Today, Ivano-Frankivsk paid tribute to three police workers from the city, formerly part of the Berkut unit, who were killed when their helicopter was shot down near to Slovyansk in Donetsk region. I will write more about the mourning later today. This episode, however, would disrupt that narrative, hence the separate post now.
I would like to stress that arseholes are encountered the world over, so this post should not be read as an “anti-Ukrainian” rant. But it should be read in the context of the past months’ events which are now sometimes referred to as the “Revolution of Dignity”, or “Революція гідності”.
So this post intends through this rather insignificant event, on the grand scale of things, to work up towards a discussion of the questions of the values and attitudes that are being discussed right now in Ukraine. It is also offers insight into something of in the microcosm of relations between society and the police, between discipline and punishment.
Having watched the funeral and the start of the procession outside Ivano-Frankivsk’s Greek Catholic Cathedral, I decided to get a small bun from Pirizhkova, a long-standing Soviet-era cafe specialising in buns, soup and wheat-based “coffee”. It could be a long march through the city, I thought, and I could do with a coffee too after a morning of editing a translation.
So with a warm, steaming bun in my hand I approached the nearby pedestrian crossing on Sichovych Striltsiv Street to go to the place with the ice cream cone outside it on the photo above. You can get really good espresso for just 3 UAH and buying coffee there probably supports the deaf-mute community of Ivano-Frankivsk, whose community centre is inside the building.
As I approached the crossing, a car was turning onto the pavement and forcing me backwards or sideways to avoid it. As many folk in Frankivsk like to do, this centrally-located parking spot right on the crossing is a convenient place to leave your motor. The more socially-conscious drivers tend to avoid parking right on a pedestrian crossing, preferring to break the Ukrainian highway code more subtly by parking within ten metres of a crossing or on any convenient sidewalk. So having no scruples about parking right on crossing improves your chances of finding somewhere to park.
As former Brit in Ukraine blogger Graham Phillips recently wrote about cultural differences now he’s back in Britain: ‘Last night I wanted to go to a pub south of the river and was just wondering which pavement to pitch up and park my car on when all the yellow lines, stern parking notices reminded me that just parking wherever you like is no longer an option.’
As I didn’t want to get bumped into by this car, I headed to the passenger side and informed the occupants calmly in my best Ukrainian that perhaps they hadn’t noticed the traffic lights they had barely just passed, but they were in fact blocking a pedestrian crossing and as such the law does not permit them to park them.
After a bit of a bizarre stand off with me in front of the VW nibbling my still-warm bun, the car slowly inching forwards, the driver got out and confronted me telling me that I should keep on walking as I wouldn’t want any trouble with him. His wife, or whoever it was, sat passively in the car. I repeated my knowledge of the Ukrainian highway code although I couldn’t finish as he recognised that something was amiss with my Ukrainian.
He found a weak point and was going to use it. “A good life is it in Poland? Why don’t you go back there, Pollack? [Polyachku]” I informed him that I’m not actually Polish even if I do have a distinctly Polish lilt and rhythm to my Ukrainian. (Readers, my citizenship status is complex, so I technically am Polish although the document I have to prove it gives me no rights yet to be a fully-recognised Pole in Poland, so for now I still feel more British, well, English in fact, as a sign of respect to Scotland, where I lived for five years.)
I replied that my nationality has little bearing on the situation, as it is the man’s parking that is the problem. I had my phone in my hand at the time and prepared to take a photo of the man and his car. The driver deemed this “a provocation” – such a familiar term in current discourse in Ukraine. “Why is some Pollack provoking me here? Go on, eat your bun. And then back to Poland.” I carried on eating my bun while the man got up close and starting shunting me with his body. I held my ground a while while he suggested I call the police. I informed him that today would be a good day to summon the police, since they were all out in town at the funeral of their colleagues, while traffic police were controlling traffic flow around the city. I asked the man, “is this the way to honour the dead, parking like this?” He replied that no Pollack is going to lecture him on patriotism. I enquired as to whether he was “a patriot, a nationalist or just a racist” – yeah, I played that card – because he thought my apparent Polishness was so significant a factor in this matter concerning his poor parking.
The suggestion that he was a racist got his goat a bit, so the shunting became more forceful, so I took a few steps back, took my photo and kept my distance. The man started to follow, threatening to “hunt me down on the Sotka”, the local nickname for the main street in the city, and will “stick your phone up your arse.” Turning to more six-form-ish taunts, I enquired as to whether he enjoyed that kind of thing before making the hand signal that suggests he is all mouth and no trousers. I carried on my way along the Sotka, at the end of which I found some ordinary police together with traffic police and informed them of the situation.
Unsurprisingly, they weren’t exactly willing to assist as they couldn’t leave their post, or very keen to radio/phone any colleagues to see if the guy’s car was still illegally parked, but I showed them the photo and they noted the number plate. The policemen seemed to enjoy having a foreigner to talk to though about life in Frankivsk and in Ukraine.
The general reaction to this story is that this incident is really a case for Maidan Self-Defence or even Right Sector to sort out. I don’t know if those organizations would be willing to assist a “Pollack”, maybe they would. But it seems that awful parking is one area that civil society is seeking to combat in the city.
There are online campaigns, such as this one that I contributed to, but the general impact of civil society, or just good citizens, on the behaviour of ordinary people is still small, not just in terms of parking. The strongest desire, aside from improving everyday conditions is Ukraine, is to end chamstwo, boorishness, selfishness, which includes the corruption of petty officials as well as the behaviour of people on the street. Perhaps the frustrations of slow change will bring more people onto the streets.
Today I met Pan Myroslav, a one man protest outside the Regional Administration Building, who in ten minutes of chatting got a lot of support from ordinary people passing by as they entered the building to sort out some matter or other. Maybe, soon, more will join him if things don’t change? That’s what he hoped. He also didn’t seem to mind that he was talking to an apparent Pole, in fact, he said first that he could hear some English accent in my Ukrainian above all. He has a fine ear. The local press have started to cover his protest, too.
As I’ve said before on these pages, the revolution won’t be won until people stop parking like arseholes. And now that in some quarters the events that have been taking place since November 2013 are now being called “The Revolution of Dignity”, the battle against arsehole drivers seems to fit the guiding principle of a Revolution of Dignity (Революція гідності).
PS: Thanks all for the feedback on this post in various fora. This seems like a great model for stickers to use in Poland. ‘For parking badly now scratch it off.‘ Here is the link to the Polish movement that is taking direct, humourous action.