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    Olaf Sundermeyer’s myth: right-extremists rule in Ukraine

    20th October 2014

    Note: this post was written on the 18th-23rd of May 2014, but was not published at that time. I am publishing it now, after minor edits of tenses used. I think that after Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of August 2014 it is absolutely clear that any prior publications regarding “right extremists” in Ukraine were either paid-for Russian propaganda, or simply insufficient analysis of the situation. It is still worth publishing this short text; consider this a cure for minds with only minor propaganda poisoning.

    On Sunday, the 18th of May, the sad 70th anniversary of Crimean Tatars deportation by the Soviet regime, in Saarbrucken journalist Olaf Sundermeyer was giving a lecture titled “Ukraine: Die rechte Freiheit – Nationalismus und Rechtsextremismus” ( , or as a PDF).

    I was unable to attend it, but looking at the abstract I felt the need to analyze and criticize the viewpoint Olaf presented. To do so, I went sentence by sentence through the abstract from the link above, picking items I cannot agree with, and providing my arguments.

    Rechtsextremisten und radikale Nationalisten gehörten zu den treibenden Kräften der Maidan-Proteste in Kiew.
    This statement, as it is written, is misleading. I do agree that starting mid-January radical forces were much more noticeable in the Euromaidan movement. However, I disagree that they were the driving force. I would rather say that the appearance of such groups was historically inevitable and awaited for by the less aggressive protesters. Let me provide a brief overview of the events, leading to the escalation of the conflict and appearance of radical groups.

    After about 1.5-2 years of promising European future for Ukraine (and actually making some steps in that direction), in November 2013 the Yanukovych government had absolutely unexpectedly (and without any clear reason, other than Putin’s pressure) announced that it will not sign the Association Agreement. During the last decade of November, groups of journalists, students and other activists protested against this decision, demanding that Ukraine continues its integration in Europe. The protests were futile, totally ignored by the government and then-president, and it was clear that the protests would dwindle within a few days. At the verge of November and December, Yanukovych was visiting China to sign some agreements, giving his government quick money support (apparently, Yanukovych “family” has stolen too much from the budget, and it was already in a near-catastrophic state). This visit might have been the reason behind ordering a ruthless, exceedingly cruel, clearly illegal night attack (~4 AM) of the special police forces on the few hundred activists still remaining on the Independence Square (Maidan). It is also important to understand who was there at night: mostly patriotic students, who strongly disagreed with the pro-Russia stance of the government, understanding that closing with Russia will result in Ukraine freezing in Soviet-like time – becoming the like of a few Russia satellite countries, where presidents are more like monarchs – they do not change for decades and even longer. And these Ukrainian patriots were beaten ruthlessly – an unprecedented crime for Ukraine as of 2013. Next day, on the 1st of December, dozens of thousands of people were protesting and demanding that those responsible for the mass beating are prosecuted. On the 1st December, had Yanukovych actually punished some of his people, the protests would calm down. Instead, the protests of the 1st of December were also heavily suppressed, injuring dozens of people (including journalists), and arresting 9 clearly non-radical protest participants. The 1st of December was the first day when some young masked guys were attacking the police with chains and stones; these were referred to as provocateurs by other protesters, as these masked guys could have been used by the government (or even external adversaries) to justify the (again too cruel) suppression of the protests. None of the actual provocateurs were arrested. There are videos showing some of those provocateurs actually freely walking through the police cordon – behind it and then back to the front.

    Anyway, instead of actually listening to the reasonable, legal demands of the initially peaceful protests to punish those who have exceeded their authority on the 30th of November, the government and the president chose to ignore the protests – not even publicly acknowledging they happen – while trying to suppress them with police. When this failed, Euromaidan entered the “latent phase” – starting longer-term camping on the Maidan, resisting attack attempts on the 11th of December and after that. During this latent phase, Maidan activists were kidnapped, beaten, and killed for being Ukrainian and speaking Ukrainian. (This hatred of everything Ukrainian was manifesting itself again in Sloviansk, occupied by Russian and pro-Russian terrorists – at least 3 Ukrainians, including a local people’s deputy, were tortured and murdered in Sloviansk within the first days of occupation.) This turned the protests from being “for justice” into “against anti-Ukrainian government”. I will give only one example of why the government was indeed anti-Ukrainian, though there are many more examples: the “minister of education” of Yanukovych government claimed that… there is no such thing as Ukrainian language and Ukrainian nation! There were massive and prolonged student protests to remove that “minister”, but he stayed in his chair until the Ukrainian Parliament voted a new cabinet of ministers in February 2014.

