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24 July, 2013

Police with the Regime

According to various estimates conducted by international organizations, Ukraine ranks from second to fourth in the number of police officers in the country per person. Usually, we are ranked next to Russia, Belarus and Brunei… This news brings to mind two questions: 1) Are we really that rich? 2) Are we really so protected?

The prerequisite to a national law enforcement crisis – this is probably the best name for the almost synchronous protests in Vradiyivka, Nizhyn, Fastiv, Bucha and Kyiv district Sviatoshyn – did not start today. Law enforcement authorities have long been ill, but the Yanukovych team quickly made the illness pathological. 

The “revolution-born” Soviet militia was created to protect the regime, not the citizens. Three or four decades ago, people were tortured at police stations, too – not raped perhaps, but beaten hard for confessions. However, the Soviet system contained a number of restraints on them: the parallel party hierarchy gave victims a chance to reach someone at the top, complain about bribes and abuse, and hope that the administration would respond. This trained the police to keep themselves under control. They, too, knew fear.

Now, there is nothing for the police to be afraid of – people just like them, only greedier, are at the top. They feed their loyal servants with crumbs: USD 375 of monthly pay and a new uniform every three years; a place on a waiting list for an apartment provided the officer is obedient; 80 litres of petrol per police car once a quarter. Plus, rigid discipline in terms of fulfilling of any illegal orders from the administration – who in almost all oblast and district stations are now from Donetsk. Also, police officers usually (rumour has it that this is not uniform practice everywhere, still a rule rather than an exception) have schedules to transfer a share of bribes converted into cash to the top. In other words, the current lawlessness reincarnates an archaic system used in the Great Duchy of Muscovy whereby military chiefs were sent to provinces to be supported by the locals.

READ ALSO: Post-Vradiyivka Syndrome

This is hardly surprising as the entire administrative machine of the Ukrainian state today is based on a reincarnation of Soviet bureaucratic pyramid – minus the Soviet restraints. Why then should the police be any different? Surprisingly, there are still few diligent professionals  squeezed out into safer and more comfortable activities by the current order. Negative selection escalates as idealistic professionals are replaced by people with no professional education, necessary psychological qualities, morals or principles. Meanwhile, the system breeds cash hunger in them, making them sociopathic and eager to manifest and fulfil themselves through others. All this turns law enforcement authorities into an epicentre of abuse, bribes and sadism – organized crime, if you will. 

I’ve talked to different people at different times who had the extreme experience of detention at police stations. Just listening to their stories and seeing the related documents, medical certificates and evidence is terrifying.

At first sight, there seems to be very few solutions to the crisis. These include a profound reform of the deeply rotten structure and building a completely new one, like the Baltic States or Georgia. This should be based on new principles now declared by the former interior minister, which he failed to implement when he was in power. However, it appears (given the way top officials and police chiefs have reacted to the latest rebellious developments) that the government has its own plan for law enforcement – if it is capable of developing any consistent strategies at all. The police as a “watchdog of the regime” seems to be its priority. Hence the attempts to portray the chaotic riots and revolts all over the country as provocations orchestrated by the opposition (or the US State Department in the May 18 opposition rally?). Meanwhile, law enforcement officers are portrayed as diligent performers of their duty. Who cares about sociological surveys which report that barely 1% of Ukrainians completely trust the police?

READ ALSO: On the Verge

Police With the People – a slogan of the 2004 Orange Revolution – takes long to forget. In theory, it should be a permanent red flag for officials in the presidential administration. The important thing for them is to prevent a swelling of frustration with the current order within the police.

A year ago, I found myself with a police unit. I heard the officers admit sincerely off-record that they would not protect the regime if anything happened. That they are humans too, and they have children, families and friends, and they want to be respected, they said. So the objective of the current state administration will be to exploit rather than reform the current situation. Traditional instinctive hatred of ordinary Ukrainians for representatives of those in power multiplied by the recent incidents turns police officers (who are the closest to people as representatives of the government and subject to the citizens’ accumulated anger) into a closed caste with huge insecurities. Hence, the reaction of some law enforcement officers in social media: “Disorder has to be crushed with all the harshness of the law. We should not care if they are old people or women. It’s them or us”, “We will be hung from the lampposts unless we stop them now”.

Those who serve the regime that is consistently destroying the country today (police, tax officers, prosecutors, judges and the like) must realize: they are on its side and deserve the  unsurprising bursts of popular anger against them. Even if individually they are polite and responsible, do not beat or torture anyone, but merely take bribes. Officers who do not want most people to see them as enemies should not work for the system (and many don’t, after all). Otherwise, they should be ready for future consequences – civilized or not.

READ ALSO: Will Ukraine Rebel?


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