Parliament

Rada forgot to prohibit the most dangerous Soviet heritage

17.04.2015
Lesia Shevchenko

Today, the State remains the key barrier to better Ukraine. Bureaucrats in the government offices try to impede the reforms by all means

The extraordinary parliamentary decision to ban the communist symbols is certainly a positive phenomenon beyond dispute. Despite its symbolic importance, such legal act have not yet  provided an antidote against the real and the most terrible heritage of the Soviet Union - the monstrous colossus of bureaucracy and bureaucratic practices.

The famous French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu as early as 1970 proposed the idea of ​​‘symbolic violence’ - certain imposed meanings to legitimize and maintain the system of power  in the countryThe apparent Soviet heritage, including the emblems and monuments of communism, weresorted out somehow  by Verkhovna Rada. Yet, it was in no big rush with the implicit remainder of totalitarian rule.

The army of officials continue to personify the worst features of the Soviet regime. The attention should be paid not only to state top senior managers. These positions are more and more often occupied by people with different thinking, basically - expats. One of the main threats to the new-born Ukrainian democracy is middle tier bureaucrat who still occupies the "corridors of power" in the buildings of district councils and ministries.

Their loyalty is costly to both citizens and politicians. The first need to obtain various public services through barter, protection or corruption of any kind. The latter are forced to cope with cemented system of Kafka’s rules and rituals of bureaucracy to implement their policy decisions, many of which have to be sacrificed.

If high level state managers cannot cope with silent aggression of Ukrainian bureaucrats, what about ordinary Ukrainians? The power of officials in the eyes of ordinary Ukrainian from Zhmerinka, Konotopsk or Kramatorsk looks formidable and unshakeable, almost self-evident. Understanding that the bureaucrat is a hired manager or specialist who administers taxpayers' money is a mere lip service. In reality, when visiting the state offices this awareness is lost - a citizen get aware of his own inferiority in comparison with the state official with the least  minimum of powers.

In the early twentieth century the bureaucracy theorist Max Weber explained the power of officials of the major powers of the time( Britain, France, Russia, Germany, USA and Japan) by the Category of Machtstaat. Among other things  these states had two major components - the state and the power (Macht), the opportunity to resolve the problem. USSR was the state of this type,  keeping the myth about the omnipotence of bureaucracy in the minds of the population of post-Soviet empire.

This brings us to the question of symbolic violence. The hammer, sickle and ‘ugly’ Lenin on the central square of towns will soon be not able to remind of the 70 years of nomenclature. But  the power of today's bureaucratic class says a lot of such things. They are not obvious, but their influence is more than weighty. Think about typical authorities building in Ukraine. These areoften a logo of Soviet constructivism, heavy, gray and with pressing, long darkened corridors and tight doors. The employee (so called public servats) still dominates the humble employer (the public) standing in the hallway . The buildings of the executive committees and other tax administrations remain like symbolic castle with the barons and the limited entrance for mere mortals. For comparison have a look at the famous photo of the mayor's office in New York.

Accordingly, the employees of such institutions get formed, fixed and inherited ‘corridor-office thinking’. There is no space for provate initiative, openness and accountability, but a lot of it for the hierarchy,  subordination, backroom agreements and division into friends and foes.

At the same time the promised reform of government service in Ukraine was not started yet – the authorities are de facto sabotaging it. Government and Parliament regularly boast of thr success to fight against corruption. The latter, of course, commendable, but corruption is a product  of a ‘corridor-office’ thinking and bureaucracy, and imposed on citizens ‘image of power’.

It is obvious that officials will fight until the endt for the status quo. If politicians at the level of ministers and heads of departments come under attention of the public, the most part of state managers will stay in grey area. The government service reform is not in their interest, therefore state managers will apply all possible tools for its slowdown. Considering Ukrainian legislation complexity and ease of drowning in paperwork processes, the state managers have an obvious advantage.

Therefore, the update of bureaucracy should be one of the first steps on the road to reforms. Undoubtedly, it is the task of incredible complexity : cleaning the system of state management  from tens of thousands of post-Soviet thinking people, filling it with responsible and honest persons, introducing new simple and making sure corridor-office system was not revived. Fast recovery of old practices is one of the most painful points that can destroy all reforms, the bad is always learned faster than good. This requires the development of special programs of professional training and new statutory acts that change the meaning of being an official. Ironically, in Ukraine the bureaucrats were entrusted to reform the bureaucracy, which in principle destroyed the idea.

The current Chair of the National Agency of State Service Konstantin Vashchenko said that the upcoming draft law on state service will divide political and administrative positions, settled the status of officials, and introduce compulsory competitive selection (it is now ‘on paper’ ), good financial security and career potential. He said that Ukraine has 300 thousand officials, fifth of them must be cut before the end of this yearStrangely,  the officials’ statements rarely mentioned IT using. As programmers joke, a well-written script can replace the major part of officials.

A hundred years later Weber`s colleagues began to observe that power flows away from the state. But they explained so vaguely where to it is leaking that it was more foreboding, than the analysis of reality. There is a positive example of such a leak in Ukraine. Self-organization of population was clearly shown at Maidan, the volunteer movement emerged during ATO. The state remains the key barrier to better Ukraine. There is not yet technology developed to replace the officials and the habit of monopolization by legitimate violence. Our country critically needs to overstep this value-shift to be successful, and  to reconsider the role of state management and people involved in it.

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