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Op-Ed: Tea With Neo-Nazis: The Violent Nationalism in Ukraine

The violence in Ukraine is a show case of the pan-European rise of race hatred. Europe is engaging in a risky blindness. Again.
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014 8:45 AM



During these [May 2014] elections, pan-European ultra-right radicals will try to hijack Europe once again; and the situation has not been this serious in Europe since pre-WWII.
The most worrisome and largely overseen factor of the ongoing Ukrainian tragedy, to me, is the mighty Neo-Nazi presence among the opposition hard-core militants from ultra-right nationalistic parties and movements. The threat posed by those forces should be not under-estimated, especially in the context of rapidly rising ultra-national forces all over Europe, the current. new ugly ‘fashion’. 

Ukraine now has become a tragic ‘show-case’ of this alarming threat. Civil society world-wide simply cannot afford the luxury, nor does it the have moral right to allow a repetition of Nazi-like nightmares. When the Holocaust happened, just three generations back, there had been no precedent for such total horror and absolute crime committed non-stop for 12 years all over Europe, and – as it is worth remembering –  allowed to start by the weak governments and inept leaders.

But today, 75 years after the Holocaust began, there is no way of playing ignorance as a lead card, one that is actually covering indifference, often simple cowardice, and a strangely aloof attitude towards the recently risen clear and palpable threat of determined race hatred sweeping over all of Europe, – about which neither the European Parliament, or the Council of Europe, nor any other supposedly powerful international organization is doing anything real to stop.

“I have been six times in Ukraine during the last two months, what a tragedy  is going on there”, -  a senior European politician told me recently.  

I asked him : “Have you noticed the activities of ultra-right radicals there? Have you heard what they are proclaiming and under which slogans they are ‘fighting for democracy’, so to say?”.

“Yes, that Svoboda ( Freedom) party, I know, it is a nightmare, by the way”.

“Well, it is not what I would attest to as ‘by the way’", I replied, and asked my friend further on:

“That nightmare is just one of the parties of that direction in Ukraine; do you know how many violent racist movements in Ukraine are operating today? Sixteen more in additional to the Freedom party plus seven more of an extreme-radical character, making it twenty three in total. Do you know that together with 10,44% of the seats in the current Ukrainian parliament occupied by Freedom party, those 23 more parties would cover at least 20% of the population of that huge country of 45,5 million?”

“Yes, it is very serious” – my friend suddenly sounded alarmed, "it should be taken into serious consideration, of course”.

I continued: “Do you know that these big Ukrainian radical movements are working in close co-operation with and have very close ties to the infamous Hungarian Fascist Jobbik party?” 

“ Really?.. No, I did not know that. Oh, that’s very important. That’s really bad”, and now he was thoroughly alarmed.

My friend flew to Ukraine the next morning for the seventh time in two months. He joined the urgent summit of the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland there as the highest level of the European diplomacy was urgently trying to save the situation that has gone out of control and beyond of the point of no return. We already know that the summit was another dialogue between the deaf and the blind.

But I do hope that as a honest man and an efficient international politician, my friend will continue to pursue the case that he and I were discussing with mutually shared serious worry not only for Ukraine, but regarding the entire face and destiny of Europe in the near future, after the coming European elections in May 2014. During these elections, pan-European ultra-right radicals will try to hijack Europe once again; and the situation has not been this serious in Europe since the pre-WWII time.

Why is it that people are so stubborn in their persistent drive to reject reality? Why our brains are so weak? And our eyes so comfortably blind, always and repeatedly?

Double-Sided Hatred

In Ukraine, the Janukovich-led regime has been massively corrupt, the president himself happens to be a convicted criminal, and his clique fully corresponds to those marvellous qualities. Still, it is the same Ukrainian people who did vote for him; the same way people in Venezuela kept voting for their Orwellian presidents, one after another. Any expert on Ukraine would tell you that all the previous Ukrainian regimes were, quite similarly, utterly corrupted, as has always been the case for this country. Only names and influential groups have changed during the 22 years of the country’s independence, but not their slogans, ways and methods.

Janukovich, a weak and ineffectual leader, did not react adequately when his special forces violated the rights of protesting students in early December in what became the turning point of the change from peaceful protest into the growing and uncontrollable violence we witness now. Infamous “Berkut” troops and the other Ukrainian security troops, their state militia and the special force units are notoriously anti-Semitic, as can be seen from their own pages in Facebook, their sites and their videos  on YouTube. 

What we are having in the case of Ukraine is ugly, uncivilised and involves large groups of hard-core nationalists and militant racists – from both sides, importantly. And this double-sided violent nationalism is only increasing the threats to normal, now-terrorized citizens of Ukraine, and those who are visiting the country.

The genie of hatred has come out of the bottle, and it will be extremely difficult to put it back. But without doing it, there will be no peace in that big and important country. And the inflammatory situation will threaten all of Ukraine's neighbors, from Poland to Moldova, including Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, all of them besides Moldova members of the European Union; with Russia and Byelorussia among the Ukrainian neighbors, as well. Who on the earth needs such threatening open fire in one's neighbor’s courtyard?

To handle smoke, one needs to extinguish the fire. And the fire is that provocative, open and dangerous ultra-radical nationalism blossoming today in Ukraine.     

Racial Hatred As Yeast for Riots

It is crucial to realise that sheer and ugly racism has become the yeast of the Ukrainian riots – from both sides, it is important to note. Why are none of the European and Western world leaders not pointing in that vital direction? Why is it being overlooked once again?

