“I don’t believe that something better can happen in next 10 years,” says my 21-year old fellow traveler, frowning, in the bus on the way to Poland. “We’ve got bumpy roads, bad authorities, corruption.”
This guy is from Zhytomyr oblast. He is heading to Wroclaw to find a job. He still doesn’t know what kind: he is planning to do it on site. He’s going to stay with a girl he has recently met.
Surveys show that young people are mostly apolitical, don’t go to elections and tend to complain much more than get involved with making actual changes. As Yevhen Hlibovytskyi, who specializes in the study of values, would say, lack of trust in the authorities, unwillingness to participate in public life are in our veins, given that for generations, Ukrainians had been governed by those who carried evil. How can you cooperate with evil? It should be avoided, and its rules should be ignored. And corruption is a way to survive in a society with a low level of trust and security.
“And have you tried to do something, for example, write a suggestion to the city council or to the government contact center to draw their attention to a bumpy road?
“No, I haven’t. I don’t believe it will change anything.”
“You do understand that if each and every one thinks the same and doesn’t report anything as you do, nothing will happen?”
“Well… That makes sense.”
You would think that the examples of the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity should have shown Ukrainians that we have nerve; we are able to create a better future joining our forces. However, here is when it comes to “wanting it all and right this minute.” After the victory of the revolution, corruption didn’t disappear within half a year – shame! In fact, this hope for rapid results and the idea that if there is no result, it means there won’t be one is precisely one of the reasons why citizens don’t want to be active.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of examples when, by being persistent and not retreating midway, citizens have achieved actual results.
In Lviv, people renovated a school using a participatory budget; in Zakarpattia oblast, locals acquired an ambulance using their own funds; locals of Poltava renovated their yards using their own funds, and people in Ivano-Frankivsk refurbished an antique front door.
In our organization, during the last year and a half, we have been actively cooperating with cities, and in at least 16 out of 100, we can observe real desire to change for the better. We also see that cities aspire for constructive cooperation with the society. Under “constructive,” we mean doing real work instead of going to meetings to chat about fails and how bad everything is. Submit proposals to the budget, discuss the reports of deputies, participate in public hearings concerning the budget. Or, just take a photo of a pothole next to your house and send it through all available channels to have it fixed.
Citizens’ activity is one of the many components of the recipe to reduce corruption, especially on the local level. Why on the local level? Just because it is easier to make changes there; furthermore, there is decentralization, which brings all local authorities closer to people. It shows in indexes that local authorities are more trusted than the central authorities.
Recently I have been to Sviatohirsk, and a local woman showed me the way to the hotel.
“I’m on my way from the city council, where deputies presented their reports,” she said. “Our town can’t create a United Territorial Community, ‘cause it is subordinated to Sloviansk, and a draft bill about becoming independent has already been in the Verkhovna Rada for 2 years. We’ve been thinking how to move forward this situation.”
“And are there many people as active as you in Sviatohirsk?”
“There are some… Who will make the city better if we don’t, am I right?”
“Do you believe it is possible?”
“If we make effort, everything’s possible!”
That woman had such confidence and energy that I wanted to pass it to my fellow traveler on the bus somehow. It wasn’t possible – at least because I’d met him a whole month before that. But I would really want other people not to lose hope and to act within their capabilities. For instance, I’ve already written several complaints about the bumpy road that connects my native town Khotiv (Kyiv-Sviatoshynskyi district of Kyiv oblast) with Novosilky. As an answer to the first one, I got a copy of a request of the rural council to the oblast council with a request to finance the renovation. In their answer to the second one, they spoke about a different road. I don’t give up and I have an intention to convince my neighbors to join me.
“I’ve obtained a Polish visa because if you have it, you can earn about 2 zloty per hour more than with a regular biometric passport,” said the bus traveler back then. Everything is calculated, I thought. If people’s effort and energy were directed at making changes in their hometowns, so that not 5 % but 15 % of people were doing it – we would have super results!