Guns and pol­i­tics

Kyiv Post - - Opinion -

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 .

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