I have an exciting new idea, and it’s to move the capital of Ukraine to Lviv for the period of the war. Before you think, “that’s crazy!”, remember that the Ukrainians were planning on this in the event that the original Russian assault on Kyiv in early 2022 was successful. Recall also that Lviv has been the capital of a Ukrainian state once before, the West Ukrainian People’s Republic, one of the two Ukrainian nations that emerged after the treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1917 that ended the war between the Kaiser and Lenin’s Russia, the Russian Imperial Tsar having been overthrown, and before Ukraine was effectively partitioned between the Soviet Union and the Second Polish Republic by the Peace Treaty of Versailles in 1919. So Lviv has the potential to be a capital city, particularly on an interim basis, because it is large and vibrant and it is undoubtedly the cultural capital of contemporary Ukraine.
Nor has Kyiv always been the capital of Ukraine. In the twentieth century’s inter-war period Stalin made Kharkiv the capital of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine, because he wanted Ukraine’s capital to be closer to Russia so that it could be dominated and suppressed. In other words, Stalin’s logic was that the closer Ukraine’s capital is to Russia, the easier it is to exercise Russian control over Ukraine; reversing that logic, the further away Ukraine’s capital is from Russia, and the closer it is to the rest of Europe, the further out of the Russian orbit will Ukraine inevitably fall.
Consider next the question of the legitimacy of Kyiv’s political architecture. The Presidential and other elections in 2019 in Ukraine were neither free nor fair. The story - and every Ukrainian knows it - is that a notoriously rich, dirty and corrupt Ukrainian Oligarch, Igor Kolomoisky, who now languishes in a Kyiv prison on fraud and money laundering charges, his extradition being sought by the United States - bought those elections. What he did was to pay to create a national television show called “Servant of the People” in which a comedian became President of Ukraine. The actor he chose to play the comedian who became President was a comedian by the name of one Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Then Mr Kolomoisky created a previously non-existent political party called “Servant of the People Party”, that miraculously won the 2019 Ukrainian elections hands down and Mr Zelenskiy, having been installed by Mr Kolomoisky as the titular head of this brand new political party, became elected President despite having had no experience whatsoever in politics other than in playing the President in a TV show.
Mr Kolomoisky bought the 2019 elections, of course. He engaged in “carousel voting”: the tactic of buying individual votes in key constituencies by pre-marking ballot papers and giving them to voters in exchange for cash payments. So Ukraine may be independent and free, but she is not a democracy. Nor will she be one any time soon: the forthcoming constitutionally scheduled elections are due to be annulled or postponed by reason of martial law, something which Russia will no doubt use as a substantial propaganda tool because she has been holding “elections” (fixed ones, of course) in the occupied Ukrainian territories.
Kyiv politics is entirely discredited, her Rada (the parliament) full of members of the “Servant of the People Party” who have no legitimate democratic mandate because they were installed pursuant to the writ of Ukraine’s most notorious and corrupt Oligarch whose money to buy the elections and create this fictitious political party had its origins in his financial stranglehold over the private banking sector in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. That is not to say that all the members of the Rada are bad people; far from it. Mr Zelenskiy, although not democratically elected in any substantive sense of the word, has nonetheless proven a capable and competent wartime President, determined to root out corruption and pro-Russian influences across the Ukrainian government including using legal process to devour his former mentor Mr Kolomoisky. Nevertheless until this war is over and Ukraine has proper free and fair elections at the end of the war she cannot be considered as a democracy.
Lviv has a reputation for upholding European standards of government and culture and the city’s and the region’s institutions are far less corrupt and far more understanding of the European Union standards of government than the rest of the country. Lviv is safer than Kyiv in the sense that it is less proximate to the front line and easier for foreign statesmen and other dignitaries to visit. The city may actually have a larger population now than Kyiv; nobody really knows because so many people have fled Kyiv and so many have arrived in Lviv and nobody has really been counting. The artistic, intellectual and political ideas evident in contemporary wartime Ukraine have as their focus Lviv rather than Kyiv. All of these are practical reasons why Lviv might more appropriately serve as a capital, or as a co-capital, of Ukraine than Kyiv, at least for the period of the war.
At the war’s conclusion, there might be a debate and even a plebiscite about where Ukraine’s capital ought to be, depending upon the final borders with the Russian aggressors: whatever they turn out to be. There might even be a case for split capitals: Kyiv, Lviv and Kharkiv each holding different institutions of government and the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government being divided between different major cities, as is the case in a number of large countries including Germany and a number of countries divided by conflict such as Bosnia and Herzegovina. A substantial degree of creative thinking about the political future of Ukraine not just during the war but after it might be important to fashion free Ukraine as a functional and genuinely democratic twenty-first century European nation state. Let the debate begin now.
This diary entry is also being published as a leader article in the Lviv Herald, www.lvivherald.com.