ing process­es on the local lev­el, pos­si­bly due to a feel­ing of respon­si­bil­i­ty. Dur­ing my stay in Berlin I was a wit­ness to the ref­er­en­dum on the future of Tegel air­port. This issue has mobilised lots of Berlin­ers, involv­ing them in a local deci­sion. I observed that local ref­er­en­dums in Ger­many are an impor­tant part of local direct democ­ra­cy, some­thing I had not wit­nessed to the same extent in Ukraine. Anoth­er inter­est­ing fact is about cit­i­zens’ engage­ment in par­tic­i­pa­to­ry bud­get­ing in Ger­many. Accord­ing to cit­i­zens in 452 munic­i­pal­i­ties all around Ger­many took part in par­tic­i­pa­to­ry bud­get­ing process­es in 2015. The major­i­ty of Ukraini­ans, in con­trast, remain pas­sive in local gov­ern­ment activ­i­ties. There are two pos­si­ble rea­sons for this phe­nom­e­non. The first one is our under­stand­ing of where deci­sions are tak­en that is a rel­ic of the sovi­et past, where all activ­i­ties on local lev­el were pre­rog­a­tive of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. The sec­ond rea­son is that many tools of local direct democ­ra­cy in Ukraine were estab­lished only after the ‘Rev­o­lu­tion of Dig­ni­ty’ in 2014. Par­tic­i­pa­to­ry bud­get­ing, for exam­ple, was estab­lished only in 2015 in Ukraine. Accord­ing to a report of the Inter­na­tion­al Renais­sance Foun­da­tion togeth­er with All-Ukrain­ian NGO «Сom­mit­tee of Vot­ers of Ukraine» only 45 cities in Ukraine were engaged to par­tic­i­pa­to­ry bud­get­ing in 2017. Sim­i­lar­ly, sign­ing of e‑petitions to local gov­ern­ment bod­ies became avail­able for Ukrain­ian cit­i­zens only after 2015. But by 2017, already more than 100 local com­mu­ni­ties in Ukraine had imple­ment­ed this form of direct democ­ra­cy. Unlike Ger­man cit­i­zens, Ukraini­ans are not used to instru­ments of local direct democ­ra­cy such as local ref­er­en­dums, because the Ukrain­ian leg­is­la­tion reg­u­lates only nation­al referendums.

Engage­ment in civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions is a great indi­ca­tor of how advanced a civ­il soci­ety is. It was inter­est­ing for me to observe the involve­ment of Ger­man cit­i­zens in var­i­ous civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions that pro­vide their ser­vices in dif­fer­ent fields from cul­ture to ener­gy effi­cien­cy. In Ukraine, civ­il soci­ety is still devel­op­ing since the col­lapse of the Sovi­et Union. Even though there was a strong boost to the devel­op­ment of civ­il soci­ety in Ukraine after the ‘Rev­o­lu­tion of Dig­ni­ty’ in 2014 and the event made Ukrain­ian cit­i­zens more active in numer­ous civic activ­i­ties, from vol­un­teer­ing to mem­ber­ship in civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions, its lev­els of engage­ment are still nowhere near what I observed in Ger­many. Accord­ing to the Ukrain­ian Gov­ern­men­tal Strat­e­gy on youth devel­op­ment adopt­ed in 2016 — only 2% of Ukrain­ian youth (between 14 and 35 years) are active in civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions. 6% of Ukrain­ian youth reg­u­lar­ly take part in civic activ­i­ties. Unit­ed Nations in Ukraine report «Ukrain­ian youth-2015» indi­cat­ed that in 2015 rough­ly 54% of Ukrain­ian youth were engaged in at least one civic action. Unlike Ukraine, Ger­many has much high­er rates of civic engage­ment, with around 40% of the pop­u­la­tion mem­bers of civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions and 14% of the pop­u­la­tion active­ly engaged to civ­il soci­ety activities.

Many Ger­man cit­i­zens are also active mem­bers of polit­i­cal asso­ci­a­tions. Mem­ber­ship in polit­i­cal organ­i­sa­tions pro­vides them with oppor­tu­ni­ties to influ­ence the pol­i­cy­mak­ing process. Ukraini­ans, in con­trast, asso­ciate polit­i­cal organ­i­sa­tions with a closed club. Instead of active­ly tak­ing part in deci­sion-mak­ing process­es, the major­i­ty of Ukrain­ian cit­i­zens rather del­e­gates this right to some­one, who they think is more pro­fi­cient in pol­i­cy­mak­ing. Low lev­els of involve­ment in polit­i­cal asso­ci­a­tions also has a neg­a­tive influ­ence on com­mu­ni­ca­tion between cit­i­zens and politi­cians. A few years ago, how­ev­er, the sit­u­a­tion with par­tic­i­pa­tion in polit­i­cal asso­ci­a­tions changed in Ukraine. Cit­i­zens start­ed not only to fol­low the pol­i­cy­mak­ing process, but also became more engaged in polit­i­cal par­ties and unions, try­ing to pro­vide their own input in deci­sion-mak­ing. Accord­ing to results of a social sur­vey con­duct­ed in 2016 by social group «Rat­ing» approx­i­mate­ly 2% of the Ukrain­ian pop­u­la­tion now have a mem­ber­ship in polit­i­cal par­ty. That is the same lev­el as Ger­many with 2% of Ger­mans engaged in polit­i­cal parties.


The pol­i­cy and civ­il soci­ety world in Ger­many dif­fers great­ly from that in Ukraine. The Ger­man way of doing pol­i­tics and organ­is­ing civ­il soci­ety is based on prin­ci­ples of gen­uine rule of law, democ­ra­cy, trans­paren­cy and per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty. Ukraine can learn a lot from the Ger­man expe­ri­ence in terms of polit­i­cal cul­ture, polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion, civic and polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion. As a young demo­c­ra­t­ic state Ukraine is still on the way of trans­for­ma­tion from post-sovi­et state to mod­ern Euro­pean coun­try. New demo­c­ra­t­ic approach­es to pol­i­tics, gov­ern­ing and civ­il soci­ety devel­op­ment often still clash with relics of sovi­et men­tal­i­ty. How­ev­er, recent­ly the Ukrain­ian soci­ety demon­strates a pos­i­tive dynam­ic towards demo­c­ra­t­ic trans­for­ma­tion. It is only that these kinds of changes need a long time.


[1] Yuriy Shve­da & Joung Ho Park (2016). Ukraine’s rev­o­lu­tion of dig­ni­ty: The dynam­ics of Euro­maid­an. Jour­nal of Eurasian Stud­ies, 7 (1), 85–91.

[2] Gabriel Almond & Sid­ney Ver­ba (1963). The civic cul­ture: Polit­i­cal atti­tudes and democ­ra­cy in five nations. Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press.

Alex Vasylkivskyi  was an intern at d|part in 2017. Alex is an assis­tant to the Ukrain­ian par­lia­men­tar­i­an Dmytro Lubi­nets, where one of his key respon­si­bil­i­ties is advis­ing on inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion, and he is active in deliv­er­ing human­i­tar­i­an aid to inter­nal refugees in Ukraine.


The views and opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are those of the author.

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