On November 10th, Dr. Yuliya Zabyelina presented her research in a New Directions Lecture, “The Urge to Purge: Lustration in Ukraine during Ongoing Conflict.” Yuliya Zabyelina is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice with the John Jay College of Criminal Science at the City University of New York (CUNY). She examined the development of the lustration program enacted by the Ukrainian government in 2014, analyzing the different aspects of the lustration program and the impact or lack thereof on those who would be targeted by the lustration program’s policies. The implementation of lustration followed from the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, Euromaidan, as the activists attempted to work with the new government to remove those from the state that were active members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Yanukovych regime. Zabyelina aimed to address the following questions with her research into lustration: What to focus? What is lustration and what functions does it serve? How can late lustration programs be explained? How can lustration systems be categorized and what is the expected effect of each of them? What is the expected impact of lustration in heterogeneous and divided societies? Should lustration embrace the fight against corruption?
Lustration comes from the Latin word “lustrum,” which denotes a ceremony of ritual purification. Essentially, lustration was an act of cleansing of the state apparatus of those who were a part of the state apparatus during times of oppression (under Communism) and during the Yanukovych regime. The lustration package in Ukraine post-Euromaidan had mainly one tangible, general function, as do most lustration policies, and that is to cleanse the state apparatus of those old policies and people who are no longer part of the status quo, who represent that which must be changed. Lustration in Ukraine also carries a long with it, as Zabyelina stated, a number of intangible functions, functions that are by-products of the lustration policies, intangibles that would hopefully come from a forward-looking, cleansing of the state of the old, making way for the new. Some of these intangible functions include: Drawing the line between the past and new regime, ritual purification of the old regime, the transformation of mentalities within the state towards policy and the nation, and responses to extraordinary politics.
According to Zabyelina, the type of lustration that Ukraine is undergoing can be called “hard lustration” with policies are meant to exclude and make public those who are being cleansed. In contrast, a mild or informal lustration policy might involve reconciliation or be conducted internally rather than publicly. Zabyelina argued that Ukraine’s hard lustration policy lacks aspects of reconciliation, transparency, and consistency that might make it more efficient and safe. Thus, this half-baked hard lustration coupled with the fact that 81% of Ukrainians believe lustration is necessary to fight corruption, has led to vigilante lustration, where mobs of people would attempt to expose corrupt officials. For example in “Dumpster lustration” a lustrated individual is put in a dumpster while a crowd cheers “shame”. These events are often recorded and posted online.
Zabyelina suggested that there is no clear answer to whether lustration is working or not in Ukraine at the moment, as lustration is not only still ongoing, but also lustration is happening alongside ongoing conflict. She argued that as long as the conflict in Ukraine goes unresolved, lustration will never be able to fully work efficiently and to achieve the purposes for which it was enacted by the Ukrainian government.
Nicholas Higgins is a Masters student in the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include the development of identity separate from the Soviet identity during Glasnost’ and Perestroika, the current relations between Russia and its neighbors, especially Russia’s relations with Ukraine. He received his B.A in Philosophy and Russian, East European, & Eurasian Studies from Miami University of Ohio in 2015. He is currently working on his Masters thesis, which is attempting to adapt Søren Kierkegaard‘s model of faith into a political and social model that could represent the political and social nature of the late Soviet era.