Blue vests: for whom and how the dialogue police work in Ukraine?

Taking the edge off during public events, negotiations with organizers, rick studies, promotion of dialogue and minimizing possible clashes. It’s not just police. It is the dialogue police and it’s their main tasks. We are talking with the Head of the Department of Preventive Communication of the National Police Victoria Azarova and her deputy Timur Brikulsky, about how works the relatively new department in Ukraine works.

  • Where did the name “dialogue police” come from, according to the staffing table it is the Department of Preventive Communication of the National Police?

Timur Brikulsky: Firstly, we had the lemon-colored vests and called “anticonflict group”. It was felt as the society didn’t understand this name. We were asked, you know, are you making conflicts or something like that? In fact, because of that we changed twice our name. There have been attempts to be called “communication police”. This name also wasn’t successful. I don’t know why, but people asked: “Are you communicating somewhere underground?”

Victoria Azarova: After that we tried “dialogue police” and it was caught on. Dialogue police is a Scandinavian model. For the first time, such police department was launched in Denmark in 1993. Then Sweden, in 2001, when the EU summit was held in Gothenburg and riots took place. Dialogue police work was effective. Sweden has begun studying how to use the dialogue police during major events in Europe, where clashes took place. It comes to football matches and high-risk demonstrations. These researches lasted for three years and as a result a Special Police Tactics (SPT) was developed, which also included the work of the dialogue police. So, the story is quite old, but as a result the Scandinavians on their vests have written “dialogue police”.  But the Czechs and Slovaks have an “anticonflict group”. Talking about the name, we went through trials and errors. Indeed, according to the staffing table we are called “Department of Preventive Communication”. But can you imagine it on the vests? When we wrote “dialogue police” on our vests, it became understood. Because everyone understands that dialogue means conversation.

  • Preparing for the interview, I checked the information about vests, and saw that “dialogue police” vest could be bought in regular online store for about 1000 UAH. It is a risk that anyone can take an advantage of it. What else makes your department police different except of these vests?

Victoria Azarova: In addition to vests, our workers, also have certificate and badge.

Timur Brikulsky: By the way, why these vests are blue? We have a lot of Services, here in Kyiv, which are in the same colors. When it comes to black color, the Operation and Investigation units work in them, in raspberry color – parking attendants and others. In order not to disorient people, we chose blue.

In Scandinavian countries it all started in the 90s, but in Ukraine it happened fairly recent. How did you get started? What was the first task?

Timur Brikulsky: The idea of the dialogue police began with a pilot project in July 2017. We have a corresponding order of the Cabinet of Ministers, which provides the formation of so-called “negotiators” in the police department. It is a result of the cooperation of the Cabinet of Ministers, Ministry of Internal Affairs and European Union Advisory Mission.

Victoria Azarova: The first challenge was the work during the protests in Odessa on May 2, 2018. We were sent there on a business trip and worked with the department of preventative communication in Odessa. The protests were held due to the tragic events in Odessa on May 2, 2014, when clashes and riots took place between pro-Ukrainian citizens, ultras of the football clubs ‘Chernomorets’ and ‘Metalist’ on the one hand and pro-Russian participants on the other. Since March 3, 2019, we finally became not just a pilot project, we began working in almost all large cities of Ukraine.

  • How many people are currently involved and work in the dialogue police?

Victoria Azarova: The official staff consist of 12 police officers. We also have two units with two special forces. Among other things, ten people in the special forces provide services for entire government quarter. Also, there are groups of the dialogue police in each district, but they work freelance, it means they work in their full-time job. There are five police officers in each district. We involve them in the major events or when we need to be familiar with the area. In general, nowadays in Ukraine 200 dialogue police officers.

Timur Brikulsky: Also, I would like to add, that we had a recommendation, requiring at least 30% of the staff must be women, that is in compliance with the European experience.

  • How does the dialogue police work in practice? My imagination draws only conversations, is it so?

Timur Brikulsky: If a peaceful demonstration is planned, for example Kyiv Pride, and at the same time we have information that conflicting meeting is held, we communicate with both sides. It’s happens during work meetings or over the phone. We can’t ban anything like police, only the court can do that, but we explain them their rights and consequences of non-compliance. We can’t limit what the opponents of LGBT community are represent. Our purpose is to provide safety during events. We work with both sides.

–  In case, when one of them show aggression, in particular, right-wing movements, is dialogue possible?

Victoria Azarova: For two years of work, we have never pushed them one to another. On the eve, we meet separately with representatives of Kyiv Pride. We also meet and communicate with radicals. It is also worth noting, that is not only radical organizations, but also religious and Christian ones. We offered them a dialogue format through which they could talk with our participation.  Because, if you don’t start a dialogue, you can’t come to any agreements. When we were trained, we were told that we could carry out such communication. Surely, if there is no desire to meet, then no one can force.

  • How should such meeting be held, when the danger for LGBT-activists present?

Victoria Azarova: We suggested meeting not at Kyiv Pride itself, but separately, based on the KCSA (Kyiv City State Administration), where had been representatives of the city government and the police. According to the Constitution, every citizen has a right to freedom of speech. If a peaceful demonstration is taking place and there are other requests for demonstrations on that day, we must come to consensus. It is about separate routs. If there is no agreement, we offer the option “separation”. We divide two events. According to the international standards of democratic countries, the main purpose is that they can see and hear each other but can’t commit unlawful acts. This rule called “see and hear”. If unlawful acts are committed, the criminal or administrative legislation comes into effect.

Timur Brikulsky: There are four main principles, which we use during peaceful meetings. It is assistance, possession of information, communication and a differentiated approach. They are all based on the theory of social identity. It was brought out by a group of scientists, after studies of clashes during demonstrations.

