As the real nature of Ukraine’s "democratic" and allegedly "pro-Western" opposition becomes all too apparent, the pushback from the regime-change crowd borders on the comic. The War Party is stumbling all over itself in a frantic effort to cover up and deny the frightening provenance of the neo-fascist gang they’ve helped to seize power in Kiev.
First up to bat is Amelia M. Glaser, associate professor of Russian literature at the University of California, San Diego, who avers in the New York Times that the Ukrainian opposition couldn’t possibly be anti-Semitic because, "despite an anguished history":
"The past decade has been a time of significant rapprochement between Ukrainian Jews and their countrymen, particularly among cultural and intellectual figures. The National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy has partnered with the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine to create a Jewish Studies degree program. Outside Ukraine, organizations like the Canada-based Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter Initiative have encouraged dialogue. Scholars of Ukrainian literature, like Myroslav Shkandrij of the University of Manitoba, and of Jewish history like Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern of Northwestern University, have helped to complicate the narrative of animosity, recalling Ukrainian writers’ varied portrayals of Jews as well as Jews who wrote in Ukrainian."
Well, that’s a relief: I was afraid all those white power symbols – including Confederate flags – adorning Kiev city hall and anti-Semitic rhetoric from Svoboda and Right Sector, was a sign of a neo-Nazi resurgence. I wondered whether Svoboda – which idolizes Stepan Bandera, leader of an armed gang that collaborated with the Nazis – and its torchlight parades signaled trouble. Luckily, a bunch of Westernized professors are having a "dialogue" with their Jewish counterparts: in the face of this scholarly group hug, there’s no need to worry about tens of thousands of protesters cheering Oleh Tyahnybok in the Maiden.
Tyahnybok, you’ll recall, was expelled from the Rada, or parliament, for making a speech denouncing the "Jewish Muscovite" conspiracy against Ukraine. According to Glaser, because a bunch of high-toned intellectuals are sitting around talking about Ukrainian literature, there’s no need to even acknowledge this shocking report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about the openly anti-Semitic rhetoric routinely voiced by all the major parties of the opposition, not just Svoboda and Right Sector.
If it’s easy to laugh at Glaser’s nearsightedness – she doesn’t mention the eight top-level positions held by Svoboda and Right Sector in the new government – it’s downright painful to contemplate Timothy Snyder’s two-part apologia for the ultra-nationalist coup leaders in the New York Review of Books. Part I emphasized the supposedly "moderate" tenor of the opposition, but recent developments – such as the composition of the new "interim" government – demanded an update. Now he is forced to acknowledge a severely edited version of the truth:
"The Ukrainian far right did play an important part in the revolution. What it did, in going to the barricades, was to liberate itself from the regime of which it had been one of the bulwarks. One of the moral atrocities of the Yanukovych regime was to crush opposition from the center-right, and support opposition from the far right. By imprisoning his major opponents from the legal political parties, most famously Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych was able to make of democracy a game in which he and the far right were the only players."
That Yanukovich secretly plotted the resurgence of Ukrainian fascism has got to be one of the silliest conspiracy theories ever devised. Tymoshenko was crushed by her own corruption, i.e. outright thievery and worse. Snyder’s whitewashing of Svoboda, however, is particularly noteworthy in its forthright defense of a party with undeniably fascist roots and organizational links. "In fact," he confides:
"Svoboda was a house opposition that, during the revolution, rebelled against its own leadership. Against the wishes of their leaders, the radical youth of Svoboda fought in considerable numbers, alongside of course people of completely different views. They fought and they took risks and they died, sometimes while trying to save others. In the post-revolutionary situation these young men will likely seek new leadership. The leader of Svoboda, according to opinion polls, has little popular support; if he chooses to run for president, which is unlikely, he will lose."
As Svoboda’s prominence and growing power draws increased scrutiny to its origins and ideology, Western cheerleaders for the coup leaders must resort to desperate measures, and I have to admit this is an ingenious one – although perhaps only in the NYRB could one get away with such a word-cloud of obfuscating rhetoric. Svoboda is reborn in the purifying flames of the Revolution, its history, including recent history erased. In a variant of the "look-over-here" strategy, Snyder says "Right Sector is the group to watch," oh but don’t worry because:
"For the time being, its leaders have been very careful, in conversations with both Jews and Russians, to stress that their goal is political and not ethnic or racial. In the days after the revolution they have not caused violence or disorder. On the contrary, the subway runs in Kiev."
Yes, and Mussolini made the trains run on time. One has to wonder about Snyder’s choice of metaphors. He fails to mention that Right Sector Fuehrer Dymtro Yorash has been named deputy head of security, i.e. the police. Nor does he mention the eight prominent positions held by Svoboda and Right Sector in the new government.
Outside the "we are all Ukrainians now" bubble, however, people are sitting up and taking notice. A Reuters piece spotlights the general uneasiness about the exact color of this latest US-sponsored "color revolution":
"When protest leaders in Ukraine helped oust a president widely seen as corrupt, they became heroes of the barricades. But as they take places in the country’s new government, some are facing uncomfortable questions about their own values and associations, not least alleged links to neo-fascist extremists."
Citing Svoboda and Right Sector, the piece reports in some detail the long history of Svoboda as the inheritor of the Banderist tradition, which extols the World War II Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. However, "experts" are supposedly "divided" over Svoboda, with one condemning it as "neo-fascist" and the other explaining the party is "not now" fascist and anti-Semitic. US government officials echo this latter line:
"A U.S. official said one of the main reasons that McCain and other Americans met Tyahnybok, who does not have a position in the new Ukrainian government, was because he headed one of the three principal opposition factions leading the Ukrainian protests. The US government says Svoboda is moving away from extremism and trying to become a more conventional political party.
“’Since entering the Ukrainian Parliament in October 2012, the Svoboda leadership has been working to take their party in a more moderate direction and to become a modern, European mainstream political party,’ a senior US official told Reuters. ‘The leadership has been much more vigilant about expelling or otherwise punishing individual members who engage in xenophobic behavior or rhetoric.’”
The idea that Svoboda is "moving away from extremism" wasn’t demonstrated when the first act of the newly reconstituted Rada passed a Svoboda-supported bill banning the use of Russian as a second official language throughout Ukraine (including Crimea). The legislation was later vetoed by the executive branch. I’m not surprised these US officials won’t talk on the record: it’s a sorry day indeed when defending the entrance of "reformed" neo-Nazis into a US-supported government is all in a day’s work for this administration.
Reuters reports practically everything first reported here, but they get the number of Svoboda members slightly skewed:
"Two of the groups under most scrutiny are Svoboda, whose members hold five senior roles in Ukraine’s new government including the post of deputy prime minister, and Pravyi Sector (Right Sector), whose leader Dmytro Yarosh is now the country’s Deputy Secretary of National Security."
Depending on what you mean by "senior," this downplays the extremists’ strength: the correct number is actually eight, as I pointed out here. In any case, I don’t know which is more alarming: the entrance into government of a party that traces its origins back to a fighting battalion affiliated with Hitler’s SS, or the sight of US officials whitewashing it. They’re flying the Confederate flag and the Celtic cross in Kiev, and the first African American President is hailing them as liberators. That’s one for the history books!
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.