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Kyiv Post | 29Oct2012 | Oksana Grytsenko

Svoboda dismisses allegations of anti-Semitism

The Oct. 28, 2012 election results putting the nationalist Svoboda Party into parliament for the first time have shocked many in Ukraine and abroad. But Svoboda’s leader, Oleh Tiahnybok, said people have nothing to fear.

The influential Israeli Haaretz newspaper came out with an Oct. 29, 2012 article calling Svoboda an “anti-Semitic party.” Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the election of such an ultra-right party “would cause alert” in any democratic society, while the Russian ambassador explained Svoboda’s success by “certain problems among young people.”

But the party leadership dismissed the allegations as “nonsense and fantasy.”

“We are not an anti-Semitic party, we are not a xenophobic party,” Tiahnybok said. He also asked the Israeli representatives to respect the choice of Ukraine’s people. “Perhaps every party in the Israeli Knesset is nationalistic,” he said. “God grant us have the same.”

Meanwhile, Tiahnybok said he didn’t regret a scandalous statement he made in 2004 about national minorities. A former ally of ex-President Viktor Yushchenko, Tiahnybok was expelled from Yushchenko’s faction in parliament after saying that the country was ruled by a “Moscow-Jewish mafia.” Later Tiahnybok said his words were misinterpreted, adding that his Jewish friends never get offended with these formulations.

Analysts say that Svoboda has become less radical than in the 1990s and 2000s. Svoboda’s predecessor, the Social-Nationalist Party was founded in Lviv in 1991, proclaiming the ideology of social nationalism and having as their emblem a monogram that resembled a Nazi swastika. But with the new name “Svoboda” (Freedom) and a new leader, Tiahnybok changed the old emblem into a “tryzub,” Ukraine’s national emblem.

The party supported the 2004 Orange Revolution, the uprising that overturned a rigged presidential election and ended in Yuschchenko’s election over current President Viktor Yanukovych.

But later Tiahnybok accused the orange leader of betraying the revolution’s ideals. The Svoboda Party still often uses radical pro-revolution rhetoric, and its representatives have many times clashed with their ideological opponents and the police.    

Political analyst Oleksiy Haran said Svoboda leadership has softened the radical rhetoric although “some hotheads still remain there.” One of them, the philologist Iryna Farion, has constantly made offensive statements about the Russian language. Svoboda claims Farion has won in a single-mandate constituency in Lviv, and so will definitely get into the parliament.

After more that 70 percent of votes counted by Central Election Commission, the Svoboda Party is showing 9 percent support. The exit polls, however, forecast that the party will get about 11-12 percent when all the counting is done.

Thanks to recent legislation changes elevating the status of the Russian language, many Ukrainians reacted by becoming more nationalistic and favoring Svoboda as the best choice for preserving Ukraine’s national culture.

While political expert Volodymyr Fesenko believes Svoboda’s coming to power will bring more conflict in the parliament, party representatives claim there will be no clashes started by them.

“Perhaps we are the only party, which has a definite clear stance for cooperation with all of the national minorities,” said Ruslan Koshulynsky, head of Svoboda's election headquarters.

Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at [email protected].