Fascist salutes: Does it matter anymore?

Historian examines whether fascist slogans can be appropriate for use in a democratic state and divorced from their historical meaning.

Mordechai Sones ,

Ukraine's rightist parties and movements protest against oligarchs in Kiev
Ukraine's rightist parties and movements protest against oligarchs in Kiev

Arutz Sheva last week reported that the Nazi collaborator greeting Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes! is to become the Armed Forces of Ukraine's official military greeting.

The report received many responses, including from one Twitter user who asked, "While I won't deny a minority Nazi influence in Ukraine that's been disturbingly vocal since the war in Crimea, I have to wonder if Glory to Ukraine is really that offensive? Would people be just as offended by patriotic terms such as God bless America or Vive la France?"

Swedish historian Per Anders Rudling is currently a Singapore University Senior Visiting Fellow, and he spoke to Arutz Sheva to help provide context and depth to this complex and charged subject.

In the article it was noted that the Nachtigall division and Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) forces initiated and conducted the unprecedentedly horrific massacre of Lvov's Jews known in history as Lvov massacre of June-July, 1941 in which at least seven-thousand Jews were barbarically murdered. It is the leaders of this organization who are being celebrated in the Ukraine today.

"The OUN and Croatian Ustaše was founded at the same time, in 1929, and the two organization shared many key attributes," Rudling said. "Whereas Mussolini’s Fascists, Codreanu’s Legionnaires, Szalasi’s Arrow Cross, and the National Socialists in Germany and Austria sought revolutionary re-organization of a state, the situation for the Ustaše, the OUN (and for that matter the VMRO in Macedonia and, to some extent, the Hlinkova Garda in Slovakia) the far-right, totalitarian, anti-Semitic, revolutionary groups among the stateless peoples worked under partially different conditions.

"They first had to create their totalitarian state - as opposed to turning a democratic state into a corporatist, totalitarian one. Some Ukrainian analysts, like Alexander Motyl claim this makes OUN not fascist. (I find this argument self-serving and unconvincing), whereas others, such as Aleksandr Zaitsev in Lviv argues for a separate classification for the OUN, and refers to it as Ustashist, instead of fascist. My own interpretation is that both the OUN and the Ustaše can be characterized as fascist, as part of a larger, perhaps generic European fascist tradition.

"Ustaše and the OUN in the 1920s were to a high degree centered in Italy. The OUN held its second congress in Rome in August 1939, and several of its senior leaders were stationed there for a long time.

"In the early 1930s, the Ustaše and the OUN trained their terrorists at joint training camps in Mussolini’s Italy. (This came to an and only after the Ustaše murder of Barthou and King Alexander in 1934, and the OUN murder of Pieracki soon thereafter.)

"Both movements used revolutionary violence to stir up conflict and start civil war, both subscribed to the Führerprinzip ("Leader principle"), both used party uniforms, the fascist salute, both were strongly anti-Semitic, both practiced massive ethnic cleansing (Serbs and Poles), mass murdered Jews, and both jockeyed for Nazi support. The difference is that the Croat NDH was recognized by Germany, whereas the Nazis didn't envision any role for an independent Ukraine in their master plan (even though some top Nazis, among them Rosenberg, did). Ukraine was occupied, Croatia became a Nazi puppet. Ustaše victims run in several hundred thousands, while victims of OUN and its armed wing UPA run somewhere in the range of 70,000-100,000 Poles and perhaps ten thousand Jews.

"After the war, the OUN and Ustaše collaborated in exile, primarily through the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), led by the OUN.

"The salutes, Za Dom - Spremni! (the Ustaše equivalent of the Nazi Sieg heil).and Slava Ukrainy! Heroiam Slava! (Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!) fulfilled similar functions, were introduced at the same time, and were both to be carried out with a raised right arm. They were used by the groups that massacred Jews and called for revolutionary, deadly violence against their perceived enemies. In short, they were, just like analogous salutes employed by German, Austrian, French, Spanish, Hungarian, and Romanian groups fascist salutes. This is the historical context.

"The salute was practiced in the diaspora, and was re-imported to Ukraine around 1990. First it was used by far-right groups like the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN) and others, but by 2010 it was used by Iuliia Tymoshenko, and after the so-called Euromaidan revolution it's been appropriated by state actors including the head of state and armed forces." The Euromaidan revolution refers to a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine that began on the night of November 21, 2013 with public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti ("Independence Square") in Kiev. The protests were sparked by the Ukrainian government's decision to suspend signing an association agreement with the European Union and instead choosing closer ties to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union.

"Colleagues in the field, including scholars like Oxana Shevel at Tufts University, have adopted it, and argue that it now has a different meaning than in 1941 and its use is appropriate. A similar argument has been advanced by Dominque Arel at the University of Ottawa. We had a discussion about this in public, which he later included on his UKL list, I believe, in spring of 2014.

"So the discussion concerns whether this OUN slogan is appropriate for use in a democratic state; if it can be divorced from its prior use and the groups that introduced and spread its use, or whether its use should make it inadmissible and inappropriate. When Croat radicals used Za Dom - Spremni! it triggered aggressive discussions and disciplinary action from international sporting associations. When Ukrainian radical sports fans use it, the argument is that it should somehow be seen in a different context. To me, this comes across as a double standard. And it should be said, most people I've seen promoting the use of the OUN slogan haven't studied the history of the OUN and the Holocaust. Shevel and Arel are partial exceptions - they are political scientists, but has done critical inquiry into OUN history, and are by no means apologetic for the OUN legacy.

"Viatrovych now claims that the Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes! greeting predated the OUN and goes back the Kholodnyi Iar and 1918. I've seen no evidence of this. Paradoxically, as argument for this claim he cites a novel by Horlis-Hors’kyi, a eastern Ukrainian nationalist writer who was - the irony - murdered by the OUN in Augsburg in September 1946.

"To sum up: Whether the OUN slogan is salvageable or not is a political matter. The common wisdom seems to be that the Ustaše greeting is inadmissible, the OUN one is okay. My own take is that both should probably be assessed and treated in the same way. If OUN greetings are admissible, why not accept the Ustaše counterpart? Or, if one has a problem with the Ustaše greeting, one ought to have one with the OUN one as well. But, of course, this is a political issue."