    If you have been following my line of thought, then by this paragraph it should be clear that Euromaidan evolved from being “for European future of Ukraine”, to “for justice and prevention of exceeding authority”, to “for defending Ukraine and defeating the anti-Ukrainian government”. Until mid-January, the government and the president were ignoring protesters’ demands. Any negotiations of the Ukrainian political opposition (which chose to support the protests and to serve as a negotiator between protesters and the government) with the president ended with nothing, other than untruthful promises not to attack the Maidan. According to a former member of the former president’s Party of Regions, these negotiations were always terminated after a call from Moscow; even when the foreign ministers of several EU countries had night-long negotiations with Yanukovych, those were interrupted (paused) for a call from Putin.

    Up until mid-January, there was hope for a peaceful resolution. All Yanukovych had to do by that time was disband the government (especially the internal affairs minister), and have a new government formed.

    Instead, the former president’s Party of Regions, in a scandalous hand-voting, passes laws which basically forbid any protests, and also increase criminal penalties for participating in the protests. This is when protests extended to the Hrushevs’koho street and became violent, with stone and (eventually) fire cocktails throwing. This is when the guys attacking police were no longer referred to as “provocateurs”, but rather “activists”. This is also when the first Ukrainian patriots, Ukrainian nationalists were shot dead by the police – one was ethnic Armenian, another one – ethnic Belorussian. They both moved to Ukraine searching for better life, they both loved Ukraine, and they did not want Ukraine to become a russified satellite of Russia.

    After mid-January, radical forces did obviously participate in the protests. Were they driving the protests? I wouldn’t say so; they had popular support, but couldn’t really do much more than they were already doing. Was it possible that these patriots would not appear? Not after the anti-protest laws; conflict escalation was inevitable, and sooner or later even previously-peaceful protesters would start throwing stones.

    After this context, does the statement “Rechtsextremisten und radikale Nationalisten gehörten zu den treibenden Kräften der Maidan-Proteste in Kiew.” hold? No. Nationalists and radical forces did not drive the protests; they were the spearhead of the protests, but not the spear-wielding hand.

    “Militante Kräfte des „Rechten Sektors“ ebenso wie bürgerliche Funktionäre der „Svoboda“ (Freiheitspartei).”
    Here, a distinction must be made – what is really meant by “militant”? Is it “militant” as in Slovians’k, where helicopters were shot down using well-timed double rocket-launches? Obviously not. Is it “militant” as in Kalashnikov-wielding Russians and separatists killing Ukrainians? Obviously not. So what does “militant” really mean here? I wish the author had used a more precise term.

    “Diese ist nun an der Ãœbergangsregierung beteiligt, und in der Westukraine fiel ihr die Macht auf allen Ebenen zu.”
    Using “militant” in the previous sentence, the author seems to imply that somehow aggressive and/or armed protesters were in the government. This is entirely false. The temporary government was likely the best one (professionally) Ukraine had since its independence. Indeed, some people (I know 2) entered the government circles after being active in the protests; however, one of these never took part in any radical activities (he was more of a social activist, actually), and the other one is not technically in the government (he’s in the state security council). I personally do not approve of these two quickly ascending to governmental positions, but the reality I am describing is quite far from the author’s statement that “radicals are now part of the government”. In addition, the second part of the statement makes no sense at all. First of all, Ukraine is a sovereign country; “Western Ukraine” is a geographical notion, not administrative – so it is plain impossible to have “Western Ukraine” fully fall under someone’s control (well, except for military occupation, as happened after Russian invasion in the Crimea). Also, how does the author imagine this “complete transfer of power”? Ukraine has a vertical of executive power, with the government/president at the top. Also, the temporary government was appointed by the Parliament of Ukraine – exactly the same parliament as elected a few years ago – same people there. How does the author imagine people’s deputies from all over Ukraine allowing something like the claimed “full power takeover” in the Western Ukraine? This statement is a clearly demagogic one. It is a pity that the author who claims to be a journalist allows himself statements like these.

    “Hier versucht sie ihren ethnischen Nationalismus umzusetzen, während sich die „Svoboda“ in Kiew als moderater Partner der Europäischen Union präsentiert.” (“here” refers to Western Ukraine from the previous sentence)
    Nationalism in Ukraine is not ethnic. Nationalism in Ukraine has the following primary goals: 1) make sure Ukraine is a de facto independent and prosperous state, deciding its fate on its own (this, by the way, does not go well with any kind of EU association); 2) make sure Ukrainian language is safe, and is also the single common language for all citizens of Ukraine – just like German is in Germany, also for immigrants. I have no doubt that there is a small, marginal percentage of people who wish to live in a mono-ethnic state – just like there are similar marginal communities in all countries. However, neither Svoboda, nor the Right Sector ever claimed “ethnic purity” to be their goal. Moreover, Right Sector was the first to help the Jewish community in Odesa, Ukraine, to eliminate the consequences of the vandalism on a Jewish cemetery in Odesa; the head of Jewish Odesa community, together with a representative of Right Sector, then made a statement, a part of which included the promise of Right Sector to actually protect Jewish memorials from vandalism. Would Mr. Sundermeyer still refer to the Right Sector in the context of ethnic nationalism after this?

