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2 July, 2012

Ukraine's Robin Hoods are coming

Despite numerous warnings, the Ukrainian government has carelessly ignored the tectonic shifts taking place in society.

It is no secret (except for the government?) that the greatest irritant to Ukrainians is the complete lawlessness that reigns supreme in our country. Any person who does not have protection in government agencies, the Interior Service, the Prosecutor’s Office or the criminal world (exactly where the lines are that divide them is hard to say) can be easily stripped of his own flat, car, house, land or business or even killed. Zbigniew Brzezinski said contemporary Ukraine is painfully reminiscent of the 17th-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with its nobility and landlords. Only these classes had certain guarantees then, while everyone else could only count on their swords for defence.

The tectonic shifts in Ukrainians consciousness come down to a transition from complete apathy, discouragement and conviction that the truth is not to be found in our country to active hatred and mob law. When policeman Mykola Symonenko began behaving like a serf-owning landlord in an ordinary village, humiliating its residents and assuming to be in judgment of their future and even lives, the villagers were driven to despair and one of them, Vitaliy Zaporozhets, shot the man. It is a familiar plot in European, in particular Spanish, literature. The great playwright Lope de Vega described a similar incident in his famous play Fuenteovejuna. A knight of the Order of Calatrava demanded to enforce droit du seigneur, i.e., the right of the landlord to the first night with the bride of his serf. The local serfs had arms and for centuries participated in the Reconquista. Initially taken aback, they later killed the man. When this was reported to the king, he judged their actions to be fair. Today's Ukraine ruled by the Party of Regions is a far cry from the Spain ruled by feudal lords, yet the Ukrainian government is doing nothing to protect or support its peasants. On the contrary, they have been framed as the collective enemy of the ruling party — a party which rushes to protect the police whom they believe are always right in any conflict with regular citizens.

In Nizhyn, Chernihiv Region, a group of young men who launched a struggle against the local drug mafia, which they thought was being helped by the police, were sentenced to long terms in prison. These men were able to do what the official law enforcement system was incapable of – almost completely destroying drug peddling networks in their city. For their valour the court awarded them with prison terms. Drug dealers will now feel at ease.

Ukrainians have extremely low confidence in the court system, the Prosecutor’s Office and the police, but they have to have someone to fulfil these functions, because society needs them under any circumstances. If the existing bodies are working inefficiently or counterproductively (for example, by caring only about their corporate needs or exploiting connections with the underworld), sooner or later a replacement will come for them. What is not working will inevitably have to yield its place to what is working.

Thus, it is quite possible that something like a parallel police force may emerge in Ukraine in the coming years, along with a parallel court system, prosecutors, etc. The history of the Ukrainian people offers plenty of precedents: when the government turns into an antithesis of itself and loses the last bits of functionality for the masses, certain civic compensators emerge. And this is true not only in Ukraine but throughout the world.

Thus, the situation is fairly simple: either we see a fundamental reform of the justice system, the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor’s Office and the government itself, or the Ukrainian people will take the law into their own hands. And then village- or district-sized self-governing “mini-states” will spring up, and various types of government structures not envisioned by the Constitution will be set up. Sooner or later, these Robin Hoods will instinctively sense the need to join forces with other similar-minded activists. This process will take place outside any parties, MPs or the official government.

This volcano is about to erupt… Ukrainians are increasingly disinclined to pin any hope on petitions, charters and appeals to the top leadership and are drawing closer to the idea of direct action that will help to change the grossly unfair social order in the country. And again the same dilemma arises: reform from above or a rebellion from the bottom? The current government has shown in the past two years that it is incapable of truly reforming the law enforcement and justice systems, because this would require radical changes in the national political system and the very foundation of the state, as well as the elimination of the rule of oligarchs. This would relegate many current high-profile figures to the archive of national history or to textbooks of criminal law. Consequently, the current government is doomed to see the arrival of the likes of Ustym Karmaliuk and Maksym Zalizniak  – Ukraine's Robin Hoods.

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