Friday, January 14, 2005

Corruption firsthand

Here's a firsthand account of the corruption here from an article in the Berliner Zeitung (Action Ukraine Report #409, art. 16)

"Racketeers", Ivan answers my question, "have not been the major problem. Usually they observe 'poniatiya', a sort of the criminal 'etiquette'. They never cut your wool to the very skin. But the authorities have no limits, no brakes. There are up to 30 controlling bodies that may poison your life every day. You never know for how long they are satisfied with a bribe and whether another guy from the same body wouldn't come tomorrow for another tribute".

The bad things got worse in 2002, when the governor of the Donetsk oblast Viktor Yanukovych became the prime minister of Ukraine. Many people believe that Donbas is a mini-totalitarian state within Ukraine ruled by mafia that merged thoroughly with the local state apparatus. Whether exaggerated or not, the rumours became rather palpable when "donetskiye" ("Donetskites") massively flowed to Kyiv and elsewhere to take over numerous government positions, luxury apartments, and tasty businesses. In popular discourse,they effectively replaced the "new Russians" and "new Ukrainians", the ridiculous personages of post-Soviet jokes, infamous for their greed, stupidity, and boastfulness."

A car with a Donetsk plate", one of many jokes says, "collided with the monument to Bohdan Khmelnytsky [a 17th century national hero]. The police has [sic] established that the citizen Khmelnytsky was drunk and therefore will be prosecuted by court"."

In October, a few weeks before the elections", Ivan recollects, "two tough guys entered my tiny office at the back side of the cafeteria. They wanted to buy off my business - at approximately half a price. 'You'd rather accept it', they told. 'Cause after election you'd get nothing. We'll take your premises for free'."

"Maybe they bluffed", Ivan says. "But another threat on those days was absolutely real. I was summoned to the tax administration and forced to pay taxes for three months in advance. As I know, many businesses had to do the same. The government probably needed to finance campaign for the prime minister. And to raise pensions and salaries, at least temporarily, to fool the people".

Little surprise that Ivan and Zenia became "revolutionaries" as soon as the orange protests broke up in the Kyiv streets. No, they did not went to the tents but they established an everyday supply of hot food for the protesters. Free of charge, of course. And they were certainly not alone. Even the most luxurous restaurants made their kitchens to serve the folk. Apparently, they had not been happy with Ukrainian authorities either.

All of them would be greatly surprised to learn that their revolution is just a struggle between different oligarchic clans, between Russia and the US, or between different regions, or even between Russophones and Ukrainophones, as some pundits say. They know what they know - that there is an ugly, despised, corrupted government on the one side, and people who strive for a better life, on the other side. They are from different regions themselves, of different ethnicity and language, but they are unanimous in their will to have a government from the people and for the people.

And there are a many stories like this one. This isn't the only one. And it is not limited to just Yanukovych and crew.

Of course, some will say that this is all allegation. But these same sorts of allegations keep coming up all the time from all sorts of people. Must be some sort of effective, non-detectable conspiracy to spread such rumors.

This is the sort of thing that has to be stopped or at least significantly curbed. And it will be a very difficult thing to do.

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