Two decades after independence, violent discord still prevalent in #Ukraine

| July 14, 2020

Realities of modern political strife in some countries often resemble an action movie. Even ordinary journalistic activity can become a struggle for life itself. In eastern Europe, which has witnessed several revolutions, journalists are still being persecuted or even assassinated.

One example is Ukraine, which gained independence in 1991 and is still shaping its own political culture. By virtue of its own sovereignty, Ukraine gained the right to different political views. The Communist Party was deprived of a monopoly but this does not guarantee that everyone is free to express their own views. In many parts of the world, attitudes to the opposition is an indicator of civilization and development. But, in a country where law enforcement agencies fail to perform their direct functions, a space can develop for “street censors” who, with no legal grounds, determine the rules themselves by use of force.

Persecution of opposition journalists in Ukraine has become almost a tradition. The murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000 is the best-known example. He was in opposition to then President Leonid Kuchma. However, 20 years and two revolutions later, as well as changes of the presidents and ministers, some Ukrainian journalists, activists and politicians are still being persecuted for their activities.

The absence of clear law enforcement agencies allows the authorities to deal with political opponents by force, knowing that they will avoid responsibility. This can lead to quite tragic consequences.

In 2018, Kateryna Gandziuk, an activist, politician and public figure, who was in conflict with some local authorities in the city of Kherson, was attacked.  Attackers splashed her with sulfuric acid and she died from severe burns three months later. The case received widespread publicity and provoked indignation in many parts of the country. Investigators are still investigating her murder, but activists say the case is being bungled.

Another case is that of an activist in Kharkiv who was beaten on the head with baseball bats. The victim survived, but experienced multiple injuries. His photo from the hospital with a bloodied face, swollen eyes and bandaged head circulated throughout Ukraine (pictured, below).

Prior to this incident, the victim told about threats he had received from representatives of the local National Corps Party branch who had ideological differences with the Sharii’s Party, and filed a statement with the police.

The head of the Kharkiv National Corps branch reportedly spoke of launching a “safari”, in other words, going after party followers. It is interesting to note that the followers of this political force are systematically persecuted and attacked.

In Mykolaiv, representatives of the “National Corps” laid a coffin near the Sharii Party office to intimidate the party members.

In Zhytomyr, people said to be connected to the local National Corps reportedly entered the Sharii’s Party office and beat Serhii Nikulin, the head of the local Sharii’s Party branch. The police initiated a criminal case on the grounds of criminal damage and minor injuries.

The chairperson of the “National Corps” Party, Andrii Biletskyi, has repeatedly spoke negatively about the Sharii’s Party and allegedly stated in an interview that its followers should be attacked.

Despite such comments the law enforcement agencies have failed to act.

Forces with very different ideological focuses exist in the Ukrainian political space, of course.

However, instead of persuading voters, physical pressure, threats, intimidation are the preferred choice of action. Each country shapes its political culture in the form used by political forces competing for power. European values, which Ukraine seeks to integrate, include pluralism of opinion and expression of different political views.

Strife between political forces is best conducted through dialogue but where this is replaced with a rule of force, with no proper response from the public agencies, the political system can fall into anarchy, where people, such as journalists, are attacked solely for ideological beliefs. In such a climate, politics becomes an arena of violence and intimidation, leading to permanent civil opposition.

A legal framework is the sole guarantee of national stability and development. Law enforcement agencies are called upon to protect law and order and should act proactively to prevent potentially tragic consequences.

However, current trends in Ukraine fall well short of the nationwide consensus that would allow everyone, including the media, to enjoy guaranteed rights and responsibilities.

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