Fear, irritation, distrust: difference between messages of terrorists and those of terrorist acts
Any act of terror implies two types of victims: direct and indirect. For terrorists, direct victims are those whom they captured – the means. Terrorists don't care about their lives. Culprits are more interested in affecting another category – victims of information waves. Those who will experience anxiety about both the direct victims and themselves. Incidentally, among other things, so to speak, they will also most certainly hear or see the demands put forward by terrorists. Usually, terrorists intend to convey their message through someone else's suffering. So, whoever stands behind yesterday's acts of terror, we have all become their victims.
But what message was the Lutsk gunman trying to convey? It was nonsensical, more or less.
Did anyone take responsibility for the exploded trash bins in Kyiv? No one did!
The main message that the whole country heard and saw yesterday is the very fact of acts of terror. Despite the ongoing hostilities in the country's east, the rest of the county has traditionally been considered a safe place. Now it may seem that it's not. Indeed, if someone seizes a commuter bus and holds passengers hostage, why can't this happen in your local supermarket or a subway station near you? Or even at your office?
Some even wonder, was there even a terrorist act at all?
So the first implication is irritation. People are irritated over the fact that pseudo bombings take time to deal with, that talks with a Lutsk hostage-taker went for so long, that the country's president did wrong by conceding to the terrorist's demands, and that terrorism prevention doesn't work. The security system is ineffective. All those CCTV cameras installed throughout Ukrainian cities for some reason fail to spot those who planted IEDs in those trash bins. People are irritated that a convicted felon with a few prison terms behind his back is able to obtain firearms. Some even wonder, was there really a terrorist act at all?
This whole narrative gradually leads people to distrusting authorities. It's not even about distrust in some certain politicians, it's about doubting that the government is able to keep you safe. People are disappointed in the State of Ukraine – both Ukrainians and international community. A so-called "failed state", which isn't worth dealing with… And here the main threat is being watered down – it's not clearly external anymore, it's not only about the war with Russia – it's here, among us.
Remind me please, aren't these by any chance Russian messages? Aren't these the Kremlin narratives regarding Ukraine? No wonder that it was Russian media outlets who took a major part in spinning the "Lutsk terror" story.
Another message is fear. Fear comes where fake terror acts eventually become real. And that fear will expand further if law enforcers fail to expose Kyiv bombers if similar IEDs in trash bins eventually kill someone, as it was in the City of Dnipro back in 2011-2012, and if it comes to someone's mind to copycat the Lutsk gunman.
Russians have been living under similar conditions since 1999 when Putin started setting off bombs in apartment blocks
Now, when people are guided toward fear and anxiety, it's really easy to channel another message: "safety in exchange for freedoms". That is, expanding the authority of law enforcement at the expense of restricting people's rights. Russians have been living under similar conditions since 1999 when Putin started setting off bombs in apartment blocks. Will our own law enforcers exploit the situation to also boost authority? Yes, they will. After all, it's exactly what they did after a deadly road accident outside Kyiv when they passed at first reading a bill expanding the rights of police officers.
Most probably, something like this is coming this time, too. But will Ukrainians be eager to swap freedoms for safety? I doubt it. At least, so far the society has resisted such offers.
And one more thing… Talking about the prospects, we're entering an electoral campaign period of tensions. And this is what brings most problems. The situation during the elections traditionally escalates. The curve of activity always goes up. And there are always risks that, seeing the bar that high at the very start where we witness a high profile hostage situation – we might as well face a further increase of aggression and violence.
Bohdan Petrenko is a deputy chief of Ukrainian Institute of Extremism Research