Ukraine’s “Warm Ocean Strategy”



Oleksiy Arestovych is a family psychologist and contributor to the Internet newspaper in Kyiv, Ukrains’ka Pravda. His op-ed piece, published as “Стратегія теплого океану” on Ukrains’ka Pravda‘s website on December 6, suggests that Ukraine’s Euromaidan protest movement is about ordinary people opposing a corrupt post-Soviet state through nonviolent resistance, without inspiration from a national opposition or foreign help.

“Warm Ocean Strategy”

By Oleksiy Arestovych, Friday, 6 December 2013, 10:55, for Ukrains’ka Pravda

Translated by William Risch

There have been many conversations going on in society today about the right strategy to take.

I’ll give it to you now.

A strategy should meet the following criteria:

  • it should be simple,
  • it should be clear,
  • it should be doable,
  • and it should be easy enough, not requiring super efforts.

To wage a struggle successfully, you need to know the following:

  • who and what are you dealing with?,
  • what strengths do we have?,
  • how to apply the second question to the first one?

Let’s go.

1. Who and what are we dealing with?

We’re dealing with the System.  The bureaucratic machine is the System’s skeleton.  Exploiting one’s own position like one’s own property is what drives this machine.  The main thing is to remove dirty, uncontrolled cash from society.  The system is built just like a giant vacuum cleaner that has to pull dough right up to the top.

The system’s character is its main strength and main weakness.  In particular, when it’s about money, the system’s cogs lose effectiveness.

Friends of mine in 2009 asked me to take on the duties of assistant head of the district administration in a well-known regional center of our country, so that bad people didn’t run it.  I agreed to do it:  it would be a an interesting cultural study, a chance to see from the inside how the state works.  The district was the city’s central one, and the most curious processes took place there.

For instance, some kiosk stopped making a payoff.  Administration officials complained to it:

Where’s the money, Zin?..

The kiosk’s owner gave a reasonable answer:

You go figure it out among yourselves.  There are so many people complaining that I don’t know who to deliver it to, and who wants what from whom.

The officials, furious, pass a resolution to remove the kiosk:

  • so that this wouldn’t happen again,
  • so that he paid what he owed,
  • so that he paid for the kiosk’s return.

A crane comes, and the ones carrying out the punishment look on.  The crane starts lifting up the kiosk.  Before it can put it onto a flatbed, other officials, from the police, run up.  The kiosk owner had paid them off just beforehand, and they came to defend him – with future payoffs in mind.

District bureaucrats start yelling at policemen.  Arms are swinging; spit flies.  Gawkers show up.  Then the prosecutor runs up –one who also has made some agreement with the owner.  He enters the conflict.  A little later, the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) joins in a three-sided chess game.  Then the tax inspectors join in.  Later – the SES (Sanitation and Disease Control Station) and the firemen.  The district police inspector comes in.  The GAI (State Auto Inspection) intervenes.  All of their faces turn red, all of them are foaming at the mouth, they all shout and yell, they’re all full of hate – state servants are fighting for their 50 hyrvnias.  The kiosk’s owner, who at first was taking a tranquilizer to calm his nerves, begins bursting with laughter.

The moral of the story is that there is no unity in the System.  Part of the System is in a fierce struggle for dirty cash, and they hate, I repeat, hate each other.  It’s not just about those on the same level of power, but above all, those from the chain of command on down.  Every paperpusher has to put a certain sum into the vacuum cleaner.  Harvest or no harvest – take it out and put it in.  But he or she wants to do it in a way so that more of it sticks to his or her own hands.

The main battle with corruption is with bureaucrats tricking each other horizontally and vertically in the System as they struggle for uncontrolled cash.

There is no common sense of mutual interests here.  It’s total rot, not even rot – a cancer eating away at people’s souls and their affairs.  The only thing I could not understand was why didn’t this system fall apart, like a wet piece of paper in your hands?  It was worth nothing…

Further observations of mine showed that the System holds up only because of people not knowing about its real condition and because individual dealers share an instinctive desire to make things more convenient for themselves.

