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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #147

One of the most important things I think the international community should be focusing upon in war-torn Ukraine is promoting the rule of law as an essential component of institutional reconstruction and public administration reform that will change Ukraine to enable her to progress towards EU membership. Moreover it is not just me who thinks this. European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen also emphasised this when she visited Kyiv over the weekend. This has not been a priority for the international community operating in Ukraine so far. Post-independence Ukraine was an extremely corrupt place and Ukraine retains a reputation for high levels of corruption although the beginnings of a change to this lawless culture are being seen. The Police can no longer be bribed for traffic offences. Immigration rules are being more strictly enforced. So are customs rules: you need to hold the right paperwork in order to import and export restricted categories of goods. Although there is a huge amount of work to be done, is is a notable irony that since the beginning of the war respect for rule of law has actually increased in Ukraine. Often in civil conflicts, of every kind, war begets increased anarchy. In Ukraine it appears in some areas to have had the opposite effect.

Undoubtedly one reason for this is that free Ukraine is fighting for independence not just from Russian military aggression but also from the culture of lawlessness, paranoia, intimidation, corruption and fear that permeates the Russian system of public administration. Although some older Ukrainians may look back on the Soviet era with warmth, their recalling an era of order before Ukraine dissolved into chaos upon independence, the young people of Ukraine understand that a dramatic cultural change is required on the part of Ukrainians to adapt themselves to European standards and respect for rule of law, in which every document is not forged and every official is not bribed, is required. Those are the only Soviet and Russian principles of public administration, which really had always existed back into annals of Tsarist Russian history but that were particularly amplified during the Soviet era because Soviet communism was built upon a colossal fiction of paperwork as artificial industrial and agricultural production targets were set by central planners and it then became imperative to manufacture paperwork on an industrial scale in order to achieve them. The rule of law traditions of modern Russia and Ukraine are based on wholesale forgery of documentation and this is why these two countries both remain impossibly corrupt.

Ukrainians however understand that there is a better way of doing things and that the rosy recollections of life in the Soviet Union that their parents or grandparents may recall were premised upon the fact of massive subsidies for Ukraine from Moscow that could not be sustained within an economic system based not upon market forces driving efficient production of things people actually wanted to buy but instead upon mountains of falsified paperwork. Russia and Ukraine has lots of very good lawyers. But what they are very good at it is falsifying documents and arranging slush funds and skims of money so as to pass funds to corrupt government officials in order to obtain official approvals. All of this is wholly inconsistent with the rule of law as we understand it in the West and Ukrainians now need to reconcile the very structure of their society as one premised upon rules-based order if they are to advance to Euro-Atlantic integration which is what they so desperately want in order to keep the existential threat on their eastern doorstep at bay.

The international community must be principal drivers of the change in public institutions and the cultural mindset of the Ukrainian people in undergoing the enormous internal revolution in attitudes required for Ukraine to join EU and NATO. When the war began, Ukraine was flooded with volunteers urgently seeking to care for the massive exodus of refugees and internally displaced peoples. Rules and regulations were wantonly disregarded routinely, in the interests of providing immediate assistance to those in desperate need; the Ukrainian authorities understood this and rules and regulations were overlooked. However now we are in the stalemate period of the war, we need urgently to turn to promoting rule of law principles in order to accelerate Ukraine’s EU membership process - something the EU clearly wants or Mrs Von Der Leyen would not have been in Kyiv this weekend - and it is incumbent upon each and every one of us within the international community in Ukraine to show that we support these principles and that we set an example by upholding the law and complying with Ukrainian laws.

Ukraine does not have a bad set of legislation on the statute book. Much or even most of it has been updated to meet European criteria. The problem is that people are wantonly disregarding it, and in some cases this includes foreigners. One of the horrifying things that has come to my attention recently is that manyNGO’s working in Ukraine are operating without being properly registered with the appropriate governmental authorities. Then they are paying their domestic and international staff, often without regard to the Ukrainian tax code. If the international community is operating in this way, then we can hardly be surprised if domestic Ukrainian NGO’s do the same thing and this way nobody pays any taxes and hence the Ukrainian public budget is reliant largely on international largesse and the incentives on the part of Ukraine’s democratic government - for Ukraine is supposed to be and must be a transparent functioning democracy if she is to enter the EU - to spend Ukrainian taxpayers’ funds wisely drives improved government. In other words, if government wastes domestic taxpayers’ funds then Ukrainians vote that government out at the ballot box and replace it with another government that does not do this. To promote this sort of political economy, an essential component of any modern liberal democracy, NGO’s operating in Ukraine need to be registered and they need to pay taxes on salaries and the like.

There are countless other examples I could cite of foreigners breaking all sorts of laws in Ukraine, imagining that they are somehow above the law or that it is their privilege to bribe their way out of problems or that because they are here to help the law does not or should not apply to them. What people who think like this miss out upon is that this war is not a temporary crisis in which rules are ignored in emergency situations. It is a long-term struggle on the part of the Ukrainian people and on the part of the West to liberate Ukraine from an old-fashioned sort of thinking, a legacy of the Soviet Union and prevalent in contemporary Russia, about law, public institutions and legal rules. Ukraine’s only hope for the future as a free and independent state outside the grip of Russian imperial tyranny is as a member of the European club of nations known as the European Union, and we in the international community need to promote the values of respect for the law that are essential for EU membership. We should lead by example. Foreigners in Ukraine should obey and uphold the law.


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