Brown University (US)
Jennifer Carroll is a postdoctoral fellow at Rhode Island Hospital and a Research Associate at Brown University, where she is part of the Brown University Ukraine Collaboration. She is writing a book on the global health response to HIV/AIDS among drug users and its role in the ongoing geopolitical and military conflict in Ukraine.
Imagining the State:
Ideology, Governmentality, and Drug Use as a Social Threat
This paper examines two homegrown political “performances” through which popular stereotypes of drug users were evoked to articulate different forms of state sovereignty. The first involves the Internet Party of Ukraine, an registered political faction lead by young adults who have changed their legal monikers to those of Star Wars characters: Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and Yoda, among others. Exploiting the current nadir of confidence in the Ukrainian government, party leaders dress in costume, prank government officials, and post viral videos of their antics online. Many of the Party’s public videos touch on issues of drug control, drug trade, and the moral imperative of the government to eradicate socially toxic drug users. They have delivered mock legislations to the Cabinet of Ministers and carried out disorganized “raids” of alleged “drug dens” in Odesa. Part political parody, part genuine activism, these players criticize the inaction of local and state governments by performing the role of government themselves.
The second performance took place in a lengthy correspondence between the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, the primary recipient of the Global Fund grants that fund medication-assisted drug treatment in Ukraine. In March 2012, the Ministry of Health placed severe restrictions on access to OST, stipulating that only persons who had failed multiple attempts at ordinary (talk-based or detox-based) forms of therapy would be eligible. As this new policy was a violation of the country’s agreement with the Global Fund, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance began lobbying the Ministry of Health in writing, imploring them to nullify the new regulation. With both parties adopting the role of national authorities, they entered into a debate about the responsibilities of the state towards its citizens and whether (and how) drug users should be included among them.
Both of these political performances levied claims against the Ukrainian government, criticizing the leadership for failing to uphold their basic obligations to the citizen population. However, as one urged government leaders to align their actions with international standards, the other compelled the government to act upon—and even formalize—the common Ukrainian view that drug users are threats to public order and should be removed from society. Together, they reveal the plasticity of the “addiction imaginary” in Ukraine and the utility of drug users in defining the limits of the sovereign state and the citizenry it serves.
Based on a combination of primary and secondary ethnographic data, this project examines how the institutional management of drug users, a distinct set of social Others, is used to articulate the relationships between sovereignty, citizenship, and the imagined boundaries of both state and society. In particular, I use these examples to clarify how various local actors conceive “The State” in its ideal form, an ideal that, in turn, gives shape to concepts of citizenship, sovereignty, and normative social order—the same values that lie at the very center of geopolitical conflict in the region.