Embraced by Lawlessness

8 February 2013, 15:33

The Ukraine we live in is not a unique country. There are several more such countries on post-Soviet territory. Two things are the same in each: the lawlessness exercised by law-enforcement bodies and a lack of basic legal protection for citizens.

People have no rights, unlike those who are called on to protect them. Even when a policeman or judge is actually caught accepting a bribe, it’s usually a low-ranking figure. Bigger fish are sometimes caught, but what happens after their arrest remains unknown. The Judge Ihor Zvarych case was an exception, but not an ideal one, because the other bribe-takers did not follow him to prison – some were even promoted.

Everyone knows where the cops who rigged local elections in Mukachevo and the presidential election in 2004 ended up. All of them are still working, in lucrative positions to boot. Everyone knows that drug dealing and prostitution are under police control. But so what? Nothing is done. There has not been a single cause célebre. However, when a journalist investigates the holiest of holies – yet another feeding trough of the police – a scandal immediately erupts.

The police recently searched the home of Taras Zozulinsky, a Lviv-based journalist, who found a bug among his clothes. The search lasted six hours! Tell this to anyone in Europe, and they would laugh their heads off. You see, special detection equipment can do the job in a matter of minutes. Meanwhile, our Pinkertons used a flashlight, screwdrivers and a knife in their search. Even Sherlock Holmes equipped himself with a magnifying glass for such work. I’ll refrain from commenting on the deductive method.

After the search, an anomaly in 21st century practice, the Head of the Lviv police unit demanded from the journalist that the newspaper’s editorial office hands the bug over to the police. The newspaper’s administration had previously promised that it would do so, but only on the provision of a warrant for the removal of this important piece of evidence. The investigator had promised to obtain it, but someone was itching to get his hands on the device as soon as possible, at which, without producing any paperwork. This is why the investigator began to intimidate the journalist, threatening to search the entire editorial office, thus paralyzing its operations.

Why such zeal on the part of the police? It all becomes crystal clear when you consider that Zozulinsky was investigating drug trafficking. And in this instance, all links led directly to the police. The story goes even deeper. A while ago, someone fired shots into the windows of the Express newspaper’s editorial office. The police have yet to identify the culprit, even though the bullets’ trajectory would have easily led them to the window from which they were fired and could have established who was in the flat at the time of shooting. But what for? The police themselves were interested in intimidating Express and Post-Postup.

Back in 2004, the police taught us the same lesson when they themselves set fire to Postup’s editorial office. The then chief of the Lviv police is still a chief, albeit in a different oblast. The Lviv police also provided protection to a chain of pharmacies which used to sell narcotics. Their owners were eventually imprisoned, but their patrons in the police got off scot-free. Members of the Democratic Alliance NGO saw Lviv Oblast police demand bribes from each truck that was loaded with beetroots. The activists were beaten up and arrested, while police chiefs reported there had been no violations. The testimony of ordinary people who saw the police beat the activists was published on the Internet. The result? Nothing. Zilch.

Lawlessness reigns supreme everywhere, starting from the state border. My wife’s relatives drove down from Russia to spend Christmas with us. On the border, a Ukrainian border guard asked them: “Do you need help in filling out the declaration form?”

“No, we have nothing to declare,” was the answer.

The border guard went away; the car remained where it was. After a while, another border guard came up: “So do you need help or not?” The response was the same. Finally, our relative realized that he had to ask how much he was required to pay for assistance RUR 500. He handed over the money and the border guards wished them a happy journey, without even looking into the boot of the car.

I’m not saying that things were different under the previous government. Everything was the same, but less blatant and on a smaller scale. Kickbacks used to be in the range of 10%, while now, the minimum is 30%. Law enforcement agencies did not act with such impudence; bribes were not openly demanded on the border; private bodyguards did not beat up people; there was no Berkut (special police unit); there weren’t so many corporate raids. Ukraine has now turned into a veritable testing ground for various means to maintain power. Suspicious setups came one after another: terrorists in Dnipropetrovsk, a killer in a Kyiv supermarket, the murder of a judge and his family, etc. People are skeptical. Only the Ukrainian government has no doubts, which is why its reaction is lightning-fast: permitting searches and the removal of evidence, surveillance and wiretapping, the arming of the police, etc. The only thing that is not yet permitted, is shooting on sight.

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