Politicians on why strong-arm tactics remain a tool to influence parliamentarians and officials, and how effective these actions can be
Yehor Sobolyev, Samopomich
There are two causes for the use of force in politics. As always, one is good, one is bad. The good one is that the fights, arguments and confrontations, which some people are tired of and dismiss, are a good signal that the conspiracy of silence in the Ukrainian political scene has finally been broken. For years, there was peace and harmony in all government bodies, covering up a kleptocratic corporation that had mastered all the schemes for transforming power into money. Although they occasionally showed some protests and confrontation for a TV show during elections, it was all fake, in order to show voters a "struggle". Today in parliament, the government and armed forces, there's a group of people that don't want to be members of this corporation or turn the government into a business, and they don't allow others to do so either. That's where the obvious conflicts we are seeing lately come from.
The bad thing about all this is that we, unfortunately, don't have the legal tools to solve problems. We heard evidence from Prosecutor General Shokin three times at the Euromaidan Investigation Committee. And? We tell Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov that ex-Deputy MIAs Paskal and Chebotar have been sacked, but why is Oleksandr Tereshchuk, who suppressed Euromaidan protests in Volhynia, still the chief of police in Kyiv? So we tell him. And? There are a lot of these "ands". As a parliamentary committee (on Preventing and Combating Corruption – Ed.), we're following 200 investigations regarding official corruption, crimes against the Euromaidan and so on. And I'm often powerless. As an MP, I've utilised all possible parliamentary methods: anti-corruption laws, which we've passed more than enough of, parliamentary control mechanisms, such as appeals, requests, committee hearings, even committee trips to see officials. For example, we went to see Minister of Energy Volodymyr Demchyshyn when he signed a contract for the supply of Russian electricity. But this isn’t enough. As a parliamentarian, I don't have the right to make arrests. And those who do continue to work with corrupt officials and the biggest state criminals. As a result, the fist becomes a desperate argument. It's hard to come to terms with this, but you don't know how to put a stop to it in a legal way. A fight works when there are no legal ways to solve problems.
At the same time, I do not approve of violence, although I initiated the first fight in the Verkhovna Rada. It's not fitting for a parliamentarian.
There is always a fine line regarding the use of force in politics. Both politicians and society should feel where it is. This is probably one of the most important qualities of a democratic society. Unfortunately, in Ukraine force is not used where it should be. And it is in matters where legal methods would be sufficient. For example, we fought against Yanukovych on the Maidan using force. Now nothing prevents businessmen from demanding tax cuts, society from demanding the adoption of the new law regarding the civil service and so on. This can be done through meetings and demonstrations, even with burning tyres, if necessary. But only if it will bring benefit, has a specific goal and is constructive. Honestly, I would even join such positive social hurricanes myself. At the same time, we're now seeing a lot of "paid-for" force in politics.
For me, initiatives involving force emerge in society because people cannot see any justice. Instead, Mykhailo Dobkin (ex-Party of Regions MP and Governor of Kharkiv Oblast – Ed.) is walking the streets, Nestor Shufrych (ex-Party of Regions MP – Ed.) is always on the TV, and separatists from the Party of Regions who wrote letters to Putin and hoisted the Russian tricolour have won elections in Donetsk Oblast. And in addition to all of this, our courts and prosecutor's office aren't doing their job. People are in a state of despair, so they take to the streets, throw paint at politicians and bring rubbish bins to administrative buildings. I think if the government were better at clearly fulfilling its function of providing justice, this wouldn't happen. People's behaviour would be more restrained.
If you look at the parliaments of other countries, violent conflict is quite common, be it in Japan or the United Kingdom. Parliamentarians use physical force to address issues they can't agree on. I want to emphasise that for me as a politician, the use of force is unacceptable. Although everything depends on the situation and the position of each MP. Nevertheless, we shouldn't forget that in our country not only men, but also women do not hesitate to use physical force.
As for the impact of force from the street on politics, we need to understand that when people go to protest, this is an important signal for the president and parliament. The problem is that the state has a monopoly on the use of force, political power and legal institutions, so it must respond to all crimes committed in the country. It should be understood that the state, with the help of prosecutors, courts and other forces, must do everything possible to put offenders in prison. If not, then society resorts to, in my opinion, somewhat questionable, but influential methods.
Indeed, a strong state protects its citizens. When society is forced to solve a problem on its own and takes punitive functions upon itself, the state loses its monopoly on them. Losing its punitive functions, it ceases to be a state. The rule of law must be paramount. If we're going to be ruled by lynch law, we can expect manipulation, because the crowd is blind. And the people who control it will be able to direct its anger against any citizen.
The use of force, such as fights in parliament, is hardly a political tool. They don't happen often enough to influence anything. And to be fair, such cases don't only occur in Ukraine. So swinging fists are more of a tool to let off steam.
However, we must pay attention to certain aspects of these "arguments of force" in politics. The problem is that they are used to solve specific political tasks. First of all this goes for the security forces, i.e. law enforcement. Today in Ukraine, anyone can be thrown behind bars and kept there for some time, effectively already serving a sentence. In this way, it's possible to punish a person without a court decision. This is one of the main tools in key cases. There's the bunch of criminals that everyone knows from the days of Viktor Yanukovych but they're still free. Then there are political rivals who have ended up behind bars for a long or short period. Yes, they're all guilty and all broke the law, but the selective application of justice is used as a tool of force. The reality of today is that there's the same amount of respect for the law as there was when Yanukovych was in power. In other words, no respect.
We have to work towards that. We have mechanisms that offer a concept of classical democracy, when you have to elect those who respect the law. But this doesn't mean that we shouldn't put pressure on the most odious characters and force them out of power. So there’s at least fragmented responsibility for not respecting the law. Conceptually, this is solved by deep reforms: making the judiciary independent, separating the legislative and executive branches. The sort of deep reforms that the current state institutions are not yet capable of.
In the future, this will give us a tool to help neutralise "arguments of force".
The influence of people using force on politics is obvious. When state institutions – prosecutors, courts and the police – are not working as they should, people take on responsibility for establishing and restoring justice. That is why we have the frequent fights and “trash bucket” lustration, when officials from the Party of Regions, as you remember, were thrown into rubbish bins. So the number one task for the state – it arose immediately after the Maidan protests and is no less important now – is in-depth reform, including the prosecutor's office, courts and law enforcement. We won't get far without this.
In fact, institutional weakness leads to situations when people, out of despair and the state's weakness, start to decide what is good and what is bad themselves.
As for fisticuffs among MPs, that's completely unacceptable. We now have a pro-Ukrainian majority in parliament with more than 300 MPs, including those elected to the Verkhovna Rada after the Maidan. If you are in power, using force against officials and beating them up is not just unacceptable, but also somewhat cynical. It's a recognition of their own failure to solve specific issues and problems in a legal waywhile being in power. I was at a conference in Sweden last week. Colleagues and journalists asked me about the fights over and over again. It's shocking for them. It's impossible to find an explanation for aggression and violence in parliament when the dictatorship has fallen and pro-democratic forces have become the majority.