    Ukraine is a multi-national country, and as the deaths of the Armenian and Belorussian show, Ukrainian nationalists can be of different ethnic origin. I wish Mr. Sundermeyer did more facts research before claiming “ethnic nationalism” as being “implemented” in any parts of Ukraine.

    “Dorthin verfügt sie allerdings über langjährige Kontakte zu europafeindlichen Parteien wie dem „Front National“ (Frankreich), „Jobbik“ (Ungarn) und zur rechtsextremen NPD.”
    Here, only a quick comment regarding the “Jobbik” party: I heard it supported the Russian annexation of Ukrainian sovereign territory (Crimea); I cannot really sanely imagine how would Svoboda or any other patriotic party actually maintain ties with Jobbik after they supported Putin’s aggression.

    “In der Ukraine bildet die „Svoboda“ gemeinsam mit militanten Paramilitärs und gewalttätigen rechten Fußballultras eine eigene „nationale Front“, die durch die Machtteilhabe der „Svoboda“ stark unter Spannung geraten ist. Unterdessen muss die EU mit einem unheimlichen Partner verhandeln, weil der tatkräftig mitgeholfen hat, das verhasste Oligarchenregime zu stürzen.”
    Just a few quick points here.

    • What does the author mean (again, see above) by “militant paramilitary” here?
    • Mr. Sundermeyer claims the link between Svoboda and the football fans. He should know that normally football fans of different teams may even start fights with each other after the games of their teams (I guess British football fans are the most widely known for this). However, when the Yanukovych regime was trying to suppress protests, Ukrainian football fans had united in their patriotism, and they stayed united throughout military invasion of Russia into Eastern Ukraine. Football fans are mostly young guys; there were born and raised in the independent Ukraine, and they are patriots of Ukraine. This does not mean there is a link between Svoboda and the fans.
    • By the way, Svoboda is not in any way radical. Yes, some of its representatives have somewhat less brains than others, and make ridiculously xenophobic statements, to be later announced as their private opinions by the party itself to shield from nonsense. Let me give you an example of Svoboda being a usual patriots party: during the recent celebration of Israel’s independence in their embassy in Kyiv, a lot of Svoboda representatives came with their congratulations. Would a radical nationalist party do this?
    • It was not the “oligarch regime” which was overthrown by the parliament, but the “criminal regime”, where the “family” of Yanukovych relatives and friends were sitting on all the financial streams, including the state budget. I think there is a significant difference between “criminal regime” and “oligarch regime”.

    (Speaking of the May 25 presidential elections in Ukraine) “An diesem Tag könnte es einen Rechtsruck vom Atlantik bis zum Don geben.”
    Not really. Candidates from nationalist parties do not, unfortunately, have enough support to realistically win the elections. I believe this statement was added purely for the “artistic effect”.

    “Veranstaltung der Svoboda, an der auch Unterstützer rechtsextremer freier Gruppen teilgenommen haben.”
    Mr. Olaf Sundermeyer shows a photo, where, among other people, there is a guy in the national Ukrainian upper clothing, and wearing a black full-face mask, with the subscript above. I wonder, what is so “right-extremist” about the guy? His face mask? Well, I agree this is not normal in the civilized society, but is it “right-extremist”? Definitely not. Wearing a mask is not extremism by itself. Ok, then maybe its the national clothing he wears – because there is nothing else unusual about the guy? Well, if national clothing is the sign of “right-extremism” to Olaf, then he should probably never attend Oktoberfest. Or is Mr. Sundermeyer working for the guys who believe that “there is no Ukrainian nation”? That would explain the “right-extremism” of the national clothing. That would also explain why Mr. Sundermeyer is focusing so hard on the invisible “right extremists” in Ukraine while Russian chauvinists hunt and kill Ukrainians, Gypsies and Jews in Eastern Ukraine, and proclaim Orthodox Christianity as the “state religion” of the so-called “Donetsk people’s republic”.

    I believe that Mr. Olaf Sundermeyer does not really work for Putin – I did see Olaf mentioning something about the plethora (between 17 and 33) right-extremist organizations in Russia (like the “Славянский союз”). However, I think that Mr. Olaf Sundermeyer, focusing on his field of research (which is right-extremism), sees too much of it in Ukraine, while ignoring both the marginal state of any such movements, and the context of the current events in Ukraine.

    Suggested reading:


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