The System is Golem, a doll made of salt collected from our investments in it.  It still holds up because of our hopes and expectations put into it, because we do not believe in ourselves, and because of its role as a third party in regulating public affairs, a role we have given it.

And its salt comes from our tears, from our deceived hopes, from our dead childhood dreams.

But today, this isn’t how it is.  The System, in its greed and stupidity, has devoured itself.  It has presented society with a price incommensurate with the role it has performed as a social regulator.  For a long time it has taken so much and given so little that it has poisoned the life of even its cogs, the bureaucrats, with its inadequacy.

And this means that it will die.

The good news is that you don’t have to break up the doll.  You just have to dissolve it.

2. What is our strength?

The American army fights better than others because it has very strict rules of engagement.  They aren’t Russians who bombed out thousands of their own Russian-speaking citizens, the elderly and children, in Grozny.

In a state of danger, when you are expecting a blow from any side, you need to have a set of durable qualities to avoid falling for a hysterical desire to shoot everything that moves.  And this set of durable personal qualities builds character – strict rules about opening fire that the Americans follow.

We Ukrainians have as a strength the fact that we have not descended into setting off pogroms.  A nation should be in control of a very healthy spirit if it can, amid such a long list of grievances with the state, not hang it on lampposts or drown the country in blood and fire.

As for us, we have a protest that is exclusively restrained and tolerant.  Without drunkards, without fights, without hysteria.  A protest based on “please” and “may I.”  A protest that has developed through “An Ode to Joy” and an anthem performed by thousands of voices on the country’s main square.

And our protest is joyful.  With bonfires.

And the world, in awe, is slowly beginning to doff its hat to us.  The world has been shaken up (it’s even started to affect the Russians).

Our strength lies in the fact that we can reach our goals without violence, and with happiness.

3. How should we apply our power to the System the right way?…

We have a System that has grown tired of itself.  Very many functionaries would like to work honestly.  Very many policemen dream of becoming civilized policemen and truly serving and protecting.  Already everyone is fed up with the doll of salt.

We have a happy and tolerant force.

This means that we need to become an ocean that dissolves this doll.

What’s an “ocean”?…

1. This means that the System needs to become oversaturated and devoured.  We need to surround it.

At the beginning of the millennium, your dear servant served in military intelligence, and in particular, he was responsible for getting intelligence needed for our forces’ deployment in Iraq.  So in Iraq, I noticed one fundamental truth:  the average number of attacks on coalition forces amounted to 100-120 a day.  The security system that the Coalition forces had set up sustained this burden.  But right after the situation heated up, the number of attacks jumped to 200-250, and it was then that the System slowly began to fall apart.  Contacts were broken, supplies ran out, logistics didn’t work.  Neither reserves nor reinforcements helped us.

And this wasn’t the broken down horse of the Ukrainian bureaucracy.  These were the Americans.  The difference is incomparable.

And the main thing is that to this very day, not a single one in the world knows what to do with this strategy.  They have found no means to act against this.  And they can’t be found.  They don’t exist.

The rule that follows from this:  we must constantly develop and sustain actions against the System.  This doll won’t last long.  It will become overburdened and fall apart.

2. What does “warm” mean?…

It means that our actions should be peaceful and even good.

The System’s problem is that it’s inhuman.  It’s even inhuman to those who make it run, those on whom it’s dependent for its own survival.  It also treats them like cattle.

Today there appeared in public photos showing a “Berkut” unit who had been worn out from constant patrols and from being moved from place to place (talk about overburdening!).  Still dressed in their uniforms, they slept in a row in the hallways of the Cabinet of Ministers building – hungry, angry, dirty, and, believe me, already VERY PASSIONATELY hating their bosses.

These people had been ordered to commit a crime.  The had been sent to pound children to pieces, and they were given 500 dollars each for this.  Some slick paper-pusher who came in a Mercedes awarded them those dollars.  “Berkut” stood there, looked, and thought, “So how much did he pocket from this?”

