Non-rhetorical questions to the Minister of Internal Affairs

In times of crisis and uncertainty people want to know that there are those out there concerned for their safety. When, in turn, those out there have an interest in gaining a new leading role, it is worth making themselves known, demonstrating decisiveness and initiative. If with his visa initiatives, the Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Lutsenko wanted to convince Ukrainian nationals and others that his department is ready to maintain law and order in the country and can worthily fulfil the new role it is to take on, I rather fear he miscalculated.

In the very near future a new migration body is to be created under the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). The Ministry’s leadership have long lobbied for such a move and are clearly relishing their new role. It would be unkind to suspect some kind of ulterior motive for such a burning desire to take on extra responsibility, however it is also difficult to believe that the leadership have understood that not all new tasks can be squeezed into the customary duties of a law enforcement agency.

The Minister saw fit to muddle two rather different tasks. They are of course united by the need to approach the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding visa restrictions, but that’s where the link ends. Lutsenko is proposing to introduce visas for Moldovan nationals, since according to him:
“A big problem at present is the visa-free regime across the western border of the European Union with previously obtained Romanian passports which Romania now has no interest in, yet people try to use them to cross other, Polish and Slovakian, borders”.

Everybody knows that the EU is concerned for the inviolability of its borders, and it probably seemed a nice surprise for them, however doubts remain. No difficulty in understanding who would be hassled by the new arrangement, but whose headache such visas would be aimed at removing is anybody’s guess. Whether Moldovan nationals have Romanian passports, genuine or otherwise, will have no impact whatsoever on the documents they show Ukrainian border guards if they are arriving in the country as citizens of Moldova. What’s the use of visas? They won’t help Polish border guards decide whether a person with an apparently Romania passport has the right to citizenship of a country which is now part of the EU. This has nothing to do with Ukraine.

Are European Union officials likely to rejoice over the energetic thrust of a ministry now about to answer for migration? I doubt it. That they won’t notice the second target of the new initiative is even less probable. After all we are talking about proposed visa restrictions for Georgians since, according to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, “over 150 gangs carry out burglaries”.

At least the Ukrainian politician did not attempt, as once the Soviet authorities were wont, to claim that such restrictions were for the protection and comfort of the foreign nationals involved. No, he is himself sad about it, but the criminals leave him no choice. In light of this, I have a number of questions:
– Does the Minister consider that all nationals of the above-mentioned country take part in these criminal gangs or engage in no less criminal activities on Ukraine’s territory?
– If not all of them do so, then does he believe that nationals without such criminal tendencies should bear effectively collective responsibility for the crimes of their compatriots?
– Do Ukrainians who now have to expend a large amount of time, money and nerves on obtaining visas to western countries bear the same responsibility for the limited number of their compatriots who would willingly stay in the countries they get to on a visa, or who commit crimes there?

Let’s consider also the question of whether the Minister understands what an appalling impression such measures which single out specific ethnic or national groups will make on people both in Ukraine and abroad. As far as European countries are concerned, there will be no understanding, and cannot be. Unless of course he can present convincing evidence of the danger which one group presents to the country.

This he cannot provide. During the first 8 months of 2008, foreign nationals in Ukraine committed 1,556 unlawful acts. Of this number, 1704 (91.8%) were committed by nationals of CIS countries: Russia – 794 (42,8 %), Georgia – 327 (17,6 %), Moldova – 272 (14,6%), Azerbaijan – 95 (5,1%), Armenia – 88 (4,7%). This leaves 152 crimes carried out by other foreign nationals. It should be noted that in 2007 and 2008, according to statistics which can be found on the MIA official website, 1.1% of all crimes were committed by foreign nationals.

Unless of course the police know of a considerably higher number of criminals specifically from Georgia but are powerless to counter their activities. They would thus, presumably, be hoping that visas would do the trick where they had failed. A fairly feeble hope, but then the whole idea seems improbable.
Regrettably, it is more likely that we are seeing some other reasons which, in the view of the MIA leadership, warrant singling out Georgians. I wouldn’t like to guess what the reasons might be, but would note how frustrating it is that Ukrainian officials should be resorting to tactics reminiscent of those applied by the Russian authorities against Georgians in 2006, as well as of the anti-Georgian hysteria during the war in August 2008.

It is worth noting also that this is by no means the first time that we are hearing dubious and intolerant remarks about people from the Caucuses or migrants in general from the MIA leadership or people who are earmarked for leading roles in the new migration body. Dubious, it should be added, not because they’re politically incorrect, but because they have no relation to the real state of affairs, as confirmed by statistical data. What are people on the street supposed to think when supposedly authoritative sources in the ministry claim that foreigners in Kyiv committed three times more crimes against Kyiv residents and visitors to the capital than vice versa, or state, as did the Head of the Kyiv Police, that his officers were prepared to maintain law and order should there be a surge of migrants from the Caucuses due to the war over South Ossetia? They are presumably supposed to think that the police are right in there protecting them from criminals, and taking decisive measures against such crimes. Judging by Lutsenko’s remarks against migrants in July last year and the absolutely staggering utterances from Gennady Moskal on “Paedophiles, perverts and maniacs” supposedly coming en mass to Ukraine, we can forget about positive aspects of the work of the new migration body. If that is, human rights groups and the public in general do not clearly indicate zero tolerance for attempts to play on people’s fears and their wish to find scapegoats for their ills.

In conditions of crisis people do indeed need protection but not only from criminals. Any attempts to set people on imagined culprits and convince them that all would be well if not for a certain group will almost certainly have adverse consequences both within Ukraine and to Ukraine’s reputation in the world. Such methods are cheap and dangerous, and the potential damage caused the country a price much too high to pay.

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