The “Fascism” of Patriots and “Antifascism” of Bandits
For historical reasons, Ukraine’s “voice” in the world media is often represented either through Russian or Polish intermediaries. The Russians exploit the powerful network of news offices which date back to Soviet times.
The Poles write about Ukraine quite a lot due to the historical connections and their geopolitical interests in Eastern Europe. While both Poland and Russia have founded fairly extensive networks of English-language media, Ukraine is too occupied with its internal problems even when they resemble a storm in a teacup. What’s more, it is widely thought that three times as much is written in Poland on Ukrainian problems, than on Polish problems in Ukraine.
Sure enough, Ukrainians may thank themselves for this, although 2013 has the chance to improve the situation. When describing Ukraine, both the Poles and Russians stick to their truths, interests and opinions that were not formed yesterday. If you take a closer look, Russian and Polish interests in relation to Ukraine are fundamentally different. In Moscow, they often think in neo-colonial categories, striving to get Ukraine back under its influence, and in Poland they seem to try to pull Ukraine into the orbit of European integration, often forcibly. Paradoxically enough, these widely different tasks have the same enemy – Ukrainian right-wing radicals, which today are mostly grouped in Oleh Tyahnybok’s “Svoboda” party (All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda”).
Ukrainian nationalists are a natural enemy for Russia, as they pull Ukraine “away from Moscow” (a motto proclaimed by Ukrainian writer Mykola Khvylovy in the 1920s). Russians have long treated everyone who spoke Ukrainian (and thus rejected the statement that the Ukrainian language is a “dialect” of Russian) as “a Ukrainian nationalist”. The honorary president of the Ukrainian PEN Club, the Soviet dissident Yevhen Sverstiuk, served in the Soviet camps on the charges of “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism”. Thus, a sense of guilt was imposed on Ukrainians for demanding normal conditions for cultural development of their people; that “a nationalist” is a patriot.
In Poland, Ukrainian right-wing radicals are seen as the enemy for both historical and geopolitical reasons. Historically, present-day nationalists are associated with the terrorist activities of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) carried out between 1929 and 1939 on the western Ukrainian territories administrated by Poland. In Poland, Ukrainian nationalism is also associated with the ethnic cleansing in Volhynia and western Galicia between 1943 and 1945; of which the Ukrainian Insurgent Army is accused. These cleansings, or the “Volhynian slaughter”, as Poles call it, and “Volhynian tragedy”, as the Ukrainians refer to it, are treated by the Poles as “the last unsettled sin of history”. The point is that the armistice with Germany had already been agreed, public discussions on the involvement of the Poles in the Holocaust were held (through the Jedwabne case), apologies from the Russian authorities for Katyń were received. Hence, the geopolitical dimension of the Poles’ dislike towards Ukrainian nationalists lies in the fact that the Poles directly link the current activities of “Svoboda” to the historical heritage of Stepan Bandera and his OUN party.
The question is, to what extent does “Svoboda” correspond in reality to the ideas of Bandera’s integral nationalism, which not only originated in Mussolini’s fascism and Hitler’s Nazism, but also with the activities of the more well-known Polish National Democracy movement, called “Endecja”? In the rhetoric of most of the radical European right-wing streams, there is no room, and cannot be any, for the ideas that were then accepted as normal – “public engineering” and ethnic cleansing. No such things can be found in the programme of the Popular Front in France, or “Jobbik” in Hungary. Neither can you find it in the programme of “Svoboda”.
The difference is that some of the mentioned states are already EU members, while others are just attempting to become members. According to Yuriy Noyeviy, a member of the political council of “Svoboda”, the very location within or outside the EU distinguishes the right-wing ideologies on both sides of its borders, and sets different goals for them. “Advocating for preserving ethnic identity in the world, we would like to help the ethnic minorities and ethnicities in Ukraine to stand up for the right of their own identity. We do not aim to shut down Romanian schools. And the Party of Regions shuts down Ukrainian schools,” says Noyeviy. Yet, for some reason, Noyeviy does not notice any inconsistency in his words to the fact that “Svoboda” does not mind naming Bandera and Shukhevych as its spiritual parents.
And now the most interesting part. Today, the Ukrainian authorities, starting from President Viktor Yanukovych, the parliamentary coalition of the Party of Regions and the communists and the government controlled by them, suffer a huge credibility gap. If Yanukovych fails to change the constitution in order to ensure elections through an obedient parliament instead of nation-wide elections, he would face quite a challenging task to convince people of his irreplaceability. He has locked up his main enemy and rival – Yulia Tymoshenko, so now he must find a convenient opponent who can be beat with little effort. A similar scenario was developed in 1999 by Leonid Kuchma, who ran for presidential office for the second time and arranged the political arena in such a way that he had to compete with Petro Symonenko, leader of the communists, in the second round of elections. Kuchma won because Ukrainians conceived him to be “the lesser evil”.
Yanukovych’s team is working tirelessly to arrange that the leader of “Svoboda”, Oleh Tyahnybok, be that opponent. This spring, the three opposition parliamentary powers – “Batkivshchyna”, “UDAR” and “Svoboda” – proclaimed the beginning of the “Rise Up, Ukraine!” (“Vstavay, Ukrayino!” – translator’s note) campaign. This involved a series of meetings in major cities. But it soon became clear that the authorities were frightened. Instead of allowing society “to let off steam”, the authorities tried to impede the meetings and minimised the impression of their large-scale character both factually and on the TV screens. In Kharkiv, for example, the local authorities blocked the traffic in the city by placing municipal vehicles on the squares and crossroads.
