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09.04.2010 | Oleksandr Stepanenko

The Land of Our Discontent

   

From time immemorial land was more than just provider of food for Halychan peasants, but something of much deeper significance. The measure of success in life and social standing was also linked to ownership of land and skills in working on it.   Most of those who left Ukraine in search of work at the beginning of the twentieth century aimed to earn enough to return and buy land.

The author suggests that one of the reasons why Ukrainian peasants were antagonistic towards the Polish regime between the Wars was discrimination in apportioning land estates and the land reforms of the 1920s and 1930s. He believes that the despair over Soviet collectivization and NKVD repressions also led to support for the Ukrainian Resistance Army [UPA].

The author regrets that there is no evidence to suggest that the lessons of the past have been learned, quite the contrary.  He gives more detail of a case, already reported here, involving flagrant robbery of a village community by public officials.  The case came to light when his Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU] Advice Centre held an outreach consultation session in the village of Mali Chornokintsi in the Ternopil oblast.

The villagers gathered in the premises of the Village Council were stunned by news of two official instructions which transferred 62.5 hectares of agricultural land from the reserve fund on the territory under the Council’s jurisdiction into the private ownership of 34 unknown individuals. Not one of these 34 people lives even in the broader area, yet each is to receive free of charge property rights over 1.7 to 2 hectares of fertile land!

It transpires that the Head of the Chorkiv Rajon Administration Taras Kapusta during recent months has signed two instructions “on allocating land plots as the property of citizens to carry out personal farming activities beyond the boundaries of an inhabited point on the territory of the Mali Chornokintsi Village Council”. The land in question had always belonged to farmers. In 1939 it was confiscated for use as a collective farm and after this was dissolved and shares allocated, the land was included in the reserve fund.

The legal grounds for privatizing the land can, the rajon officials claim, be found in Item 12 of the Transitional Provisions of the Land Code. According to this Item, the local authorities have power with regard to delineating State-owned or municipal property to distribute land outside inhabited areas.

Nobody of course discussed or agreed this bold privatization with the village community and bodies of local self-government. They were simply presented with a fait accompli.

The Village Head of Mali Chornokintsi Olha Yanytska believes that the rajon authorities have violated the rights of the territorial community and the Mali Chornokintsi Village Council, as set out in Articles 13 and 140 of the Constitution, Article 10 of the Land Code of Ukraine and Article 35 of the Law on Local State Administrations. The Instructions of the Chorkiv Rajon Administration have not been registered with the raion’s Department of Justice although they unquestionably and quite directly touch on the rights and interests of the village residents.

She considers that the Chorkiv Rajon Administration has also ignored the Presidential Decree from 8 August 1995 which stipulates the principles for the use of land from the reserve fund. This states that the reserve fund is used to pass over as private property or to allow to use land plots mainly to citizens involved in the social sphere in the village, as well as other people who are taken on as members of an agricultural enterprise or who settle in the area permanently.

As far as is known none of those for whom the land has been earmarked have worked in the social sphere in the village, nor have they moved there to live.

The handing of this land into private property of reserve fund land at the decision of the Raion Administration is entirely unlawful since it meets none of the legal grounds set out in Article 81 of the Land Code.

What perhaps most outrages the villagers is that none of them, not even those who worked for 30 or 40 years on the collective farm received a land plot of 2 hectares. The average land share allocated in Mali Chornokintsi was a mere 0.67 hectares.  People are asking what those unidentified people have done for the State or village to deserve from Mr Kapusta & Co. such a generous present. What will the village community, the local budget, or the State receive as a result of the privatization of 62 hectares of chornozem [fertile soil]?  And if neither the village, nor the State made a profit over this deal, then who has become richer on it?

The villagers are not overly hopeful that the law enforcement agencies will help. A Deputy from the Chortkiv Raion Council has made a deputy request for information on behalf of the villagers. This resulted in the Council’s unanimous decision to approach the Prosecutor and ask for a check to be carried out, and if violations are uncovered, to register a protest over the Rajon Administration’s instructions. Unfortunately, in the meantime the land continues to be appropriated.

The villagers gave a good deal of testimony regarding machinations with shares and the privatization of land in many other villages of the rajon. Some of the land disputes between villagers and the Rajon Administration are being examined at the level of the Supreme Administrative Court.

This is while the Raion Administration has virtually not begun the demarcation process of municipal or State-owned land, drawing up urban construction documentation, plans for environmental networks, water reserves, etc. In the six years that the Law on Demarcation of State and municipal land has been in effect, nothing has been done by State Administrations to promote this process, prepare documentation, etc.

It is extraordinary that where the land sites beyond inhabited areas are earmarked for public or State needs, for example, to create natural parks, the State Administrations show no activity. And their own sabotage of such projects is masked by vague words about the adverse opinion of the local communities.

It would seem that the rajon officials see their powers in the area of land policy only as concerning privatization according to questionable deals. Obviously not bypassing themselves or their close ones.

Is it not time to stop this lawlessness?

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