Ukrainians Have Been Tricked to Oppose Land Reform, Says Ukrainian President
11 November, 2019
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the controversy around the land reform in a Facebook video published on November 11. Screenshot from Facebook / Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Ukrainians have been lied to, says Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a new video posted to his social media page on Facebook. And Zelenskyy says this lie has been “insinuated into the minds of citizens.”

He’s referring to land reform, a political millstone that has been hanging around the neck of Ukrainian politics nearly since independence. For nearly 20 years, a moratorium on land sales has been in place, preventing Ukrainians from buying or selling agricultural land – at least legally. But successive administrations have attempted to repeal the moratorium, and conduct full-scale reform, though none have been successful.

This lack of success can be attributed to the usual factors that stymie reform in Ukraine – corruption, an entrenched Soviet-inherited bureaucracy, and a lack of political will. But land reform in particular has been a touchy topic for Ukrainian citizens themselves, who, according to a poll conducted by sociological survey group “Rating”, oppose opening up the land market by 73% – coincidentally, the same margin by which Zelenskyy had won the presidency.

However, Zelenskyy claims that this opposition isn’t natural, but rather the result of a campaign by entrenched interests. “This question [of land reform] has been manipulated for the past 20 years. Old politicians have frightened ordinary people and have planted a series of myths in their heads,” states the president, adding that this land sale moratorium has placed Ukrainian citizens in the company of citizens from “North Korea, Tajikistan, Venezuela, Cuba, and [The Democratic Republic of] Congo.”

The government’s initial deadline for land reform, set by Zelenskyy himself, is to have a working law by December 4. And international organizations like the World Bank have come out in full support of the government’s efforts, saying in a statement published on Facebook that “Land reform is needed for Ukrainian farmers to buy and sell agricultural land, access credit, invest and diversify, as well as land owners to get proper return for their most valuable asset.”

READ MORE: Land Reform with Deputy Minister for Economy and Trade: The Takeaways

Land reform, in addition to being unpopular with nearly two-thirds of Ukrainians, has also sparked protests across Ukraine. The protests, while small, have involved small landholders and, according to an Interfax-Ukraine correspondent, elements of the right-wing National Corps political organization.

But at least one major concern, according to the polls, has been addressed by the president. In his Facebook video, he points out that the bill, which originally included a provision allowing foreign individuals and companies to purchase land – cited by 41% of poll respondents as a risk of land reform – will be amended to allow only Ukrainian citizens and companies with Ukrainian founders to freely buy and sell land.

This may not be enough to please either side, however, as international investors see Ukraine’s potential land market as a big draw. To resolve this, the president stated that the question of whether to allow foreign companies to purchase Ukrainian agricultural land may be left up to an all-Ukrainian referendum. But whether or not Zelenskyy will be able to implement such an unpopular reform, especially in the timeframes promised, remains to be seen.

/By Romeo Kokriatski