June 26 left me exhausted.. Ran 10 miles up and down the streets screaming with rainbow ribbon trailing behind us, cried and cheered at the gay rights rally in front of the courthouse, and danced around at Trans pride rally. Seattle was the perfect city to celebrate in. Love my city, love my country, love that love finally won.
Do you know much about Svoboda? Western Media seems to be avoiding the issue of this extremist party which holds 36 seats in the Ukrainian parliament. I even heard Anne Applebaum sidestep this issue in an interview the other day. What are your thoughts?
Svoboda is absolutely terrible. Party leaders and members are blatantly pro-Nazi but unsurprisingly they deny any charges of extremism, racism, anti-Semitism, etc., despite their own platform strongly indicating otherwise. Their typical line is that they’re pro-Ukrainian and not anti-anyone else, as if their love of Ukraine can somehow eclipse their rabid hatred of those they perceive to be outsiders, which is actually a very common “defense” in neo-Nazi and white nationalist circles. I really don’t know why some people in the media are so reluctant to acknowledge the support that Svoboda has in Ukraine but the western media doesn’t seem very interested in covering just how complicated the situation really is. Currently they seem most interested in promoting the idea that the Russian occupation of Crimea will result in another Cold War or, better yet, WWIII.
-“In its official programme, Svoboda demands criminal prosecution for “Ukrainophobia”, and also various regulatory measures which are oriented to a greater or lesser extent towards the principle of national identity:
the restoration of the Soviet practice of indicating nationality in passports and on birth certificates;
proportional representation on executive bodies of ethnic Ukrainians, on the one hand, and national minorities, on the other;
a ban on adoptions by non-Ukrainians of Ukrainian children;
preferential treatment for Ukrainian students in the allocation of hostel places, and a series of similar changes to existing legal provisions.
Measures such as these are in themselves nothing out of the ordinary, but if they were all introduced at once, they could result in officially sanctioned ethnic differentiations that may eventually lead to the stigmatization of Ukrainian citizens of various nationalities, and guests of Ukraine. This would violate the principles of human rights to which Ukraine signed up when it joined the Council of Europe, and would aggravate existing ethnic conflicts in Ukrainian society. What is more, Svoboda announces in its programme that it is both possible and necessary to make Ukraine the “geopolitical centre of Europe” – a typically nationalist case of delusions of grandeur, reminiscent of Russia’s current superpower ambitions.” (x)
-“Svoboda’s presence has been felt immediately in Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, where its 37 deputies belong to a broad coalition opposing President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.
Meeting for its first two sessions in mid-December, the Rada - as it has a number of times in the past - degenerated into scenes that resembled not so much a legislative process as an ice hockey brawl, involving dozens of shoving, punching and kicking parliamentarians. Svoboda’s newly installed deputies, clad in traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts, were in the thick of the melee, when not actually leading the charge.
They helped attack and drive from the opposition’s ranks two deputies - a father and son - who were accused of preparing to defect to the ruling party. Then they joined a massive free-for-all around the speaker’s rostrum, in protest at alleged illegal absentee-voting by deputies from the governing party. One of Svoboda’s leading members, sports journalist Ihor Miroshnychenko, his ponytail flying behind him, then charged the podium to prevent a deputy speaking in Russian. (Svoboda believes that only Ukrainian should be used in all official bodies.) Outside, Svoboda deputies used a chainsaw to cut down an iron fence erected last year to prevent crowds from storming the parliament building. This they justified in the name of popular democracy. “No other democratic country has fenced-off the national parliament,” said Svoboda’s Ruslan Koshulinskiy, the deputy speaker of parliament. “People have chosen these lawmakers and should have a right to have access to them.” Chaotic and confrontational as this may seem to Western eyes, Svoboda’s over-the-top behaviour is partly what drove many Ukrainians to vote for them.
The party has tapped a vast reservoir of protest votes. In a political landscape where all other parties are seen as corrupt, weak or anti-democratic - or all three - Svoboda seems to have attracted voters who would otherwise have stayed away from the polls altogether. Its strong anti-corruption stance - promising to “clean up” Ukraine - has resonated deeply. “I’m for Svoboda,” said Vadim Makarevych, a supporter, said at a recent rally in Kiev. “We have to stop what is happening in our country. It’s banditry and mafia.”
