We will determine the future of our city
Young people in Kiev had the opportunity to slip into the role of local politicians and activists in a fictional city. The aim of the simulation was to promote participation and democracy.
A report on the Our Community simulation game held from 2 to 4 November 2015
By André Eichhofer
There is a heated debate going on in a small Ukrainian town. The local Green party wants to get rid of the chemical factory with all its toxic waste, but the Liberals disagree, arguing that the town needs to boost the local economy. While the mayor and town councillors debate the issue, environmental activists are demonstrating outside and reporters are asking uncomfortable questions.
This could be a typical example of local politics in action in Ukraine. However, the small town doesn't actually exist – the parties involved are fictional and the protests are being simulated. The truth is, many citizens feel that they have no real voice in their communities and are not in a position to influence what goes on. 'People would participate much more actively if they thought somebody was actually interested in their opinion', says Alexander Burka, trainer and Managing Director of the CIVIC institute. The Institute organises such political simulation games in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. Participants are invited to play the roles of mayors, activists, civil servants and other key players. The Our Community simulation game that we staged in Kiev is a good example. 'I played an environmental activist who put forward some very specific demands', says Natalia Subotovska who is studying economics at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev.
These simulation games were funded by the German Foreign Office and organised by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) and CIVIC in order to promote democratic participation in Eastern Europe. 'The aim is to help young people to become active in civil society, to act as bridge-builders and to position themselves in society in a professional manner', says Urban Beckmann, head of the Dialogue Department at ifa.
From fictional town to real local politics
The participants in Kiev are still arguing about the future of their fictional town. But some of them might soon become involved in real local politics, as Ukraine held local elections at the end of October. The second ballot was held in Kiev in the middle of November and was won by the mayor, Vitali Klitschko, with 66.5 percent of the vote. Many young activists also took part in the elections, including Vadim Vasylchuk of the Samopomich (Self-Help) party, who had previously been active in student self-administration at the Mohyla Academy in Kiev.
New faces willing to fight corruption
Many Ukrainians hope that some new faces will give fresh impetus to the country and take a systematic approach to problems such as corruption and nepotism. It is also hoped that the Association Agreement signed with the EU will help to modernise the country's administration and bureaucracy. Ukraine is also about to undertake another major reform: the decentralisation of government will give more powers and fiscal sovereignty to local authorities.
The huge challenges facing the country are a burden on government, citizens and civil society alike. Volunteers working for NGOs often take on the role of watchdogs in the Eastern Partnership countries. They monitor what is going on and endeavour to protect people from the often arbitrary actions of the state, but they have few opportunities to help shape society. However, in Ukraine things have changed since the Maidan Revolution. Now more and more people are getting involved in areas where the government should in fact be doing more, such as helping internally displaced persons.
The economic crisis and the conflict in eastern Ukraine are uniting the younger generation in particular. 'This is one of the reasons why there has been so much interest in the simulation games', says Burka. Burka was running a seminar in Kharkiv last winter when the country's airspace was closed on account of the war and the heating was switched off. In spite of the cold, the students persevered and continued to debate whether they should vote and whether they could bring about any kind of change. 'The participants were determined to discuss the problems affecting their country', says Burka.
'Every voice counts'
The simulation games mean that everyone has to give an opinion, even those who are reluctant to speak out. To help with this process, Burka hands out sheets of paper and every participant has to write down what they think. 'It's often the quiet ones who have the most interesting ideas', she says. 'Such as the teacher who initially thought her opinion wasn't important, but during the course of the seminar she quickly came to realise that her voice counted too.'