Ukraine: The Enemy of Your Enemy is Not Always Your
By Zoltán Grossman
March 11, 2014 "Information
Clearing House -
To progressives who have been celebrating the
revolution in Ukraine: Be careful what you wish for.
Ukraine now has the first European government in
decades in which outright fascist parties have
gained a significant role in the executive branch.
In other European countries, far-right parties have
won seats in the parliament, but not secured real
power in the cabinet. Of course, not all Ukrainian
revolutionaries are fascists or Nazis, as asserted
in recent Russian propaganda. But it is equally
wrong and irresponsible to assert that the presence
of fascists and Nazis in the new government is
merely Russian propaganda.
far-right Freedom Party became part of Austria's
cabinet in 2000, the European Union issued sanctions
against Vienna, and the New York Times was full of
exposes of party leader Jörg Haider. But when the
far-right Latvian National Alliance joined a
conservative government in 2011, it was barely
noticed in the Western media. And because the
fascist party Svoboda (Freedom) and the Nazi shock
troops of Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) played a
vanguard role in Ukraine's anti-Russian revolution,
their role in the new revolutionary government has
been glossed over in the Western media, with no
serious exposes so far.
So it may
be controversial for far-right parties to join
governments in the West, but it is permissible in
the East if they are mainly opposing Russia. These
same Western media commentators take any hint of
criticisms of Israel as "anti-Semitic," and then
support a new government with parties that use World
War II-era imagery, such as the Wolfsangel logo of
Svoboda, and the White Power symbol of Odin's Cross
used by Pravy Sektor (ditto the Aryan Nations). The
phrase "Never Again" takes on a hollow ring when the
entry of real fascists into a government is
minimized and excused.
the majority of protesters in Kiev's Independence
Square, or Maidan, were motivated to join by the
massive corruption and oligarchical rule of Viktor
Yanukovych, and particularly his unleashing of the
brutal Berkut riot police. The Maidan protesters
included backers of European Union integration,
leftists (who question both Russia and the EU),
ecologists, LGBT activists, and ethnic and religious
minorities (including Jews and ethnic Russians). But
Anti-Fascist Action Ukraine estimated that 30
percent of the protesters in Kiev were far-right
ultranationalists, and that was before the shooting
began, when more of them joined the street battles.
the Maidan protests have been depicted as "Pro-EU,"
Svoboda has joined forces with far-right parties
that are actually Anti-EU. It holds Observer status
in the Alliance of European National Movements,
which vehemently opposes the EU (including Jobbik in
Hungary and the British National Party). Pravy
Sektor's key slogan has been "Against the Regime and
[EU] integration." Perhaps they both want to join
the EU so they can later oppose it?
Al Assad and Al Qaeda in Syria, Yanukovych and
Ukrainian ultraright nationalists fed off each
other, and actually needed each other to buttress
their own legitimacy. Yanukovych's brutality
polarized the country, and reinforced the farthest
right-wing factions of the nationalist opposition.
Also like in Syria, moderate democratic groups were
caught in the middle of the polarization, and lost
significant ground to the better-trained militants.
So you'd think that the toppling of Yanukovych would
reduce the power of the fascists who had gained
support by fighting him. But even before Vladimir
Putin's seizure of Crimea gave the ultranationalists
new grist for the mill, their representatives were
named to the new government in Kiev, led by the
U.S.-backed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
leader Oleh Tyahnybok is well known for his comments
that Ukraine is victimized by a "Muscovite/Jewish
mafia," and references to Jews as "Zhydam" (Kikes).
One of his deputies established a "Joseph Goebbels
Political Research Center" in 2005. The Centre for
Eastern Studies in Warsaw
commented in 2011 that "Svoboda's success
illustrates the growing demand of Ukrainian society
for a new right-wing party with anti-democratic,
xenophobic, pro-social and pro-family views."
