Alex Luhn, writing in The Nation’s Jan. 21 issue, exposes the growing right-wing nationalist element in the Kiev demonstrations—the elephant in the middle of the room which has been ignored by other press.
Luhn writes that reportage of demonstrations “has largely glossed over the rise in nationalist rhetoric that has led to violence. Kiev’s two-month-long Euromaidan protest turned violent on Sunday [Jan. 19] as people in masks, outraged over restrictive protest laws hurriedly passed last week, marched on Parliament and ran into police cordons that they pelted with stones and Molotov cocktails. Police hurled gas canisters, stun grenades, and [shot] a water cannon and rubber bullets at them, setting off a wave of clashes previously unknown at the largely peaceful protest. Spearheading the clashes with police was Right Sector, a group with ties to far-right parties including the Patriots of Ukraine and Trident, which BBC Ukraine reported is largely comprised of nationalist football fans.”
Luhn says The Right Sector claimed credit for Sunday’s violent demonstrations and promised to continue fighting until President Viktor Yanukovich steps down, releasing this statement: “‘Two months of unsuccessful tiptoeing about under the leadership of the opposition parties showed many demonstrators they need to follow not those who speak sweetly from the stage, but rather those who offer a real scenario for revolutionary changes in the country. For this reason, the protest masses followed the nationalists.'”
Luhn attacks the western press: “The surge in violence sparked by Right Sector has revealed how uncritical and undiscerning most of the media has been of the far-right parties and movements that have played a leading role in the Euromaidan, the huge protests for closer ties to Europe that flared up in November and have taken over Kiev’s Independence Square. Protest coverage focused on the call for European integration and the struggle against the Yanukovich regime has largely glossed over the rise in nationalist rhetoric, often chauvinist, that has led to violence not just against police, but also against left-wing activists. Far-right groups have grown in popularity over the course of demos, being seen as more mainstream.”
There is a resurgence of nationalist sentiment in Ukraine and throughout Europe, Luhn writes: “Svoboda, which was originally known by the Nazi-esque moniker ‘Social-National Party of Ukraine’ and whose leader Oleh Tyahnybok is infamous for a 2004 speech in which he argued that ‘a Moscow-Jewish mafia’ was ruling Ukraine, entered Parliament for the first time in 2012, by winning 10.44 % of the vote. Such parties are on the rise, and in 2013 elections, Svoboda finished second in cosmopolitan, Russian-speaking Kiev. On Jan. 1, Svoboda led 15,000 people in a torchlight march to honor Stepan Bandera, the controversial leader of the wartime Ukrainian insurgent Army who fought the Soviets but also ethnically cleansed tens of thousands of Polish civilians. Some historians have accused the Ukrainian insurgent Army of cooperating in the massacres of thousands of Ukrainian Jews during the Nazi occupation, and Tyahnybok even commended the rebels in 2003 for fighting ‘Russians, Germans, Jewry, and other crap.'” Luhn cites a number of sources, including Yury Noyevy of Svoboda’s political council, who said, “‘The participation of Ukrainian nationalism and Svoboda in the process of EU integration is a means to break our ties with Russia.'”
Luhn documents that rhetoric can quickly escalate into action, and “[A]lready protestors with apparent nationalist sentiments have taken part in a spate of attacks on left-wing activists on Independence Square. On Nov. 27, activists with signs, “Europe is equality” … said they were assaulted by ‘far-right thugs’ calling themselves organizers of the protest. On Dec. 4, labor organizer Denis Levin and his two brothers were beaten by a small crowd shouting ‘Glory to Ukraine’ and ‘Death to Enemies’ after a nationalist writer on the stage pointed them out as ‘provocateurs.’
Former Svoboda member Ivan Ponomarenko said the party is ineffective politically, and that its leadership is only “pretending to be extreme nationalists for their own political and economic gain… ‘They are playing at Klu Klux Klan.'” All these facts have been covered up by the western press.