One thing I’m a bit embarrassed by is how paltry our coverage of the events in Ukraine have been over the past few weeks. I’m sure I’m not alone in watching from afar and being fascinated with what is happening, but I have no special expertise in the region. Does anyone from our readership?
One thing that’s fascinated me in particular is how quickly the state of policing shifted, and what this potentially means for how we think about such things as “police,” “state,” “violence,” and “democracy.” You know, all those classic elements of Police Studies that draw on Weber.
From what I can tell, things moved very quickly. While confrontations between police and protestors had been building for a while, the deadly violence seemed to ignite and spread quickly so that by Feb. 20th anthropologist Jennifer Carrol could write:
By the morning, police had pushed protestors back dramatically. The people had been cleared from the park, cleared from Hrushevskoho Street, cleared from Institutka Street, and driven into the middle of Independence Square. Police spent the day turning water canons on protesters and beating them with truncheons. Others took up perches on the roofs of buildings and scattered rifle fire throughout the crowd. At this moment, as I am writing, they are still actively shooting people on the streets from the roof of the Kozatskiy Hotel. There is no debate to be had today about whether “snipers” existed among the police like there was the last time men were shot. This time, these murderous officers are being recorded, at great length, by the local news. This time, it is all out in the open, business as usual. By Wednesday morning, the death toll had reached 25. This morning, on Thursday, it is not even noon and we have already lost seven more. (A regularly updated list of those murdered by state forces in Ukraine is available on the website http://www.justiceformaidan.org.)
According to CNN, as many as 100 people may have been killed by the next day. However by the 21st there were already reports of police defections, including at least one commander and his unit. By the 22nd, Ukraine’s Parliement had voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovich from office, and release his opponent Yulia Tymoshenko, while protesters siezed his compound (in which they promptly took selfies).
What’s even more interesting to me is that, soon after, many of the “functions” of police were taken up even in the abscence of a formal police institution. Protesters in ski masks served as security guards to the palace and people like the 30-year-old electrician called Andreiy took it upon themselves to direct traffic. What this all means and where it is all going is clear to no one, least of all me. By the 25th the very same police that had been acting as snipers were publicly asking for forgiveness from on their knees, to which the crowd reportedly responded with a chant of “shame on you” but with no retaliatory violence.
- Police as social control, by which she means “police” as a form of political dominance by one individual or group over another
- Police as social regulation, by which she means the role government played in the welfare, order and security of the city. Things like picking up the garbage and making sure the streets were clear.
- Police as an institution, that is as a bureaucratic organization
She makes this distinction in order to argue that (despite being a cosmopolitan, ethnically/economically/politically diverse urban democracy) Athens had the first two “senses” of police but not the third yet almost all of the functions we associate with the police as an institution (investigation, apprehension, prosecution) were performed. This key difference, however, suggests important differences between what the practice of democracy, political participation and self meant for Attic citizens versus us today.
As I’m looking from afar at Ukraine, I can’t help but think of Hunter’s work and wonder if a similar refiguration of those terms is in play.