As we’ve been saying for a while now, endemic corruption is the biggest obstacle to a truly open and westernized Ukrainian society. Yet even after the Yanukovych’s thugs martyred the “heavenly hundred” protesters and caused Ukraine’s Maidan movement to boil over into a real uprising that overthrew the dictator (and got a certain opportunistic Mr. Putin thinking about drawing some new lines on the map), Ukrainian civil service jobs are mostly still staffed by the same people who were there two years ago.
That, problematically enough, includes the police. So President Poroshenko, who successfully ran and re-ran on an anti-corruption platform, is making moves that are meant to turn what Ukrainians know as a militarized bribe-taking force into real police. Reuters:
The first 2,000 recruits of a new Ukrainian police force passed out in the capital Kiev at the weekend, intended by the government as a visible sign of its commitment to shake off a deep-rooted culture of corruption in public institutions.
Trained by U.S. and Canadian forces, and given less militaristic uniforms and the name ‘Politsiya’ to mark a break with the old, Soviet-style ‘Militsiya’, the young officers pledged to forsake the bribes associated with their job.
President Petro Poroshenko told the force, which will first patrol big towns and then be deployed across the country, that it was their task not only to uphold the law but “also to make people believe that reforms are inevitable”.
If anyone actually does buy that the new uniforms and an oath will make reform inevitable, he may be getting duped. Though as it happens, Ukrainians don’t seem to be close to believing that law, order, and accountability are just around the corner:
…the new force, whose navy blue uniforms and caps would not look out of place on the streets of New York, will have its work cut out in a society where police and courts are widely seen as favoring the powerful, and bribes are used for everything from avoiding speeding penalties to getting into good schools.
In a poll released last month by the Razumkov Centre, an independent research group, respondents scored the progress of reforms at only two or three out of 10. Almost 81 percent thought the fight against corruption was not working.
Corruption has been the way things work in Ukraine for so long that the problem is more than just cultural. Salaries for state employees like police—and for that matter judges and MPs—are artificially low precisely because everyone assumes people will make the bulk of their actual take-home pay through graft. This is what people mean by “systematic corruption.”
So one piece of evidence we can use to determine whether the new police policies will amount to anything more than an empty gesture is how much the cops are being paid. In the reports we’ve seen, there’s no mention of a pay bump to keep the new boys and girls in blue honest. If they really aren’t being paid a proper living wage, this new force may be expected to be as incorruptible as Eliot Ness’s Untouchables based on nothing more than the honor system and some fancy new threads.