Robert van Voren: Third anniversary of Maidan: I have lost my hopes, but I don’t give up

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP 

2016/11/22 • Op-ed

It is clear the honeymoon days are over. Three years after the start of Maidan, it is evident that many of the hopes that Maidan created did not materialize, and that the process of transforming Ukraine into a democratic society based on the rule of law is going to be a long and painful process and that we are only at the beginning of the road.

I cannot say that I am not disappointed. I too had these hopes, unrealistic ones, swept away by the emotions that resulted from the amazing sense of togetherness and optimism that Maidan brought about. After almost 25 years of battling the ossified system of Soviet psychiatry in Ukraine, I really thought that we would now be able to do what needed to be done and that finally, time would be on our side.

Very soon we met opposition and obstruction from unexpected quarters. Instead of obtaining support from the Ministry of Health we were met with disinterest and even outright hostility. Instead of being welcomed with open arms to develop reform programs for Ukrainian psychiatry, we fought for a year to retain the Chief Psychiatrist of Ukraine, Irina Pinchuk, who the system wanted to discard because she was too difficult, too demanding, and too open about the sheer incompetence of the Ukrainian psychiatric nomenklatura. They used the argument that she came from Donetsk, was therefore a “Yanukovite,” and they totally disregarded the fact that she and her family lost their livelihood in Donetsk and gave up her normal family life to serve the new Ukraine. We eventually won, but until the summer of this year the Ministry of Health basically ignored her.

This changed when we started to work with the Ombudsman for Human Rights, Valeriya Lutkovska, who turned the fight against human rights violations in mental hospitals and social care homes as one of the cornerstones of her work. An assessment of forensic psychiatric services in November 2015 showed to what extent the rights of patients were violated, with the Special Psychiatric Hospital in Dnipro being the epitome of inhumanity. Our plan included a proposal to the Ministry how to change the situation and end the massive human rights abuses, and after several discussions, it was accepted. However, as usual, it all came again to an end when the Minister changed. Again we are waiting for concrete steps without knowing when and whether they will come.

In the meantime, the patients in Dnipro and other places continue to suffer. And it is quite feasible that in April next year the situation will deteriorate further if Valeriya Lutkovska is not elected for the next term as Ombudsman. This is very much a possibility, because as in the case of the Chief Psychiatrist there are many who dislike her, not because she is ineffective but exactly because of the opposite: she is effective, and she threatens a system that continues to be corrupt, closed, and unwilling to change. And in Lutkovska’s case, they will undoubtedly also use the argument that she is a leftover from Yanukovych’ times, and thus should be discarded.

What I see in the field of mental health is not much different in other areas. The hope that after Maidan a generation of more honest and ethical politicians would appear is lost. The disclosure of private property was merely a painful and rather ludicrous indicator of what is happening. If politicians can declare having two million euro in cash at home without disappearing into a huge sinkhole in the ground out of feelings of shame, there is no hope that the system has improved in any way. New politicians, who originated from Maidan, have quickly adapted themselves to the old, and Ukrainian politics anno 2016 is very much characterized by window-dressing, creating Potemkin villages and continuing the sickening process of stealing from the people. What was black in Soviet or Yanukovych times is now turned white and instead of naming streets after real heroes of Ukraine – the Valery Marchenko’s and Aleksei Nikitins who died in Brezhnev’s Gulag and are largely forgotten – Stepan Bandera is propelled into a new form of sainthood. Mind you, I don’t share the Soviet view that he was a fascist criminal, but he also was not virgin white and his life story should be used to promote an even-handed recollection of the complicated history of Ukraine in the twentieth century.

Have I lost my hopes? Yes, I did, and watching increasingly obese politicians sitting in the Verkhovna Rada with their luxurious watches while ordering expensive holidays instead of doing their work disgusts me. I see the young professionals, who work crazy hours for minimal salaries, who dedicate their future to this country led by people who do not deserve to be in power, and I am upset and angry. But losing my hopes does not mean that I give up. Over the years I have learned to be an elephant, leaning against the door in the knowledge that sooner or later – and probably later – the door will give way and will open.

I have made my decision, and I will not go away. Yet my fear is that the young enthusiastic reformers, who took Maidan seriously and truly want to change the country, will not have this stamina. They still have their future ahead, and their future might well be outside Ukraine, in societies that respect hard work and human rights, instead of where their energy and input is most needed: in Ukraine, that still has not shed its Soviet past.

Source: First published in Russian on nv.ua

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