Svoboda won only 10 percent in the October 2012
parliamentary election, and about 40 percent in
parts of the heavily Ukrainian far-west. Yet last
December, Tyahnybok was one of two opposition
leaders visited and extolled by visiting Senator
revolution, Svoboda parliamentarian Oleksandr Sych
has been named to the post of Vice Premier for
Economic Affairs, and Svoboda has taken control of
the ministries of education, agriculture, and the
environment. Svoboda co-founder Andriy Parubiy was
named Secretary of the Security and National Defense
Committee, a significant post with control over
police and military forces. Playing to a western
audience, both Pravy Sektor and Svoboda have tried
to reassure the Israeli ambassador that they are not
anti-Semitic, and defenders of the Ukrainian
Revolution have highlighted the very real
anti-Semitism in Russian nationalist groups.
ago, Svoboda led violent protests in Kiev against a
new language law in Parliament, which allowed
bilingualism in regions with more than a 10 percent
non-Ukrainian population. Its first order of
business in the new revolutionary parliament was to
roll back the bilingualism law, which gave Putin one
of his justifications to "defend" Crimea, where
Russian-speakers make up a majority. A similar 2003
"democratic" revolution in Georgia installed a
strongly nationalist government, which five years
later moved militarily against ethnic secessionist
enclaves, provoking a successful Russian invasion.
But few such aggressive signs were seen in Crimea
before Putin moved in.
invasion of Crimea has relegitimized the ultraright
in the eyes of many Ukrainian nationalists, and (not
insignificantly) prevents about a million Crimean
Russians from voting against Ukrainian nationalist
parties in the next election. A pro-Putin biker gang
that has supported his Crimea invasion, and
pro-Russian rioters in eastern Ukraine, play as
Russian "young tough" counterparts to the Ukrainian
nationalists. Just as Svoboda uses Putin's actions
to frighten Ukrainians, Putin needs Svoboda to
frighten Russians, and the polarization intensifies.
Sektor is even to the right of Svoboda, but that has
not stopped its leader Dmytro Yarosh from being
named as Paruby's Deputy Secretary of National
Security. Since the revolution, Pravy Sektor
militants have begun tearing down statues of Soviet
soldiers who liberated the republic from the Nazis.
That's because they are themselves Nazis, with a
view of the world influenced not only by Ukrainian
nationalism and German national-socialism, but by
the global white supremacist movement.
Svoboda, Pravy Sektor looks back with fondness to
the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), led by Stepan
Bandera, who backed the 1941 German invasion of
Ukraine. It soon became clear that Germany did not
back his vision of a pro-Nazi Ukrainian puppet
state--because Hitler viewed Slavs as subhuman, and
coveted their fertile land for German settlers-- so
the UPA had to later defend itself from the Germans.
But somehow you don't really count as a resistance
movement if you wanted to join the Nazis, but the
other Nazis wouldn't let you play.
meantime, the UPA was involved in massacres of Jews
in parts of Nazi-occupied Poland now within western
Ukraine. It also slaughtered at least 50,000
Catholic Poles who stood in the way of Bandera's
vision of a purely Ukrainian state. Far-right groups
have recently backed the reburial (with honors) of
members of the Galician Division of the Waffen SS,
which also used the Wolfsangel symbol later adopted
January, Svoboda led a huge Kiev rally marking
Bandera's birthday, and his portrait and uniforms
were common sights in the Maidan protests. On one
Nazi's shield in Maidan could be seen the White
Power symbol "14/88," standing for the "14 Words" by
David Lane of the U.S. terrorist group The Order
("We must secure the existence of our people and a
future for white children"), and "88" for "HH"
("Heil Hitler"). Like other fascist groups in the
region, the Ukrainian ultraright has also violently
opposed LGBT rights, forcing the cancellation of the
2012 Kiev Gay Pride march.
Pravy Sektor video "The Great Ukrainian
Reconquista," Yarosh highlights many common Nazi
themes, "against corrupt marginal democracy, against
degeneration and totalitarian liberalism, for
traditional national morality and family values, for
large Ukrainian family, physically and spiritually
healthy young people, against the cult of illicit
gain and debauch[ery]." The video counterposes
images of masked street fighters (with "Vikings"
shields), and beautiful heterosexual couples, with
Berkut riot police, Russian civilians, EU
bureaucrats, and multiracial dancers.
