Threat of right-wing organizations in Ukraine

Author : Bernhard Clasen

Source : Die Tageszeitung

How big is the danger coming today from right-wing extremists in Ukraine? There are different points of view on this topic
16:17, 17 July 2017

Read original article at Die Tageszeitung

112 Agency

A few people - most of them, presumably pensioners - are patiently waiting for the film to begin running at the Bureau of the Socialist Party. Suddenly, two dozen of young people enter the building on Hrushevsky Street, opposite the parliament in Kyiv. "We are here to implement the law on decommunization," their leader says.

Uninvited guests - some of them wearing masks - are members of the National Corps, and they immediately move on to business: they tear off a red banner from the wall with portraits of the Russian anti-fascists Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, killed by Russian nationalists. In the bookcase they did not find anything that would attract their attention. Then the cell phone of the leader rings - obviously it’s the order to leave.

Only after young men slammed the door behind them, the visitors come to their senses. One rushes to the phone and calls the police, which soon receives a report of a violation of public order. "But I can assure you that this case will be hushed up," says one police officer.

The trick of right-wing radical youth in the bureau of the Socialist Party is not an isolated case. If on that day they frightened older moviegoers with a reference to the law adopted in 2015, which prohibits communist symbols, in early June they aroused fear among the participants of one court session. On that day, the National Corps stormed the courtroom during the trial of the conscientious objector Ruslan Kotsaba, shouting “Glory to Ukraine - Death to enemies." For security reasons, Kotzaba had to leave the building through the back door.

Xenophobic past

With their yellow and blue flags, these young activists of the National Corps are already inseparable from public life in Ukraine. This organization sees itself as the civil wing of the right-wing volunteer battalion Azov. Its commander, Andriy Biletsky, refers to examples from the 1940s - Roman Shukhevych, the long-standing commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and Stepan Bandera, the head of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).

Today they willingly turn a blind eye to what the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Eduard Dolinsky, said in an interview with the New York Times that the OUN had a xenophobic, anti-Semitic ideology. Both OUN and UPA units took part in the Holocaust, they killed at least 70,000 Poles, and maybe there were a hundred thousand. After the annexation of the Crimea in 2014, the Azov battalion was one of the first volunteer units that fought in Eastern Ukraine. The conquest of the port city of Mariupol in the summer of 2014 was reached primarily due to them.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accuse this battalion, which since November 2014 has been included in the National Guard, in serious violations of human rights, in particular, in torture. The organization "Patriots of Ukraine", which is also led by the commander of "Azov" Biletsky, distributed the Hitler's book "Mein Kampf" in Kharkiv back in 2008, reported the director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Yevhen Zakharov.

Almost no support in society

For Biletsky it is not so much about the language or understanding of statehood as about the ethnic origin that distinguishes a true Ukrainian, said Vyacheslav Likhachov, an expert on right-wing extremism.

The National Corps, which has 15,000 members according to its own data, participated in organizing of the Crimean blockade, blew up the press conference of the head of the banned Communist Party Petro Symonenko, attacked alleged leftist radicals in Lviv, disrupted the meetings of the city council of Lviv, and hindered the concert of singer Svitlana Loboda in Odesa – it’s because of her frequent performances in Russia.

Related: Yes, I am a woman! Please, take me to the army!

The National Corps also showed itself during the last winter blockade of the Luhansk People's Republic. According to the expert on right-wing extremism Likhachov, as a result of their participation in the battles at the front, these people achieved prestige in society, as a result of which they attributed themselves the right to disrupt activities and impede their conduct. However, while the right-wing radicals are pushing the state and the government, imposing their own laws of action on them, it is not clear what the population thinks about all this. "They have almost no support in the community," says Yevhen Zakharov of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group.

Bad election results, but great influence

The election results confirm his words. The former head of the Right Sector, Dmytro  Yarosh, received only 1% at the presidential election in 2014, while the right-wing radical party Svoboda, which received more than 10% in 2012, did not overcome the five percent barrier during the last elections.

Andriy Biletsky, the commander of the Azov right-wing radical unit, managed to get a mandate at the parliamentary elections of 2014 in the Obolon district of Kyiv.

Despite this, the right-wing radicals reached the highest positions of the state both with their programs and with their staff. Former chief of the Right Sector Dmytro Yarosh was appointed as an advisor to the supreme commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian troops at the beginning of 2015. President Poroshenko twice gave him high state awards in 2016.

Their example is Ukrainian nationalists of the 1940s

Vadym Troyan, former deputy commander of the volunteer battalion Azov, who, together with the future commander of Azov, Biletsky ruled the Patriots of Ukraine organization, since February this year is deputy minister of internal affairs of the country. In some things, right-wing radicals and the government are equal: both of them adhere to the traditions of the Ukrainian nationalists of the 1940s. A red thread is the praise of the OUN and its military branch – UPA, it goes through all the activities of the ruling politicians and right-wing radicals.

Head of the State Institute of National Memory Volodymyr Vyatrovych has the opinion that the symbol of 14th Grenadier Division of the SS (also known as the Galychyna SS division) should not be prohibited. Reason: this is not the symbol of the National Socialist totalitarian regime. In reality, the SS Galychyna was a division of the SS troops, which in 1943 was replenished by volunteers and ethnic Germans.

Many supporters are not familiar with the right ideology

In September 2016, the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, during his visit to the memorial site of the massacre in Babi Yar accused the Ukrainian nationalists, especially OUN fighters, of aiding and abetting Nazi killers.

How great is the danger that is coming today from the right-wing extremists of Ukraine? There are different points of view on this: it is wrong when all Azov supporters are accused of advocating imperialistic total nationalism - and this is only because they consider Shukhevych and Bandera as their models, says Likhachov, the author of the book "From the Maidan to the Right", published in June, who is living in Jerusalem.

Most of their supporters are even unfamiliar with this ideology. Many see in them only a group that symbolizes the will of Ukrainians for independence. The "Right sector" at the Maidan in 2014 spoke against integration into Europe. However, the opposite was achieved. The right-wing members could not realize their homophobic views. The country's leadership and society clearly showed last year that even in spite of the right threats, it is possible to hold a march of LGBT people in the city.

Nina Potarska from the Center for Social and Labor Studies, in contrast, sees in the aggressive speech of right-wing radical groups a reduction in the threshold of violence towards dissenters. This violence, she believes, is tacitly acknowledged by the police. "Just a couple of years ago we could not imagine that you could commit unlawful actions, knowing at the same time that you will not be punished for this. On the contrary: you can proceed from the fact that society even supports this violence", she says.

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