  • What does differentiated approach mean in practice?

Timur Brikulsky: It is the identification of the most active participants among the crowd.

Victoria Azarova: We can’t push back the entire crowd. Do you remember how it used to be? The police don’t figure out any details during demonstrations. If police come in, they disperse the whole crowd. Currently, our task is not to provide security and order. Our goal, as a dialogue police, is to promote peaceful events. As to the assistance, we help participants to express their thoughts. Previously, we talk about risks, I mean recall previous similar events, what were the threats. While discussing a route, we propose additional variants. In case of threat, we must get this multi-thousand columns out in time to minimalize clashes. A wide range of questions are discussed: formation of columns, leaders of this columns, will be volunteers or not. We call it “the model of risks and threats”. We can’t ban, but we can recommend.

Timur Brikulsky: We’ve got a group of people, and it can’t be homogenous.  There may be religious fans, non-formal leaders or certain minorities. Also, there may be children, teens, people with disabilities. In order not to disturb the entire crowd, when someone start provoking, first the elderly, children and people with disabilities are reported on threats. After that, special forces get to work, they go into the crowd and crowds out these provocateurs.  There are times, when we already have close cooperation with non-formal leaders or organizers, so we can come to them and say: “Try to remove this situation by yourself, otherwise police in overalls will be involved.”.

  • So, the dialogue police never work undercover in the crowd and without blue vests?

Victoria Azarova: By the way, this question was raised in European countries, when they tried to use the dialogue police as an intelligence unit for information. Dialogue police in Ukraine doesn’t work this way, we have only an open dialogue. We communicate exclusively through open channels of communication. It means, that we can’t impart information, which is not relates to our work, while we are in a crowd. There are certain ethical standards. The trust gets lost, and then they won’t work with us. Our management is also aware of this.

  • What is the attitude of the leadership of the National Police to the dialogue police? Do they think that you’re equitable part of the police work?

Victoria Azarova: Head of the National Police in Kyiv Andriy Kryshenko from the beginning was a supporter and initiator of creation the dialogue police. Before that, we was sitting and thinking about what can be done to minimize the presence of police during mass events, and also to minimize the conflicts between the police and the crowd.  Then we studied the experience of European countries and saw, that it can be used in Ukraine in the work of the dialogue police unit. Correspondence and negotiation lasted for a year. From the beginning we were looked at to understand how this project will work at all.  It was important to understand, whether people will make a contact, whether they will communicate with us. These were serious concerns and the importance of building up our interpersonal relations. When we saw that because of our work the level of danger has fallen, we became a fully-fledged part.

  • Have you measured these indicators? How can be understand, that the level of danger and harm has minimized?

Timur Brikulsky: No specific statistics can be displayed. We feel this, also we rely on the feedback from the organizers. In fact, there are a lot of protests taking place in Kyiv right now.

Victoria Azarova: We are attracted almost every day, sometimes even on several demonstrations. For example, today we worked on the human chain on the Paton bridge due to the Day of Unity of Ukraine. Also, today there were two parades, first one in honor of Mikhail Zhiznevsky, and the second is dedicated again due to the Day of Unity of Ukraine. In general, there are even more demonstrations every day, but we interfere only where there may be certain risks. Its about 80% of the total. For example, when it comes to the participation of radical organizations. It should be noted that we exist not only to calm everyone, but to provide medical care or advice, if it needed. We also participate in meetings to establish communication with representatives of the state authorities.

  • How the dialogue police help citizens in communication with the state authorities?

Timur Brikulsky: This is the establishment of communication of citizens with the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, Office of the President, with all ministries and agencies, Prosecutor General’s Office. For example, we work during protests under the Office of President, when people want to pass on appeal or want to communicate with representatives of the state authorities. According to the issues raised, their seriousness, representatives of the President’s Office come out and we facilitate this dialogue. Also, we worked at the NSC “Olimpiyskiy” during the presidential debates.

  • If you look back at how the 2019 passed for the dialogue police, what are the three achievements you can name?

Victoria Azarova: First, in 2019 we didn’t work as a project anymore, we became a fully-fledged department, our concept was signed. Second, we began to work not only in Kyiv, but throughout Ukraine. Third, we began to implement training courses for your staff. Among the challenges of the past year, there were a lot of evens related to the rights of LGBT community. For example, a lesbian conference was held in Ukraine for the first time. Why did we decide to hold it? In the security case, the Women’s March showed that it’s possible, because March was held with less conflicts than it was before.

Victoria Azarova
  • What challenges do you see for the dialogue police work in 2020? What difficulties can be?

Victoria Azarova: Now we are seriously working on the mistakes we made. So, one of the challenges is to avoid and not repeat these mistakes again during huge demonstrations in the future. If we get better results this year compared with 2018 and 2019, it also will be an achievement. Second is the peaceful organization of local elections and our work during these events. Also, our further development is important. Now we’re preparing our serious tactical document. It was initiated by the European Union’s Advisory Mission. It is instruction on the actions of the police during peaceful demonstrations.

  • Didn’t such instructions exist in your work before?

Victoria Azarova: They were, but now they will comply with democratic standards of European country.

Timur Brikulsky: In Ukraine, except the Constitution, there are no laws in this issue. In other countries the peaceful assembly law is operated. This law clearly defines, who and for what is responsible, from the police and organizers to participants.

  • What do you think is necessary today for events with the participation of the LGBT community to take place without violence before, during and after they are held?

Timur Brikulsky: Constant dialogue in society, between participants of demonstrations and conflicting group, constant communication between law enforcement officers, representatives of local and state authorities.

Interview: journalist and human rights activist Elizaveta Kuzmenko.

Photos are provided by the National police.

This article was prepared with the support of Freedom House in Ukraine. 

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