Maydan as a trap or: How striving for safety breeds even bigger danger

Feb 19, 2014

In our opinion, the main problem of the Ukrainian state and society is that we have become dangerous to ourselves. The danger emanates from our streets, squares, fields, and roads. Soon, staying in one’s home will feel dangerous as well. It is this enhanced sense of danger that brought big masses of Ukrainians to the streets and to Maydan. That is why no one would detect there either linguistic, confessional, or any other phobia – the danger is so real that it basically levels all other contradictions between people and unites them not for money or even for the sake of an idea, but for joint survival. For decades, Ukraine has been a safe haven for its citizens; at least the overwhelming majority of its residents born after the World War II saw it as such. After Stalin’s death, totalitarian reprisals belonged in the past. Arbitrary actions of repressive bodies were limited by the government’s monopoly on violence; therefore, criminals were penalized under the law, while dissidents were proclaimed either insane or criminal, leading the majority of the population to believe that if they didn’t violate a set of certain rules proudly called “socialist justice,” they would be completely safe. The communist party would not share its right to institutionalized violence with anyone – that is why it kept all the official repressive bodies under its rigid control.

After the USSR collapsed, all the government institutions of the new independent states, inherited from the Soviet era, underwent gradual degradation. In some places it was a quicker process, in others – a slower one, but it was unstoppable and inevitable, as the socialist slogans of equality under the law and the socialist umbrella were replaced by the slogans of freedom and enrichment, long banned in the USSR. 

After a short break in the early nineties, an overarching commercialization of everything started in Ukraine. Under Kuchma’s presidency, when the first oligarchs appeared in Ukraine, the fact that everything in the state, including high offices, even those in law-enforcement bodies, was for sale, became evident. Everything had to bring profits; this was the main goal of the leaders during that period, as it remains today. 

But nothing is free; Ukraine paid with the loss of citizens’ sense of safety, and the Ukrainian state lost, or, rather, sold its monopoly on violence. Ukrainian rulers ceded or sold some share of the prerogative to the lower echelons of power – district courts, militia departments, district prosecutors’ offices, customs, tax inspections etc. As a result, a rather thick and hermetic social stratum, considering itself above the law, rapidly came into being. This process can be compared to the formation of different estates in Europe in the early Middle Ages, when a knight had to pay only a small fine for killing a peasant or might avoid penalty altogether. If and when an official position of any significance becomes first and foremost a source of enrichment, the notion of law-abidance becomes nonsense. In actual life a dispute can be won by anyone who can pay more than the opposing side.

So, with police, prosecutor’s offices, and courts all becoming commercial structures, and with public offices turning into a source of considerable profits, the state has ceased performing its functions of protecting security, property, freedom, and life. This means that anyone with enough money can endanger freedom, private property, and even the lives of Ukrainian citizens without any punishment. Meanwhile, the process of decomposition affecting the law-enforcement system kept gaining momentum and led to the imprisonment of Tymoshenko and Lutsenko, the rejection of the 2004 Constitution, and the “tax maydan,” which, though it scared the authorities, still failed to stop the assault on the rights, freedom, and safety of the public at large.

Eventually, it became clear that more and more citizens found themselves helpless against the arbitrary nature of those in power, specifically, those in repressive bodies. Federal workers’ feeling of helplessness and dependence only increased with the impunity of the officials, who incessantly and openly embezzled state money. Ukrainian citizens are especially unprotected when a motor accident involving an official occurs. For example, a driver fatally hitting a pedestrian (especially, a woman or a child) on a crosswalk is charged with “neglect” and gets a suspended sentence if, for example, he happens to be the prosecutor’s son. The death of two physicians in an ambulance hit by a police vehicle at an intersection goes unpunished, to speak nothing of the handling of the rape and attempted murder of Oksana Makar, committed by policemen in Vradiivka (Mykolaiv oblast’). All of these incidents demonstrate the virtual impasse in which Ukrainian society finds itself.

A frivolous promise made by Yanukovych, on the one hand, and a no less frivolous attitude of EU leaders, on the other, plunged Ukrainian society into turmoil. For many years, Ukrainians have cherished a dream or a myth that one day they would live as people do in Europe. And for many people, Europe was not an abstract, though positive, unknown, but rather a specific territory where supremacy of law reigns, and where one can be safe unless one violates the law. To make this dream come true, Ukrainians kept a low profile, expecting that if Ukrainian authorities signed the association agreement with the EU, they would be forced to harmonize Ukrainian law with European legislation and Ukrainians’ lives would improve incrementally and become safer, without any outbursts or revolutions.

That is why, when, in late November 2013, Ukrainians were deprived of their dream of gradual improvement, they took to the streets for the first peaceful protest. The regime, however, concerned about its own safety, and specifically, about the legitimacy of 2015 elections, decided to preempt further developments by brutally stifling the protests, to prove to itself that it still controls the country and has no fear of its own people and to show Ukrainians that it would go to any lengths, even violence if necessary, for its own survival. In this, however, it overestimated its influence in the society, and failed to take into consideration the potential for violent civilian backlash.

That is how Maydan, as the center of opposition and symbol of some Ukrainians’ fearlessness, came into being. Further violence including: the beatings of Maydan activists, T.Chornovol; the kidnapping and torturing of I.Lutsenko, Yu.Verbitsky (resulting in his death) and D.Bulatov; the disappearance of dozens of people (even taking into account that some may have fled of their own accord);the murder of several demonstrators by fire arms; the beatings of medical workers and journalists, mass kidnappings from the hospitals, performed by militia with  subsequent incarceration of the kidnapped in isolation detention centers-these all drive current developments into an impasse, making not only Maydan activists all over Ukraine, but also the authorities, hostages of a dangerous situation with no simple solution. 

After it became known that the protests were being videotaped by the security service, all of the more active participants of the various maydans became aware that as soon as they disperse they might share Verbitsky’s fate; that is why they have to persevere until the very end; they cannot stop their protest until they are guaranteed real safety. And so far, the country has no force which could guarantee this safety.

Besides, the law-enforcers, especially those who have actively participated in the assaults on medical workers and journalists, have also been photographed and are well-known. They can hardly expect pardon if the opposition, and especially its radical wing, wins this battle.

Therefore, all the parties to the current conflict in Ukraine have become hostages to the system of paid, estate-based, or selective safety, which is dangerous for everybody.

Is there any way out of this situation? Definitely, and more than one. However, only a peaceful solution will satisfy all the parties. In order to realize it, everyone should be fully aware that any other scenario would entail heavy, long-term and, probably, irremediable losses for all the citizens of our country and, maybe, for the rest of the world as well. But it is up to the analysts behind closed doors to reflect upon the potential fate of Ukraine and the whole world in case of a full-scale armed conflict. Ukrainian society, meanwhile, should be aware of just one thing – no one will come out a winner.

Experts & Staff

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