My close friend living in Ukraine wrote me a few days ago on how her West-based fiancée is very nervous about the situation and ‘is praying that democracy will win in Ukraine’ – “Poor naive man”, writes my Ukrainian friend. If things continue to unfold the way they are unfolding now, all of Europe will become poor and ridden by race-based hatred and it may happen soon.

Neo-Nazis as ‘Freedom Fighters’

Little more than a year ago, in Autumn 2012, the ultra-right nationalist, fervently and openly anti-Semitic Freedom party received over 10% of the seats in the Ukrainian parliament and now has a solid 37 seats in the 450-member governing body. Just over a year since the legitimisation of that party, which initially proudly called itself a National-Socialist party, the protests in Ukraine have turned into bloody riots and are very close to civil war.

Since the very beginning, a heavily racist element has been present in the rhetoric of the protests. Why did nobody in the West react adequately to these non-stop proclamations of hatred and calls for violence? Why did nobody speak about it in plain language, not once?

If any of the MPs of almost any of the Western countries – except Hungary, obviously - would allow him or herself to imitate a pale shadow of the speeches which were repeatedly heard from the podium of the Ukrainian parliament, the speeches produced by the Freedom party MPs, that Western parliamentarian would find him or herself in jail instantly.   

And to make the customary Ukrainian surrealism entirely bleak, today the Freedom party leader has become one of the three most visible, officially recognized leaders of the Ukrainian opposition. To accept it is the same as signing a decree that “from today on, we are once again living happily in a barbarian age".

The German government seems to be the only one that has made a distinction between the leader of the blatant neo-Nazis and the (acceptable to the West) other Ukrainian opposition leaders. Germany clearly has no alternative about that.

But what about every other Western government, the European Parliament and the European Commission who are so very active – and so very unsuccessful – in solving the Ukrainian drama? Are they deaf? Blind? Illiterate? Not interested in details, most probably - hurrying up in a non-stop shuttling to intermediate the peace process in Ukraine which comes across as another fiasco, so far; very similar to the Egyptian and Thailand ones.

In 2012, the Anti-Defamation League officially listed the Ukrainian Freedom party as a neo-Nazi party. How it is possible in the civilised and post WWII world that this party is accepted as part of an official opposition and a partner in the negotiations attended by anyone who is not Nazi or a neo-Nazi ideology supporter? European and Western leaders do owe us the answer to that simple question.  

The Right Sector of Armed Debauchers  

People who are following the situation in Ukraine, know that the notorious Freedom party looks almost like church choir boys in comparison with 23 more ultra-right radical organizations in Ukraine, several of them recently united into the Right Sector Alliance comprised of highly aggressive militants. The current reality is that those thousands of militants are well equipped with weapons and ammunition and are determined to run the war, according to their leader’s repeated statements. It is those people who have happily taken responsibility for multiple acts of arson, increasing daily terror and limitless violence. It is those people who beat severely a newly appointed official in Volyn, put him on his knees, hand-cuffed him publicly in the city square, and brought his family to stand in front of him. Those people call themselves fighters for freedom. Is this the definition of freedom with which the European leaders are happy?  

These are not ‘separate accidental cases’ as we are hearing in some official comments. This is the position and practice of the absolutely real, serious, large, well organized and well prepared sector of the Ukrainian protesters, and this truth shall be realised and acted upon without delay.

There is no secret concerning the real political agenda and programs of ultra-nationalist parties in Ukraine – there is nothing close to European values and goals there. One just should open existing documents and hear what the representatives of those parties proclaim daily. They are sharply anti-European, and highly racist. They have nothing to do with the values and practices of the civilized world. Why are the European leaders embracing such forces so indiscriminately?..

The Threat to Ukranian Jewry

Ukrainian Jewry is facing a real and serious threat, and it is simply chilling to write about it on the eve of commemorating the 70th anniversary of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry. The Hungarian government is putting the commemoration on the back burner, expectedly, but unacceptably.

Twenty five years ago, in 1989, there were almost a half a million Jews in Ukraine. In just over a decade, 80% of them left the country. This fact alone tells a lot about the country’s attitude and atmosphere vis a vis Jews. Ten years later, that number had diminished by a third. Now, less than 70,000 Jews are citizens of Ukraine, according to official statistics.  

That enormous shrinking of the Jewish population is one of the most tangible characteristics of the independent Ukraine, one has to face it. And now there is palpable and increasing danger to the Jewish people and Jewish institutions in the country. The world community should become vigilant and alert to this threat. It should act immediately in order to preserve and guarantee necessary safety to those people and institutions. There is no ‘tomorrow’ for that.

A Pre-condition for Civilization

There is no doubt that the only way out of the heavily escalated bloody conflict in Ukraine is through early elections. With the current situation there, and the general silent acceptance of the radical ultra-right nationalistic parties and movements from outside the country, there is a high enough probability of their serious gain in early elections.

Europe simply cannot afford to add gasoline to the already-started fire. As European leaders are so active these days trying to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, they should make it absolutely clear to all parties involved that Europe and the world will not tolerate legitimization of race-hatred. This has to be the pre-condition of any further development in Ukraine and the coming early elections. 

To empower the openly neo-Nazi movements in Europe by ignoring the threat they pose is an utterly risky business. People should not have to pay a terrible price – again – for the meekness and indifference of their leaders. As Ukraine today has become the tragic show-case for all of  Europe with regards to breeding and allowing race-hatred to become a violent and uncontrollable force, it is impertive to handle the situation there in accordance with existing international law and norms of civilisation.

Never again, you said?

The writer, president of The Rogatchi Foundation (www.rogatchi.org) is curator of the Holocaust Exhibition in the Ukraine. Her forthcoming book is "Stars of Despair, Stars of Hope: Personal Reflections on the Holocaust in the Modern Times".