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Totalitarian and Civil Society in ORDLO


Ukraine got used to living in a state of war. More than two years passed since the beginning of the conflict in the Donbas, and we all had a chance to define our attitude towards it. We got used to confrontation, life in the conflict has settled – if only people weren’t killed, and it is possible to put up with the rest.

The news from the Verkhovna Rada, the General Prosecutor's Office, and the distant Panama oust the messages from the east of Ukraine from a top position. The Ukrainian society got used to the division into “We” and “They”, while “We” are on the side of Good, and “They” are on the side of Evil. All that is light in the world is for us; the Dark Forces of Mordor are for them. And it does not matter that they think the same way about us. “Failures” of Kyiv officials are perceived with joy and relief by them, like, “Thank God, we are not Ukraine anymore. Let them commit all sorts of outrages, we do not feel sorry for them, They are not Us.”

Our media present information from behind the front lines exclusively in dark shades: the Wild Fields revived in the Donbas, and hordes of Asians, fringe urban population groups, alcoholics and drug addicts, as well as released convicts roam the ruins of industrial zones. And how to doubt it, if one can be automatically considered as a traitor because of a simple trip to the scene of the events and accreditation of journalists there.

We have some deep psychological need to confirm our own rightness. We want, we wish that things just didn’t work out properly for them, that all their matters were worse than ours. And though we ourselves are far from ideal, it indulges our soul that everything is even worse there. Seeing the speck in the neighbor's eye, we do not even look into our bottomless eyes.

In many ways, this ambivalence is reinforced by a legal absurdity, when the de jure situation fundamentally differs from the de facto situation. The hybrid war was aimed to disguise the true purpose of the aggressor, and Ukrainian Themis, represented by the Shevchenko district court of Kyiv, denies the lawfulness to qualify the actions as the war and continues calling it all the “anti-terrorist operation.” From a legal point of view, we do not recognize either that there is a war or the aggression (see the decision of that Shevchenko district court of May 12, 2016 or of the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine of February 23, 2016), or occupation (see the law of Ukraine “On the special order of local self-government in separate districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”).

But then the question arises: don’t we act like the ostrich, which hides its head in the sand at the sight of danger? Don’t we want to save our picture of the world, such comfortable and convenient, from the reality? We can trick ourselves and convince others of something, but without changing anything the reality will not become as we want. It is very convenient to live in a “capsule of illusions”. Moreover, if someone encroaches on its integrity, they will immediately become enemies.

But the reality is that the pro-Russian “people's republics” de facto formed in the Ukrainian territory and are strengthening their position with each passing day. On May 11, 2016, they vigorously marked the second anniversary of their existence. During this time government agencies were formed that are functioning quite effectively in the “republics”. The external forms of life activity are maintained: cities are being cleaned and tidied; roads are being repaired, work of police, tax administration, public utilities has been organized. In the social sphere, the payment of pensions, salaries and allowances is carried out without noticeable delay.

Security officials, state employees and managers feel quite comfortable. Small business is coming back; shops and cafes are being opened. A special source of pride for “new republicans” is low tariffs for utilities and demonstrative corruption overcoming. The quality of meals in kindergartens and schools has been improved. The ruling elite tries at all cost not to irritate the population living in this territory. Whether we like it or not, life is slowly getting better without the help from Ukraine, but with the help of Russian money. However, we should not forget about the constant deaths at the front, basements of the Ministry of State Security (MSS), people with guns, spy fever and denunciations.

While our government is building fences inside the country, walling off from the part of its people, a specific identity is developing in ORDLO. In my view, two types of societies are forming in the “republics”: the pro-Ukrainian, mostly “virtual” (social media) civil society and the totalitarian pro-republican, pro-Russian (in social reality). Moreover, the “enemy image” in both cases plays a major role in this process. Only the enemy of a totalitarian society is Ukraine, and the enemy of civil society is Russia.

Civil society is forming to a greater degree “incognito”; an “open society” is created behind closed doors. People often do not write their names for security reasons, but negotiate, argue, discuss various “state” subjects trying to resist manipulation and outright propaganda. What is more, there is no consensus on many issues among the civil society representatives in the “republic”. The subjects to discuss are the post-war problems of the Donbas status, the Russian language, attitude towards the amnesty, de-communization, which is under way in Ukraine and which causes different reactions in society. Eastern Ukrainians are more conservative on this issue than the rest of the people of Ukraine. Some civil society representatives in ORDLO dream to throw off the Lenin Monument; while others believe that it’s better not to hit where it hurts to keep peace. Decommunization of Ukraine is carried out by the same methods, how the bells were taken down and the churches were destroyed in the 20s-30s. With their radical actions decommunizators act like Komsomol members in the 30s, being not much different from them...

If the civil society secretly manifests itself in the web space, the totalitarian society is forming defiantly and purposefully – the population is simply “zombified” by television, newspapers. Socialization and re-socialization of the individual occur namely by totalitarian methods. And when the older generation needs only to recall, and such methods are natural forms of the organization of life in society for them, children and young people have a hard time.

For example, to celebrate the anniversary of the “republic” the Ministry of Education of the "DNR" sent guidance on the necessity to study the biography of O. Zakharchenko, the anthem of the republic and its symbols by students, school pupils. Such civil society organizations as the Donetsk Republic, Free Donbas play an important role in the formation of the totalitarian society. There is no saying that the management of educational institutions executes all orders impeccably. Teachers oppose to the excessive politicization of life as much as they are able, focusing on the learning process. Yet, 23 years of life in democratic Ukraine have an effect, but the mental desire to “have master of their fate” is ineradicable among many citizens of the Donbas. To live “tied by one aim and bound by one chain” appears to be more convenient and easier, there is no need to make a choice, it will be made for you. The ideas of “negative” (“I am not a slave to anyone”) and “positive” freedom (“I am my own person”), described by the British philosopher Isaiah Berlin, do not work there. People are burdened by their freedom and give it consciously into the hands of the ruling elite. It is a formation of the “closed society” in an open mode. This feeling of closeness is reinforced by the blockade, checkpoints, isolation. Life flows during the “intake of breath and breath-hold”. People entering the territory of Ukraine “breathe out” and relax. Donetsk citizens joke, “We live so well that no one envies us.”

Though, skeptics may argue that both civil and totalitarian societies imply the existence of the state, and these formations are not such one. However, in modern times people often live in the constructed world - both by themselves and by the media for them. Therefore, while the L/DNR are unrecognized, many people believe they are absolutely legitimate, socially rational and desirable. Moreover, many of them are quite happy to live this way.

As for the Ukrainian side, in my opinion, the public, intellectuals, politicians should analyze the situation, study it objectively, predict development trends, but not uselessly deny everything that is done in ORDLO, mocking the Ukrainians who stay there. We just have to face the truth, to see and know our and their mistakes and victories, because “knowledge is power”, as the European philosophers Roger and Francis Bacon said.

See also:

Five myths about the occupied territories of the Donbas

Main Myths about Social Payments to Internally Displaced Persons

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