Senior Lieutenant Kamyshnikov, a genius for all times and all people, taught me this a long time ago, in our commanders’ school that had been awarded three red banners:

“For the system to work, you have to fuck and feed the workers.  But you have to do it exactly in that order.”

This pile of rot is forgetting how to feed its own.  It’s squeezing the pips out of them.

The System will collapse when its own regular functionaries begin sabotaging it.

Yesterday there was news that a bunch of people held up thirty busses with special MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) units near Vasyl’kiv.  If those units wanted to drive through, people wouldn’t have been able to stop them.

This means only one thing:  the commanders of these units refused to follow an order, gladly making use of a bunch of people holding hands as an excuse.  The police already understood their bosses.

Just a little more pressure, and one grandma with a poster will stop echelons of tanks.  And the valiant colonels will report the following:  “Blocked by the people, journalists are here, I can’t kill people.”  And then he’ll turn off the phone.  The battery ran out, don’t you know?

Let’s not forget that it’s about a warm ocean, but an ocean.  An ocean is power.

The people’s actions need to be gentle, but powerful.  That means first blocking forces, yet also feeding them next.

The System’s actors understand this very sequence:  at first, they must feel the pressure of firm hands at their necks, and then experience spoons brought to their mouths.

And then they’ll understand that the people are their bosses (the ones they had sworn an oath to, by the way).

So don’t strike “Berkut” with chains, but send them ladies with flowers and grandmothers with hot soup.  Stroke their hair.  But do it in front of men who have blocked off the military unit’s place of deployment or the building being guarded.

3. One of the System’s greatest places of strength is in its sense of anonymity.  We must by all means necessary overcome this sense of anonymity. 

A bureaucrat or a policeman who carries out criminal orders should instantly become a national star, and everyone should know what he or she looks like.

Personalizing the actors is one of the most powerful ways of fighting the System.  Actions need to have recipients.  Do not threaten.  Have some sympathy for them or welcome them – that will leave a better impact.

4. An ocean needs to be salty.  The strongest way to dissolve the System is to dissolve it in laughter.  Irony and sarcasm are what break up the doll.  Besides that, laughter gives the best support to protestors. 

And finally, what does a “shot” or “action” mean?…

An “action” is any method that will have a peaceful impact on an actor of the System – a functionary or a policeman, an institution, a department, a group.

Remember that the strategy should be one that is easily doable?…

Don’t get stressed out, stress takes away energy.  Let them get stressed.

Choose actions for yourself that you can carry out, ones that make you happy, ones done out of giddiness, and ones that you can easily carry out as you go about your daily business.

Even honking your horn when you drive past a Ministry building is an act that breaks Golem up.

5. Defending our own is a key moment.  For anyone who winds up in torture chambers, we must immediately get them out.  For all those who have disappeared, we must immediately find them.  There shouldn’t be, and there must not be, protestors who are hostages of the System.  This is the cornerstone of the struggle. 

We can carry out all these points mentioned, but if we give this last one up, we fall.  Everything will come together like clockwork only if any protestor knows that the sky would sooner fall than someone abandoning them in a cell, in a court, in an ROVD (District Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, i.e. a local police station).

That we will pay any price to get him or her out.

Four principles:

  • mass character,
  • targeting individual people,
  • humor,
  • care.

We should make a giant, warm whirlpool around the System, one that will wash it away.


And most important:  since yesterday, it’s become clear that everything I’d written about has worked.  Initiatives have started to multiply, and they have multiplied both geographically and in terms of means.  Lawyers are flooding the System with court cases, drivers are blocking bases of special units, and bloggers are publishing lists of firms belonging to Party of Regions members.  It’s taken off, it’s started.

Actually, a real miracle has happened.  At the beginning of events, I’d given the possibility of these developments happening only one-and-a-half percentage points.

It’s a miracle that society, no matter what, organized itself from below.

I wrote this long tract not to give someone a task to fulfill.  I just wanted to help people act more consciously, to lay out certain principles and main lines of action.

We, the people, don’t need any “leaders.”  You yourselves are already capable of doing this.

And this is a victory.