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14 January, 2011  ▪  Rostyslav Pavlenko

Desperately Seeking Van Der Lubbe

The government is trying to kill the fire of protest among voters

On Feb. 27, 1933, the Reichstag was burned down in Berlin. A Dutch pyromaniac and “independent communist” called Marinus van der Lubbe was apparently the perpetrator. However, not just the Dutchman was brought to trial: at the insistence of the Government, then headed by Adolf Hitler, the head of the parliamentary faction of the Communist Party of Germany, Ernst Torgler and three Bulgarian communists were also charged. Their trial was public taking place over September-December of that year.

Only van der Lubbe was found guilty, but the fire became an official excuse for the passing of a decree called “On the protection of the people and state,” which effectively eliminated civil rights and freedoms. The Communist Party was banned, the seats gained in the Reichstag in the September 3 election went to Nazis instead, and Hitler had consolidated total power. The consequences are history.

Over Sept. 4-16, 1999, Russia and the world were shocked by a series of violent explosions of apartment buildings in Moscow and other cities. The war in Chechnya suddenly changed from a seemingly pointless death sentence for young Russian soldiers and a catastrophe in a tiny Caucasian republic, but as a just war against an evil enemy. On Sept. 22, in Ryazan, sacks with suspicious-looking material were found in the entrance to an apartment building. It turned out to be explosive. A criminal investigation into “attempted terrorism” was launched that the Kremlin claimed was successful. But on Sept. 24, the FSB suddenly announced that this was related to “security training” and the bags were full of sugar, and the topic was closed. The explosions also stopped. Meanwhile, the military campaign in Chechnya expanded, and on Dec. 31, then-Premier Putin became acting President and was elected to the job by a landslide in 2000.

On Aug. 20, 2004, a series of explosions took place on the Troyeshchyna market in suburban Kyiv as the Presidential campaign went into its final phase. The police arrested a man who happened to have a party membership card from one of the center-right parties. The press began mumbling about a “nationalist threat.” In September, Candidate Yanukovych’s new billboards were no longer, not about “economic growth and social benefits” but about Ukraine being divided into three “classes,” stirring the pot on language, religion and history.

On Jan. 1, 2011, unknown people blew up a statue of Stalin that was on the property of the Communist Party’s oblast headquarters. A guard was injured in the explosion. Almost immediately, the police grabbed members of the Svoboda Party, but could not prove their involvement. Then there was a round-up of members of Tryzub, another organization, claiming that weapons were also found. Pro-government commentators once again began using the t-word. The official investigation is still underway, but results will doubtless be swift. The press has already been writing about how the current Interior Minister, Anatoliy Mohyliov, can arrest people for reporting purpose or for a given date, that is, to fill quotas. After the ineffective attempt in 2004, when terrorism in Troyeshchyna ended in the farce of “eggy terrorism” in Ivano-Frankivsk, no one dared using this latest event as an excuse for taking “severe measures” in Ukraine. Still, those eager to promote this kind of response are many and the temptation great.

In anticipation of an unquiet year, with the standard of living plummeting and a slew of unpopular social policies in the wings, the government is trying to kill the fire of protest among voters. This is probably why activists on the “Tax Maidan” have been held and criminal charges have been laid against prominent opposition politicians. If the t-word joins this arsenal, the country’s leadership will feel justified in ignoring even the opinion of international organizations under the guise that it, too, is a victim of “9/11 syndrome” and is trying to fend off a terrorist threat.

Hunting for terrorists in Ukraine would be funny, if it did not concern the lives and fates of the real people who are feeling the heavy hand of the state machine.


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