Another Pravy Sektor video shows different
far-right factions marching, training, and fighting.
These videos aren't Russian propaganda about alleged
fascists--they are the fascists' own propaganda.
"fascist" I don't loosely mean authoritarian
conservatives, such as George W. Bush or the Koch
Brothers. They may be right-wingers, but they uphold
a global capitalist status quo with the U.S. at its
center. Real fascists are extreme right-wing
populist revolutionaries who want to overthrow the
present system, and replace it with a dictatorship
guaranteeing absolute rule by their own ethnic,
racial, or religious group.
often sound like leftists in their opposition to
corporate globalization and banks, NATO militarism,
and environmental destruction, but have opposite
motivations, usually revolving around racist and
anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. (Some elements of
the Tea Party--such as Glenn Beck and Rand Paul--do
seem to straddle conservative and fascist
ideologies.) Having experienced World War II,
Europeans understand better that fascism is a
specific political movement, and not just another
way to say "meanie." They are less likely to ignore
a growing fascist threat when they see one.
Guys vs. Bad Guys?
coverage of the Ukrainian Revolution tends to place
it only in a West vs. East context, with the EU and
NATO inherently good and Russia inherently evil. In
this simplistic framing, the Ukrainian far-right is
an inconvenient reminder that evil can emerge from
the West as well, so it has to be minimized as
Why is it
that Americans of all political stripes--including
progressives--can only see "good guys" and "bad
guys" in a conflict, even in a situation that pits
"bad guys" against "bad guys"? Maybe it's our binary
good vs. evil religious tradition, our "white hat"
vs. "black hat" Hollywood films, or our two-party
electoral system, which suppresses nuances and
ignores other third-party alternatives. We want to
view all protesters against oppressive regimes as
"people power" heroes, without understand that
today's oppressed can (and do) become
Yugoslavia broke up, all Western media attention was
on ethnic cleansing by the Serbs, but almost never
on the ethnic cleansing by the (U.S.-allied)
Croatians or Kosovar Albanians. In Afghanistan, the
Taliban oppressed Afghan women, but the U.S.-backed
mujahedin warlords who had earlier ousted the
pro-Soviet government were the first Afghan
government to restrict women's rights. In Libya and
Syria, revolutions against secular Russian-backed
dictators have likewise strengthened Islamist
militias. The West's double standards eventually
work against its own interests, by generating
"blowback" from the very monsters it helped to
revolutions in Libya, Syria, and now Ukraine should
show us that the enemy of your enemy is not always
your friend. In a contest between Ukrainian and
Russian ultranationalists, we do not need to pick
sides. We can defend peace and the democratic rights
of civilians, and all minorities on both sides of
the divide, without contributing to the polarization
and strengthening the rise of fascism. Two wrongs
don't make a right.
time you're influenced by a facebook meme or a
heart-wrenching youtube video about human rights
violations by an "enemy" of the West, think about
the atrocities by the pro-Western side that we are
not seeing. Study the history of country, to learn
that parts of the so-called "democratic" opposition
today might draw their lineage to militant groups
(such as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army or Venezuelan
right-wing parties) that have massacred ethnic,
religious, or political minorities in past decades.
If the U.S. continues to back these crazies just
because of they attack the West's enemies, some kind
of blowback is again going to be inevitable.
Dr. Zoltán Grossman is a political-cultural
geographer who teaches at The Evergreen State
College in Olympia, Washington. He earned his Ph.D.
at the University of Wisconsin, focusing on topics
of interethnic conflict and cooperation. He has
taught courses on Central and Eastern Europe, and is
a son of Hungarian immigrants. His faculty website
and email is