The princes of Ancient Rus made their children and favourites feudals by apportioning shares of land – feuds, or fiefs – “for governing.” In Old Slavonic the word “feud” sounds similar to “food,” thus many modern readers mistakenly associate it with “fodder,” assuming that the princelings and their men were supposed to feed off the granted lands.
Ukraine’s present-day state system is suggestive of feudalism, and there are serious grounds to believe consider it so. Power (or proximity to it) has been converted into property ever since the collapse of the USSR. Those who usurped power and property have created a distinct social group, the “upper caste,” exactly like in ancient feudal monarchies.
There is perhaps only one difference between Ukrainian “neo-feudalism” and the familiar diagrams from school history books: it has not yet been fixed by law. However, our “elite” has been making a steady progress in this direction, especially over the recent couple of years.
Ukraine inherited an extremely powerful administrative apparatus from the USSR, one so powerful that it even managed to fill in for the “free market,” a dream of the naïve democrats of the late 1980s which never came true. Meanwhile, in full compliance with the Marxist-Leninist theory, the apparatus substituted justice and democracy as such.
And then the circle closed.
The apparatus in Ukraine includes not only the police, the military, and government officials. It also spreads to the legislative branch (MPs and local legislators). Also, it inevitably engulfs the judicial. Each new MP or judge must succumb to it, otherwise he will soon have to say goodbye to his office.
An “apparatchik” must obey the established rules of the game. Disloyalty would be more shameful than birth out of wedlock for a nobleman. Mediaeval bastards sometimes made breathtaking careers. But in Ukraine a civil servant or a politician who sees his mission as strictly following of the law, can only expect serious problems.
It is the apparatus which ensures the domestic oligarchs’ super-profits (and does not fail to take care of itself). Of course, this is done at the expense of the population. Thus interpreted, a public office means nothing but “feeding” instead of “governance.”
All of the above suggests a simple, but disagreeable conclusion. The outrageous facts, like the releasing of the Mykolaiv rapists or probation terms for obvious murderers who have relatives in the top echelons of power, are not merely natural attributes of such a system. They constitute the very basis of the system’s existence. And it is not a matter of “caste solidarity” or anything like this. It is all about the strict laws of economy.
His Majesty the Apparatus exists for the sole purpose of feeding his people: through stealing away the nation’s budget, tax relief for chosen businessmen (who then share kickbacks), or banal bribery — the ruling caste relies on reciprocation as a universal “currency”.
The apparatus’ vitality is ensured by solidarity, since (to our grandees’ utmost regret) it is still impossible to legitimize one’s membership of the ruling caste by the right of birth alone. Thus, the system will always acquit even the most loathsome criminals, as long as they are well-connected.
Of course, such nasty accidents like the one in Mykolaiv cannot but evoke wrath and indignation in any decent person. Yet one should realize that the nature of the “grandees’ impunity,” if we use the news media cliché, is akin to that of the government’s economic exploitation of the population. In both cases the usurpers treat the absolute majority of their fellow citizens as the biomass which only exists to nurture the chosen few.
However, drawing parallels with the Middle Ages should also prompt a way out. In Western Europe, the middle class put an end to the omnipotence of the aristocracy. But bourgeoisie itself sprang from city guilds, organizations of free men who united to stand up for their personal, quite pragmatic interests.
In today’s Ukraine, protests against illegal construction, the tyranny of local princes, or any infringement of individual or community rights must be accompanied by the constant self-organization of citizens who care and who keep an eye on the policies of government in every single sphere. This is how the civil society of the West grew up. Such examples can even be seen in Russia: for instance, the Blue Buckets Society, which was born as a grassroots protest movement against the high-and-mighty, driving around in cars sporting police-like flashing blue lights. The Blue Buckets organization recently came to prominence after successfully defending the interests of victims in accidents caused by “grandees” or civil servants.
All this does not mean that in situations like the one in Mykolaiv one may merely stay home indulging in philosophical speculation. People may, and must, go out and protest. But the punishment of the culprits will not ease their victims’ suffering. Moreover, we have no idea just how many crimes like that are happening around the country at any given moment. The only way to bring their numbers down is a complete overhaul of the government. Ukrainians are very well aware that rallying on the Maidan is not enough for that — the first step on the way to stopping the lawlessness of innumerable local princelings must be innumerable protests – by citizens who will not be treated like fodder.