Did Lviv Just Declare Independence?

On February 19th what happened in Lviv was passed under the radar by most news outlets and completely misinterpreted by others. Lviv declared its independence…or, well, it sort of did, but not really…in any sense of the true meaning of the word. The IBTimes sensationally and erroneously described Lviv as declaring its independence, which was then reciprocated by the Russian KommersantTSN was quick to use similar language. Mark MacKinnon of the Globe&Mail described the event as declaring its autonomy from Yanukovych’s government – finally some accuracy.

Here is a full translation of the decree (emphasis ours):

In determining this, we need to be organized, responsible and united, because only in this way will we protect your family, your country, your people.

The will of the community of Lviv, Lviv Oblast Executive Committee Board – National Council assumes full responsibility for the fate of the land and people.

The Executive Committee of the Lviv Regional Council – National Rada headed by the Chairman, Chief of Staff of national resistance of Lviv Peter Kolodiy included representatives of deputies, Self Defense Maidan other unions activists, public figures and well-known scientists.

The main task of the Executive Committee of the Lviv Regional Council – National Rada is to maintain life support and order in the region, facilitating in sending activists to Kyiv, the Kyiv Maidan everything you need.

Legitimate authorities in Lviv are popularly elected local councils and their created executive committees.

Most of the regional police station in Lviv has announced a shift in the direction of the Ukrainian people and are subordinate to the executive committee of the Lviv regional council – the National Rada.

The Executive Committee of the Lviv Regional Council – National Rada subjugates all executive agencies located in the region and calls on all public servants and citizens calling execute decisions and orders signed by the President of the National Rada, Petro Kolodiy.

The first thing of note would be the word narod, which in Ukrainian means “people,” but in the sense of a nation group (this gets sticky with political implications). We see the word used in the Ukrainian National Republic, for example. (the wikipedia page linked is incorrectly titled, as I have consulted the 1948 Press Service of the Foreign Representation of the Supreme Ukrainian Liberation Council – and the state was called the National Republic in official documentation, for example). I digress. The point in their naming is not that it is a new nation-state, but rather its jurisdiction extends to and for all Ukrainians. The will of the council (Rada) will act as sovereign to all persons within its territory, ensuring the security and wellbeing of all. They can do this because the regional police and Security Service have likewise declared their allegiance to the council.

The declaration also makes note that the authorities will be those locally elected, thus cutting off the authority of the now illegitimate Yanukovych regime. What’s notable, however, is that all executive agencies and public servants now fall under their purview. It’s also notable that no mention of this being a temporary or provisional measure was made.

Now, it should be noted that other National or People’s Radas have sprouted up in western Ukraine during the political conflict, but what makes this case special is that rather than just declaring its existence, it has declared its authority as legitimate. The first occupation of the Lviv Regional State Administration took place in January and the stated goal of the occupation(s) was to ‘take control of all state organs‘. On February 13, the General Prosecutor’s office had courts declare this very council illegal and illegitimate. This time around, however, there is no judicial oversight, the security apparatus in the region has recognized its authority, and more importantly, there is no government currently in Kyiv to supersede it or impose an alternative. It exists because it has no other option this time.

Lviv declaring regional autonomy is an under the radar spectacle. In Crimea there is serious debate on separatism, and as of today, the SBU is criminally investigating the Governor of Kharkiv Oblast and Mayor of Kharkiv for illegally discussing separatism – in news sources they have only mentioned instituting federalism; that is, increasing regional autonomy just as Lviv had days prior.

How long this will last is anyone’s guess. The mayor has said it is a temporary measure, presumably until presidential elections are finalized. It’s clear at this point that Lviv will not tolerate a Yanukovych appointed governor, and even if a new regime is brought in, it’s not certain that a Svoboda backed Rada would accept the authority of just any appointee from the Fatherland or UDAR camp. And even if their guard remains up, it’s unlikely the new judiciary will allow the de facto National Council to operate without some sort of constitutional reform. While Lviv did not declare independence from Ukraine in any sense of the word, it certainly wants to act more independently, at least for the time being. But let’s call a spade a spade.