At the same time, they have staked out a position as fervent - some say rabid - defenders of traditional Ukrainian culture and language. Months before Miroshnychenko charged the parliament podium, Svoboda activists were photographed appearing to spray police with pepper gas, at a demonstration against a law making Russian an official language in some regions of the country. Among those who see Russia as a threat to Ukraine’s independence - chiefly in the west rather than the east of the country - many applaud this tough anti-Moscow stance. But in the run-up to October’s election, the party also wooed centrist voters by softening its image.
Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok repeatedly reassured voters that Svoboda is not racist, xenophobic or anti-Semitic - just pro-Ukrainian. “We are not against anyone, we are for ourselves,” he said. By presenting itself as a party of very devoted patriots, Svoboda seems to have won over voters who would be repelled by some of its more radical views - or voters who sympathise with these views, but prefer them to remain unspoken.
In the last parliamentary elections five years ago, Svoboda managed only 0.7% of the vote. This time, in addition to expanding its traditional base in the country’s Ukrainian-speaking west - it won close to 40% in the Lviv region - Svoboda made inroads into central regions, capturing second place in the capital Kiev. Last week (20/12/12) the charismatic Tyahnybok was voted Person of the Year by readers of the country’s leading news magazine, Korrespondent.
But while the party’s radical past can be papered over, it cannot be erased. Its name until 2004 was the “Social-National Party” and it maintains informal links to another group, the Patriots of Ukraine, regarded by some as proto-fascist. In 2004, Tyahnybok was kicked out of former President Viktor Yushchenko’s parliamentary faction for a speech calling for Ukrainians to fight against a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” - using two highly insulting words to describe Russians and Jews - and emphasising that Ukrainians had in the past fought this threat with arms.
In 2005, he signed an open letter to Ukrainian leaders, including President Yushchenko, calling for the government to halt the “criminal activities” of “organised Jewry”, which, the letter said, was spreading its influence in the country through conspiratorial organisations as the Anti-Defamation League - and which ultimately wanted to commit “genocide” against the Ukrainian people.
Tyahnybok stresses that he has never been convicted for anti-Semitism or racial hatred, though prosecutors opened a case against him after his 2004 speech. “All I said then, I can also repeat now,” he says. “Moreover, this speech is relevant even today.”
Other Svoboda members have also courted controversy. Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, a parliamentary deputy considered one of the party’s ideologues, liberally quotes from former Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, along with other National-Socialist leaders.
This undoubtedly appeals to a number of Svoboda’s voters, though to what extent is difficult to determine. Even now, Svoboda’s platform calls for passports to specify the holder’s ethnicity, and for government positions to be distributed proportionally to ethnic groups, based on their representation in the population at large. “We want Ukrainians to run the country,” says Bohdan, a participant in a recent Svoboda rally, as he waves a Ukrainian flag and organises cheering and chanting. “Seventy percent of the parliament are Jews.”
Some see signs that Svoboda’s radical elements are reasserting themselves. Activists recently attacked and sprayed tear gas at a gay rights rally in central Kiev. Ihor Miroshnychenko, meanwhile, used abusive language to describe the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis, who is Jewish, in an online discussion.
However, a number of Svoboda’s critics, while underscoring the potential dangers of the party’s rise, also say that its popularity may be fleeting. Svoboda’s surge mirrors the far-right’s growing strength in many countries across Europe, they point out, and may not signal any fundamental, long-term rightward shift among the Ukrainian population. With the increased scrutiny that the party will come under in parliament, more Ukrainians may also take objection to Svoboda’s wilder statements, or decide it creates unnecessary divisions in an already polarised country. The party itself could also become more mainstream as it conforms to pressure from its political partners. This has happened with other far-right groups in the past, like the Italian Fascist party, which mellowed as it integrated into Italy’s conservative camp, experts say. “There’s a belief that Svoboda will change, once in the Verkhovna Rada, and that they may become proper national democrats,” says Andreas Umland, a political science professor at Kiev’s Mohyla Academy University. But he hesitates to predict how the party’s internal tensions will be resolved. “We don’t know which way Svoboda will go,” he says. “It may actually become more radical.” (x)
The Open Letter signed by Tyahnybok (2005)
Title - Stop the Criminal Activities of Organised Jewry
Signed by Tyahnybok and 17 others
Lists Jewish businessmen, who got rich in the 1990s, and claims they control Ukrainian media
Describes Zionism as “Jewish Nazism” and warns of “genocide” through the impoverishment of Ukrainians
Demands investigation into the activities of Jewish organisations headed by people “suspected of serious crimes” (x)