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Bloomberg | 30Oct2012 | Tim Judah

Don’t Isolate Ukraine, and Watch Those Neo-Fascists

Ukraine this week held a deeply flawed election, in which the main opposition leader was jailed and the biggest gains went to a party of neo-fascists, who appear to have won 10 percent of the vote. For a country that eight years ago staged an inspiring uprising to overturn a stolen election, it’s hard to imagine a more depressing outcome.

The breakthrough by Svoboda, an extreme-right-wing party from the nation’s Ukrainian-speaking west, is just another sign that all is not well in this divided country. Before the Oct. 28, 2012 election, Ukraine was already being shut out by the European Union over its democratic failures and pressured by Russia to join a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan instead. Now neo-fascists will take their seats in parliament.

But here is why Ukraine is so difficult to read and handle, for all of its neighbors. To start with, Svoboda (which translates as Freedom), must be Europe’s only neo-fascists who are also pro-EU. Meanwhile, Yulia Tymoshenko, the jailed heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution, says the EU is wrong to punish Ukraine for her treatment by freezing its association agreement with the bloc. And the supposedly pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych doesn’t even want to join Russia’s customs union, if he can avoid it.

Widening Fissures

Svoboda’s success and Yanukovych’s behavior are troubling. But for the EU and the U.S. alike, the priority should be to avoid widening the fissures between the Ukrainian-speaking west and Russian-speaking east, or driving the government into the arms of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President.

Svoboda has cleaned up its act. In 2004 it changed its name from the Social-Nationalist Party and dropped a Swastika-like emblem. Still, much of its appeal lies in hardcore ethnic- Ukrainian nationalism and a hatred of Poles, Russians, Jews and gays. These have deep roots in Ukraine’s history and should give pause.

Svoboda’s leaders glorify those Western Ukrainians who welcomed the Nazis in 1941, seeing the Germans as potential liberators from Soviet rule. Those same Ukrainians also collaborated in the widespread murder of Jews and Poles. As in the Baltic states, there is a sharp division here over how to interpret the motives of those who worked with the Nazis and how they should be remembered today.

What the election result shows is a growing risk that disenchanted voters will again mix up Ukrainian nationalism with xenophobia. Svoboda, led by Oleh Tiahnybok, supported the 2004 Orange Revolution. It was later expelled from the group surrounding former president Viktor Yushchenko, when Tiahnybok made a speech saying that Ukraine was ruled by a “Moscow-Jewish mafia.” It was not the only speech he made that was loaded with this sort of language.

[W.Z.  The Republican Party of Ukraine recently published a pamphlet  titled "Who Runs Ukraine?", indicating that in the highest levels of government there are no ethnic Ukrainians and of the 18 members of the Cabinet of Ministers, only 6 are of Ukrainian ethnic origin. Ethnic composition of today's Parliament of Ukraine:  Jewish (43%), Russian (34%), Ukrainian (22%).

A list of the "Oligarchs", who won parliamentary seats in the 28Oct2012 Ukraine elections seems to continue this trend.]

Tiahnybok has said that while he does not regret using those words, he was misinterpreted. He also says his party is neither xenophobic nor anti-Semitic. In any case, for Svoboda’s supporters, Russophobia remains the party’s main attraction. All votes have not yet been counted, but the party looks set to win about 33 of the Rada’s 450 seats.

On election day, while on a trip to Ukraine organized by the German Marshall Fund, I went to Irpin, a small town outside Kiev. There I met Sergeii, a 48-year-old musician, who didn’t give his full name because he was at a polling station. He told me he had voted for Svoboda because he wanted “Ukraine to be a powerful country, and if we have to choose between Europe and Russia it is Europe for us. Russia is Asia and I don’t trust Asians.”

Bedrock Support

The party presents itself as the only one that wants a “Ukraine for Ukrainians,” and not for the ethnic Russians who make up 17.3 percent of the population and who live mostly in the east. Ethnic Russians form the bedrock of support for the ruling Party of the Regions, but many more are simply Russian speakers who switch happily between the two Slavic languages, depending on the circumstance.

In July, the Party of the Regions pushed through a controversial language law that, while dressed up as protection for minority languages, was intended to bolster the use of Russian and probably a first step to making it an official state language, along with Ukrainian. Most probably Yanukovych believed this would help garner support in his eastern heartland.

In reality, the status of Russian is not an important issue for most Ukrainians, who can speak it freely. Instead of gaining votes in the east, the net result of the language law probably was to push some nationalist voters -- especially in the west -- into the arms of Svoboda, entrenching the country’s historical divisions.

Svoboda activists also have the advantage of being seen as conviction politicians, in a country where there is now a widespread belief that pretty much all of the current establishment leaders are only out for what they can get for themselves. Like fringe parties around Europe in recent years, they have gained from a protest vote.