In parallel, an ideological war was launched against the opposition groups. Back in 2004, they had already used a smear campaign against Viktor Yushchenko, posting his portrait in a SS uniform. Now, through the demonisation of Oleh Tyahnybok, this image shall apply to the opposition as a whole. As the authorities could not stand watching the three leaders appearing in new cities, they decided to hold their own “antifascist” meetings. Administrative employees, teachers, medical workers (generally people dependent on public salaries) were forcibly brought to such meetings.
The website texty.org.ua obtained the instructions on how to conduct “an antifascist march” in Odessa. Written in Russian, it suggested shouting slogans from Soviet times during the meeting, compare Tyahnybok to fascists, and since Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk conducted the campaign together with “Svoboda”, they are also fascists and accomplices. The tension culminated during two meetings in Kyiv. At the outset of the “Rise Up, Ukraine!” campaign, the opposition planned to finish in Kyiv on Europe Day on May 18th. They gathered, according to various estimations, between 27,000 to 40,000 people; “the antifascist meeting” gathered 4,000. According to the militia, the number of participants was exactly opposite.
The confrontation between so-called “fascism” and so-called “antifascism” has two dimensions. One of them is in fact internal, which should trigger a victory for Yanukovych. In Yuriy Noyeviy’s opinion, the internal artificial “fascism” is convenient for those that “are interested in the polarisation of Ukraine. These are the Party of Regions and the Communists, along with all pro-Kremlin, neo-imperialistic and Ukrainophobic powers.”
“The danger hiding behind the polarisation of the community is that the situation may get out of hand at any moment,” says Yuriy Romanenko, a political expert. The very usage of 70-year-old rhetoric, a concept of “us-them” is nonsense in the 21st century. Political strategists of the Party of Regions do not themselves trust in the stuff with which they want to convince the people. That is why we see such rubbish like the poster “the youth of Zhytomyr is against Fascism”, waved by the elderly attending an “antifascist” meeting. The very essence of the term “fascism” is diluted, which is already remote enough for the generations that came after the war, let alone those which grew up after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Not less dangerous is the dilution or substitution of the noble notion of “antifascism”. It is quite easy to use and misinterpret any terms for one’s own purposes, ascribing new meanings to them, in a community which found itself captured by consumption values.
The second dimension of the “spreading of nationalistic right-wing radical tendencies in Ukraine” is an external one. Warsaw-based political expert Dariusz Materniak considers the term “fascism” to be a kind of litmus in the West: “There are attempts to implement it even here.” Viačasłaŭ Siŭčyk, chairman of the Belarusian subdivision of the “Memorial” community, a dissident from Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s times, is convinced: “There is a situation in Eastern Europe that is not clear for the West. Bringing charges of fascism against Belarusians and Ukrainians is blasphemy, while these were our peoples that made a huge sacrifice for the victory over fascism.” Siŭčyk also reminds us of Lukashenka’s populist exploitation of the Second World War memory.
The solidarity of the Ukrainian opposition may fall victim to corrupt opinions. One can often hear recommendations in the European Parliament that Klitschko and Yatsenyuk have interrupted their cooperation with “Svoboda”. This was declared by Marek Siwiec, member of the European Parliament: “I cannot imagine that people like Klitschko, who cast themselves as Europeans, and open-minded Yatsenyuk shake hands with the person publicly stating that the Jews constitute the principal menace to the European civilisation” (although, it is fair to say that Tyahnybok has abandoned such rhetoric long ago). Marek Siwiec, as one of the closest colleagues of former Polish president Aleksander Kwaśniewski, should know that the biggest problem in Ukraine is not anti-Semitism or homophobia. On a side note, the Association of the Jewish Organizations and Communities “VAAD” and the Congress of the National Communities of Ukraine accused the authorities and their “antifascist marches” of the escalation of tension within the country.
According to Noyeviy, the “eagerness to present Ukraine’s nationalist revival as fascism, as ultra-right-wing extremism is an attempt to constrict it to the activities of ‘Svoboda’, thus marginalising it to the greatest possible extent”. Is there any truth in these words? For a start, one should do bit more than just read news about Ukraine from Russian sources. The policies of the current authorities should be analysed from the perspective of diminishing the status of the Ukrainian language. The number of Ukrainian government members born outside its borders should be calculated. Finally, the notorious “fascism” should be searched in one of the most tolerant communities of Europe that gave rise to the peaceful Orange Revolution. And the question should be asked: “Who are the Ukrainians and what do they want?”
One of the answers to this seemingly easy question was given at the platform of the major public policy portal of Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda. Addressing the Ukrainian authorities, an unknown user wrote in Russian: “You made their [the electorate’s] heads spin with fairy tales about fascists and Banderivci. And this feast of life would go on until we come to power and people get to understand what conscience, honour, freedom, patriotism, and willingness to make Ukraine great are.”
Translated by Olena Shynkarenko
Roman Kabachiy is a Ukrainian historian and journalist and a regular contributor to the Polish bi-monthly Nowa Europa Wschodnia.