Guns and politics
Humans are warlike, but when we commit violence, it’s not usually senseless and rarely unprovoked. So as Ukrainians grapple with the shocking deadly grenade attack outside Parliament on Aug. 31, killing three National Guardsmen, they shouldn’t view the incident simply as an outburst of barbarity from a deranged individual.
The suspect who allegedly threw the grenade has fought for his country for more than eight months in Russia’s savage war in the east. His comrades speak highly of him. That’s no excuse for his actions, of course, if he is guilty. But it complicates the portrait of good vs. evil. As one comrade of the suspect noted, every single soldier on the front has been repeatedly traumatized by the constant shelling.
And there are equally important factors to consider in trying to make sense of the senseless.
When Russia first started its war against Ukraine last year, Kyiv could only call on perhaps 6,000 combat-ready troops. Faced with this shortage, the government quickly accepted the help of the various volunteer battalions that were forming. The problem is that many of these units are affiliated with political forces who helped topple President Viktor Yanukovych. It could not have been otherwise. But they were political activists before they were soldiers. Now they have guns and grenades and they know how to use them. They are a force to be reckoned with.
Politics has bled into the Ukrainian military and now the Ukrainian military is bleeding into politics. This is a dangerous development. Extremists are apt to turn to violence if they can’t gain broad public support. The political violence at the deadly Aug. 31 rally involved the Svoboda Party, a small and politically unpopular group that played a supporting role in the success of the EuroMaidan Revolution.
But this is a different kind of violence. The revolutionary violence was measured and came in reaction to the government’s deadly violence in January and February of 2014. The revolution was, by and large, a spectactularly successful and mostly peaceful exercise in civil disobedience supported by most Ukrainians.
Very few people support what happened the on Aug. 31. Rather, Ukrainians and the rest of the world want the nation’s institutions to work in a democratic, open, and honest way. They don’t want power and money monopolized the way they were under Yanukovych.
The government is fumbling badly in form and substance. But this is not a dictatorship any longer. And, as long as the key democratic tenets remain, the way to pressure politicians to do the right thing is through the ballot box, the news media, civil society, lobbying and peaceful protests .