Thursday, December 02, 2004

Shredding the Documents

The Kyiv Post reports on the frantic events yesterday in Ukraine (separatist referendum called off due to insufficient supply of separatists, vote of no confidence in the prime minister, prime minister says he will ignore it, talks break down, talks back on, agreement reached - maybe..). Broadly, the government side agreed to the principle of new elections and the opposition agreed to lift the siege of major government buildings (but not to leave the streets). Both parties renounced force and any actions likely to affect Ukraine's territorial integrity. Well, that's all good, but the argument will now be about implementation, specifically it seems about the date of the new election. The government want to push the vote off as long as possible in the hope that the protest movement will tire or develop splits. On the contrary, the opposition want to conserve their momentum and go for a quick end.

Another reason to spin things out as long as possible was pointed up by a regrettable incident outside the Ministry of the Interior, when
"Earlier in the day, independent broadcaster Channel 5 showed footage of protesters who had halted a dump truck attempting to leave the Presidential Administration. In the truck, protesters found huge piles of shredded and partially destroyed documents hidden under snow."
Ah, the shredder, the emblem of our times. It is to be hoped they don't shred in alphabetical order, because the Viktor Bout file would be revealing in the extreme. In a bizarre way, though, tolerating a degree of Aktenvernichtung might help to ensure a peaceful resolution - one reason to cling on to power is to forestall the investigation of your past actions, as several politicians much closer to home than the Ukraine could tell you.

Simon Jenkins in the Times has a rather pompous article about mobs.
"The mob may have been outdated by democracy, or at least by opinion polls, but it can still play its lethal game. It made America’s withdrawal from Vietnam inevitable. It reformed and decentralised France after 1968. It signed the death warrant of Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax in 1990. But it does not always win. The largest crowd ever to gather in Britain, against the Iraq war last year, had no impact on the Labour Government. Nor did the pro-hunting crowd in Parliament Square this year.

Such crowds are the manifestation of failure. They suggest that constitutions have lost consent and democratic institutions collapsed. They are an extension of politics in the direction of civil war. A crowd in the street is not an argument won but an argument lost. Its leaders merely hope that crude numbers will silence the guns and get the cameras rolling, to drive forward the blitzkrieg of publicity in support of the great god, No! We may accept the mob as a necessary evil, but should remember that evil it remains."
"The Great God, No?" Or "the great god. No!" I'm not sure what that bit means, but let that pass. There's a more important point here, though. "They suggest that constitutions have lost consent.." Jenkins doesn't seem to consider the situation when the constitution, far from losing the public's consent, is ignored by the powerful. Arguably this is perhaps the most common event that brings out the mob. It certainly is in Ukraine - there, an impeccably democratic constitution exists, one identical with the Russian federal constitution, but the government does not obey it. Just as in Russia, to give a simple example, the ministers are meant to be responsible to parliament. But the so-called power ministries, defence, interior, finance and foreign affairs, in fact serve at the president's pleasure - but this is not stated in the constitution. Neither is the role of the presidential administration, which both in Russia and in the Ukraine is located in the former Central Committee Secretariat with most of the same personnel and many of the same tasks. When the state itself ignores its own constitution, it is pretty poor stuff to blame the public for not consenting. Of course a mob is undesirable, but the alternative is a functioning democracy in which power is constrained by law. One of the features of the Ukrainian situation is that the previously government-dominated parliament and supreme court have begun to function, to provide that constraint and criticism.

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