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Oct 15, 2014 7:15 AM

Ukraine politics turns trashy as mood sours

The Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) In Ukraine, trashing a politician isn't a metaphor. It's literal: Find a suspected shady official, grab him and throw him into a dumpster.

Online videos of several public figures receiving the treatment from gangs of rowdy activists have provoked both glee and revulsion.

The fad is part of a broader coarsening of the political climate in Ukraine as anger simmers over the snail's pace of reforms and persisting corruption since the overthrow in February of former President Viktor Yanukovych.

"People are seeing no real changes ... people see no fairness," said Maxim Latsyba, head of the social development program at the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research. "You look on social media and you will see all kinds of illustrations, photos and jokes about this. This means that people are supporting the trend."

With parliamentary elections coming Oct. 26, the mood seems best suited to favor the chances of nationalist rabble-rousers.

The first widely reported victim of the trash can punishment was Oleg Rudenko, a local official in the Black Sea port city of Odessa accused of extorting a $45,000 kickback. After cornering Rudenko, activists from the ferociously nationalist Right Sector movement pounced him and tipped him into a nearby dumpster.

Within days, the video of the incident became a sensation, as did the practice itself. National politicians all male so far have been targeted in more than a dozen reported copycat incidents.

Frustration is especially intense at perceived failures to revamp Ukraine's notoriously graft-ridden court system and police.

"We can find no fairness in the justice system. There are judges left over from Yanukovych's time. Nobody has fired them," Latsyba said.

The buzzword of the moment in Ukraine is "lustration" an arcane term referring to the purging of government officials in former Soviet bloc nations in the 1990s for their previous affiliation with the communist system. Today, self-appointed people's committees disappointed by government inaction in Ukraine have stepped in to do the job.

Critics of the trend, which has been dubbed "trashcan lustration," worry that unruly excess could turn even uglier down the line. They have criticized police for failing to punish its practitioners.

"The mute and inactive position of law enforcement organs is provoking the so-called trash lustrators into further lawlessness," Prosecutor General Vitaly Yarema wrote last week. "The boundary between lynch-mob justice and trashcan lustration is very thin."

Demonstrators now regularly picket parliament and threaten to pelt deputies with eggs and tomatoes unless they vote the way the protesters want. Initial approval of a raft of hastily hatched anti-corruption laws last week took place under just such conditions.

Some see the unabashedly aggressive actions as the legacy of the four-month street protests that culminated with the toppling of Yanukovych, who now lives in self-imposed exile in Russia. Those demonstrations ranged from predominantly peaceful rallies in the beginning to violent confrontations with riot police toward the end.

Yanukovych's successor, President Petro Poroshenko, was overwhelmingly voted into power in May. He and other new political faces have succeeded in riding out one calamity after another on the back of Ukraine's post-revolution euphoria.

Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, a development precipitated by Kremlin fears that the new Ukrainian government's turn toward the West could lead to the loss of Russia's Black Sea Fleet naval base, did little to dampen fervor for Ukraine's incoming order.

The outbreak of fighting in the mainly Russian-speaking east as armed separatists sought to break away from Kiev's rule gave the government political cover. Many embrace the government's belief that the rebels are directly supported by Moscow.

But the declaration of a nominal, if often-violated, truce in the east in early September has now turned attention back upon Ukraine's stubbornly dismal political progress.

"Consumers are pondering the fate of their national currency and the prospect of galloping inflation, and we all wonder what further deprivations Ukrainians will incur this coming winter," columnist Yegor Struzhkin wrote in the Kommentarii weekly.

A recent surge in support for the abrasive Oleh Lyashko, whose Radical Party is expected to be one of a handful that will get into parliament in the Oct. 26 election, marks a distinct turn against political order.

Last month, not wanting to be left out of the wave of dumpster lustrations, Lyashko enlisted supporters in the city of Kirovohrad to seize a newly appointed regional governor for allegedly supporting Yanukovych's previous government. Unable to locate the governor, the mob instead disposed of a lesser regional representative.

Lyashko, a flamboyant populist known for publicity-grabbing stunts, insists he is not whipping up passions but channeling them.

"When you can't fix things through the courts, or when prosecutors and police are doing nothing, where there is no law, people get radicalized," he told The Associated Press. "Society is now far more radical than even our Radical Party."


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