Amidst the emergence of politically-right-wing forces in Kiev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claims to be shocked and outraged by recent violence. Speaking in reference to an explosion which killed three members of the national guard outside parliament and left another officer in a coma, Poroshenko called the attack "an anti-Ukrainian action" and demanded that "all organizers, all representatives of political forces... must carry full responsibility." More than a whopping 140 were also wounded in the attack, which was apparently caused by a grenade. All three guardsmen were young, in their twenties.
The incident occurred in the midst of a demonstration against a plan to provide more autonomy to separatist enclaves in the Ukrainian east where Russian-backed rebels hold sway. Authorities have blamed the explosion on a fighter in the so-called Sich volunteer battalion, which is linked in turn to far right-wing Svoboda or Freedom Party [in Ukraine, "Sich" refers to historic Cossack homelands. Though Cossack is a loaded term and carries unpleasant historic meaning for some, nationalists recently revived the word by referring to a protest area in Kiev which launched the 2013-14 EuroMaidan revolution as a "Cossack Sich." Svoboda meanwhile loves "Cossack rock" music]. Rather questionably, the government itself has ties to the Sich battalion which falls under the official control of the Ministry of the Interior.
Svoboda was highly represented at the demonstration outside of parliament, and most protesters participating in subsequent violence and clashes with the police were Svoboda members. Later, the Minister of the Interior claimed that that party was "directly" responsible for clashes and the government has charged senior Svoboda members with rioting. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has declared that right wing-nationalists were "worse" than Russian-backed separatists in the east, because they were "trying to open another front" in Ukraine "under the guise of patriotism."
Svoboda on the other hand denies any responsibility and claims the authorities are out on a witch hunt to deface the party. Whatever the case, it's a little odd that the authorities have only now woken up to the ominous threat of right wing groups. Indeed, the attack in front of the parliament building follows close on the heels of another incident in south-west Ukraine, in which members of Right Sektor battalion got into a shootout with local police. Perhaps, high-ups at the Ministry of Interior and elsewhere are finally paying the price for coddling the nationalist right and its backward political and social agenda.
Waking Up to Far Right
It's only now, when extremists pose a threat to the government itself, that the international media has woken up to the rise of the political right. For years now, however, the nationalist right has posed a risk to independent leftists on the ground. Denis Pilash, one such activist who I interviewed in Kiev, is no stranger to Svoboda. Even before the EuroMaidan revolution which toppled Viktor Yanukovych from power, Pilash observed Svoboda trying to stir up "anti-migrant hysteria" by holding hostile rallies. Eventually, however, Svoboda and the right may have realized that anti-immigrant messaging wasn't resonating so well, so they turned to opposing anarchists, feminists, and the LGBT community.
As if such developments weren't concerning enough, Svoboda also has a peculiar habit of resuscitating dubious World War II icons. Svoboda leaders, in fact, admire "proto-Nazis" such as Ernst Jünger, and are "understanding" of Goebbels. They moreover talk about "purity of blood" and refer to Ukraine as "one race, one nation, one fatherland." Svoboda meanwhile idolizes the Ukrainian Insurgent Army or UPA, an outfit which fought against the Soviets in World War II but also collaborated with the Nazis at one point. During unrest at Maidan square, Svoboda brandished the traditional UPA flag. In addition, Svoboda has defended extremists' right to brandish this flag at local soccer matches.
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