A response to Cas Mudde’s ‘A new (order) Ukraine’

Events in Ukraine have provoked an avalanche of media comment, much of which, though well-intentioned, is not entirely accurate.

Anton Shekhovtsov
3 March 2014

Commenting on Cas Mudde’s article ‘A new (order) Ukraine? Assessing the relevance of Ukraine’s far right in an EU perspective’ is somewhat tricky. On the one hand, Mudde is one of the best experts on the European far right whose work I deeply respect and quote often in my own research. On the other hand, his article is exactly the reason why over 40 of the world’s leading specialists on the Ukrainian nationalism and extreme right have issued a statement calling ‘upon all those who have either no particular interest for, or no deeper knowledge of, Ukraine to not comment on this region’s complicated national questions without engaging in some in-depth research.’ As Mudde himself acknowledges that he is ‘not a scholar of Ukrainian nationalism’, he obviously falls into the category of academics and commentators mentioned in the statement.

Like it or not, you cannot make a revolution in white gloves: defending Euromaidan implied readiness to be engaged in violence against police brutality

Mudde claims that he did ‘some serious reading on the issues’ of the Ukrainian far right and his ‘literature review’ seems to draw – not exclusively but for the most part – upon my own works published some time ago. My recent research, however, has been largely ignored. At the same time, given the information war that Russia has waged against Ukraine to discredit its pro-democratic and pro-European revolution by claiming that ‘Ukrainian radical ultranationalists’ have seized power in the country, I cannot ignore the misconceptions in Mudde’s article. Although I obviously understand his concerns about the influence of far-right groups in my country, I believe they are not grounded in facts, as these groups do not in fact wield any real authority. I will focus on some of Mudde's claims. 

‘In ideological terms Svoboda is quite similar to the other parties that it collaborates with in the Alliance of European National Movements (AENM), such as the British National Party (BNP), the German National Democratic Party (NPD), and the Italian Tricolor Flame.’

This is partly true. However, Svoboda no longer cooperates with the AENM: early in 2013 it was stripped of its observer status in the Alliance by Hungarian far right Jobbik. Svoboda opposes the Kremlin’s influence in Ukraine; Jobbik is now cooperating with Russian Eurasianists such as Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin, who is calling for the annexation of several parts of Ukraine to Russia and has recently been active in recruiting Russian ultra-nationalist militants urging them to go to Ukraine to help the Russian military invade the country. Jobbik is also against the EU and would rather have Hungary join the Russia-led Eurasian Union, the establishment of which is planned for 2015. The reason behind Jobbik’s decision to block Svoboda’s cooperation with the AENM was exactly this ideological conflict: Svoboda is pro-EU and anti-Kremlin, while Jobbik is anti-EU and pro-Kremlin. Furthermore, the German National Democratic Party has never been a member of the AENM. 

‘Svoboda is not even the most extreme far right group represented in the new Ukrainian government. Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) is a coalition of mostly smaller far right groups, including various neo-fascists and neo-Nazis, which came together during the protests.’

While the Right Sector has indeed a neo-Nazi fringe – constituted by the representatives from the ‘White Hammer’ group, ‘Patriot of Ukraine’, Social-National Assembly – the main group behind the Right Sector is ‘Tryzub’ (Trident) which is far from neo-Nazism, racism and anti-Semitism. Its ideology can be interpreted as national conservative. Furthermore, nobody from the Right Sector is represented in the new Ukrainian government.

‘[The Right Sector] has presented itself as the defender of Euromaidan, but has also been linked to much of its most violent actions, including against other (radical left) demonstrators’. 

Like it or not, you cannot make a revolution in white gloves. Defending Euromaidan implied readiness to be engaged in violence against police brutality. The protesters had to resort to violence, because otherwise they would have been murdered by the police and thugs. Around 100 protesters (now called the Heavenly Hundred) have indeed been murdered by the police and criminal thugs (titushki) hired by the regime. Some of the protesters have been beheaded; some have been tortured to death; some have been horribly abused. Among the Heavenly Hundred there are fallen revolutionaries of ethnic Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian, Armenian, Polish and Jewish origin. Mudde seems to completely fail to grasp the gravity of the tragic situation at Euromaidan. Moreover, even the misleading and alarmist article by Volodymyr Ishchenko, to which Mudde refers, does not say that the Right Sector attacked radical left protesters. On the contrary, there was a truce between the Right Sector and the far left who fought together against the common enemy: Yanukovych’s criminal terrorist regime.

‘The leader of Pravy Sektor, Dmytro Yarosh, a 25-year veteran of Ukrainian far right politics, was appointed Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, which advises the president on the national security strategy of Ukraine’.

This is not true. It was Viktoria Syumar, a journalist and human rights activist, rather than Yarosh, who was appointed Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council. 

‘In line with a nationalist view of Ukrainian history, [Andriy] Parubiy wrote that: ‘All people interested in history know that Stepan Bandera was in a German concentration camp during the Second World War, while his brothers were shot dead by the Nazis.’

Bandera was indeed arrested by the Nazis in 1941 for proclaiming the independence of the Ukrainian state, and later put into the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His brothers, Vasyl and Oleksandr, were indeed killed in Auschwitz. This is not ‘a nationalist view of Ukrainian history’, these are historical facts.

‘Not only do far right parties in Ukraine have a popular support that is well above the EU average, although only half of that in some west European countries (like Austria and France), the main far right party is more extreme than most of its “brethren” within the EU, and occupies significant positions of power within the new Ukrainian government and state.’

First of all, Mudde seems to be unaware of the fact that popular support for Svoboda has dramatically dwindled during 2013, while Svoboda’s leader Oleh Tyahnybok’s presidential rating has fallen from 10.4% in March 2013 to 3.8% at the end of January – beginning of February 2014. Despite the sensationalist, Kremlin-inspired reports claiming that Ukraine was facing ‘a neo-fascist coup’, Svoboda has been discredited during the revolution and – if Ukraine survives the ongoing Russian invasion – is unlikely to regain the support it enjoyed in 2012.

Second, Svoboda may be more extreme than the French National Front or the Freedom Party of Austria, but it is probably less extreme than Jobbik, NPD, Golden Dawn, Tricolour Flame, BNP, etc. Finally, even if certain members of Svoboda are indeed represented in the current government, one should understand that this government is transitional and has to deal with only two major problems: (1) the Russian invasion and (2) the economic crisis. The early parliamentary election should take place shortly after the presidential election, and popular support for the far right Svoboda party may decline. It is important not to forget that Svoboda’s success at the 2012 parliamentary elections was largely driven by the anti-Ukrainian and pro-Kremlin policies of the corrupt Yanukovych regime, rather than by the alleged right-wing radicalisation of the Ukrainian society. 

To conclude, I will quote the above-mentioned statement of the researchers of Ukrainian nationalism:

We call upon all those who have either no particular interest for, or no deeper knowledge of, Ukraine to not comment on this region’s complicated national questions without engaging in some in-depth research. [...] Reporters who have the necessary time, energy and resources should visit Ukraine, or/and do some serious reading on the issues their articles address. Those who are unable to do so may want to turn their attention to other, more familiar, uncomplicated and less ambivalent topics. This should help to avoid, in the future, the unfortunately numerous clichés, factual errors, and misinformed opinion that often accompany discussions of events in Ukraine. 

An earlier version of this op-ed was published on Anton Shekhovstov's personal blog.

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