WORLD AFFAIRS.  It had to come to this, of course. When thugs throw an innocent person in jail, how can they resist showing her who’s boss? How can they resist beating her up?

They can’t. And, in Viktor Yanukovych’s Ukraine, they didn’t.

It happened on Friday, April 20th, shortly after 9 p.m., and the victim of the Regionnaire assault was the recently incarcerated opposition leader and former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Here’s her description of the beating:

At around 21:00 my fellow prisoner was taken out of her cell and shortly thereafter three enormous men came into mine. They approached my bed, covered me with a bed sheet, and began to remove me from my bed, while applying brute force. Desperate and in pain, I began to defend myself, but received a hard punch in the gut. They twisted my hands and feet, and I was taken outside in the bed sheet. I thought that this was my end. The unbearable pain in my back and my fear led me to scream and call for help, but I received none. At some point I simply lost consciousness as a result of the terrible pain and came to in a hospital.

Naturally, the Regionnaires deny all wrongdoing. As the deputy head of the State Penitentiary Service, Serhii Sydorenko, put it, “With respect to the beating, I can state with complete certainty that there was none.” Too bad the Parliament’s human rights ombudsman, Nina Karpacheva, disagrees: “I state that transporting Tymoshenko in this manner represents brutal conduct and may be considered torture” according to a variety of human rights conventions. To which, unsurprisingly, the leader of the Regionnaire parliamentary faction, Oleksandr Yefremov, responded by claiming that Karpacheva is prejudiced and is just angling for a top spot in the opposition.

Yeah, right.

I suppose it all depends on what you mean by a beating. In Regionnaire Land, a punch in the gut is business as usual. A real beating involves at least a bit of blood and a few broken bones. Heck, that “bedsheet” thing was probably a sign of endearment! And besides, wasn’t the broad just asking for it?

I suppose it’s possible that Tymoshenko punched herself in the stomach, and that her subsequent decision to go on a hunger strike is just grandstanding, but the long-standing Regionnaire association with thugs, pogromchiks, fisticuffs, violence, and sexism surely suggests otherwise. Tymoshenko’s vivid description of being maltreated is rather more credible than avowals of innocence by the same people who attributed Viktor Yushchenko’s horrible disfigurement in 2004 to too much booze.

The only real question is: why? Why in God’s name would the Regionnaires be so dumb as to hasten Tymoshenko’s transformation into a martyr and a symbol of resistance?

Part of the answer is, to quote Forrest Gump’s mom, because “stupid is as stupid does.” And, to tell the truth, the unique amalgam of stupidity and thuggishness that the Regionnaires have managed to perfect may be sufficient to explain the beating. After all, part of the Regionnaire job description is to act like big clods with heavy fists. 

But let’s assume they actually hoped to achieve something with the beating. What could that be?

It could be that the boys in the prison were told to rough up Tymoshenko for having expressed an impassioned critique of the regime in an interview published on the very day of the beating. Here’s how she described Yanukovych’s Ukraine:

Contemporary Ukraine is a combination of “the island of Dr. Moreau” and Orwell’s 1984…. They’re making us into a nation of losers—without historical memory, without national pride, without positive economic prospects and a European future. They’re building a country of one family—a family with a large appetite or, rather, bulimia, a miserable IQ, and pretensions of eternal power.

It could also be that the regime was trying to send a message to Ukrainians in general, and to the democratic opposition in particular: step out of line and you will suffer the consequences. Desperate authoritarian regimes the world over act that way before critical elections they know they’ll lose. If that’s the case, expect beatings of opposition politicians to increase as the October parliamentary elections approach.

It won’t work, of course. Ukrainians won’t be intimidated anymore by an incompetent regime that needs to pummel defenseless political prisoners. And the rest of the world will only become even more outraged by President Yanukovych’s progressive self-transformation into a pariah.

All of which raises a terrifying question. If the Regionnaires don’t understand that beating Tymoshenko is both wrong and dumb, won’t they be tempted to silence her permanently? Ukraine and the world would be up in arms, but the Regionnaires wouldn’t care—or even notice. And besides, isn’t the broad just asking for it?

Alexander J. Motyl's blog

Ukrayinska Dumka


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