How important a political role Svoboda will be able to play now that the party is in parliament is unclear. Vitali Klitschko, the reigning champion of the World Boxing Council, who also heads what looks set to become parliament’s third largest party, UDAR, says he’ll work with Svoboda, but will have nothing to do with its radical nationalist policies. Tymoshenko’s Fatherland, which remains the second-largest party, has already signed a cooperation agreement with Svoboda. Many in the Ukrainian opposition believe that time is taming the neo- fascists, and that its leader is on the same course as that taken by Gianfranco Fini, the Italian politician who over a period of years moved to the respectable end of the country’s right-wing politics.

Toughest Line

It’s the ruling party that’s taking the toughest line on Svoboda. Oleg Voloshyn, the foreign ministry spokesman who echoes the views of the Party of the Regions, condemned the opposition “for inviting an openly anti-Semitic party to join them.” He says that the party is toning down its extremist language because it does not want to scare off too many voters. Hitler did the same, he said, in his quest for votes in the 1930s.

Svoboda needs to be watched and Yanukovych’s anti- democratic behavior needs to be discouraged. But the EU’s association process should also be resumed. It’s a way to tie Ukraine into the West and its institutions -- however much they are in trouble today -- and that’s why Tymoshenko supports it from her cell. Too much is at stake to isolate Ukraine.

(Tim Judah is an author and journalist. He writes about foreign affairs and covers the Balkans for the Economist. The opinions expressed are his own.) 


This is the most biased piece on Ukrainian politics I've read in a long time. The good news though is that Mr. Judah's biases are on full display here. As "an author and journalist" he did not care to check the meaning of "fascism" yet he uses the term liberally. Now, that there's finally a political party that stands up for Ukrainians, their culture and their rightful place in this world, many commentators come out of the woodwork calling Svoboda every name in the book. What a shame! This article offers no analysis, just a bunch of pro-Moscow, pro-Russian pronouncements.
"Europe’s only neo-fascists who are also pro-EU" its because Svoboda is nationalist party not neo-fascists! You are repeating communist myth, Mr Judah!
Tired of  terrible lies in media
This article can be hardly called a journalism. It is either ordered by old soviet mafia or the author is a complete ignorant.
Every single country has own individuals who are anti-this and anti-that.
However there is no correlation between  being patriot of Ukraine and being anti-Semite, antigay or anti-any national. The only anti that relates to Svoboda is anti-communism. Does it count as fascism???
Before waffling on something you have no idea of , please learn some of the history of Ukraine, check the current situation and triangulate your ‘facts’.
“...Ukrainians also collaborated in the widespread murder of Jews and Poles” – who has written this part of the history? It smells KGB who was murdering and then raping  the dead bodies of Ukrainians, Poles, Jews.  And then with the glass of vodka writing the history of Ukraine..
“The party presents itself as the only one that wants a “Ukraine for Ukrainians,” and not for the ethnic Russians who make up 17.3 percent of the population and who live mostly in the east.” – Do you know why East of Ukraine is speaking Russian? Massacre by  famine is the answer. The same soviet monsters were trying to destroy Ukrainian nation. They murdered million and millions of Ukrainians bringing prisoners and other lowest classes from Russia.  This “ethnic Russians” are now constitute the joke of government who puts politicians to jail, writes anti-gay laws.
The situations with Ukrainian language in Ukraine is frightful. There is a quote  for Ukrainian music in Ukraine that shall not be exceeded.  There is more press in Russian than in Ukrainian. One might have a difficulty to find a job when speaking Ukrainian.
It is despicable that Ukrainian culture, language and people have to be protected in own country . It is despicable that Svoboda has to find an excuse for being patriots.
The ruling Ukrainian mafia does not see any difference between being a Ukrainian patriot and being a Ukrainian nationalist. Calling the Svoboda movement "neo-Fascists" is something very stupid which makes those in power in Ukraine very happy. Now they are good guys who fight neo-fascists by robbing Ukraine and falsifying the results of the election.

The author should be banned from writing for Bloomberg.
I live in the Russian-speaking east and voted for Freedom, because further tolerate this lawlessness has no power, the country is run by bandits and thieves ( You can't understand what doing here).  Constantly talks about the power of the infringement of the Russian language, it is a lie, everything they say in Russian, Ukrainian language in front of destroyed, glorified communist past, but the communists kills many people. Freedom is a nationalist, but not neo-Nazis. The representatives of the parties do not live in huge castles, do not go to Lexus.
there is nothing more disgusting than semi-lie that looks like truth. the author defenitely has never read the statute of Svoboda, but feels absolutely free to speculate about its "neo-fascism". shame on you, Mr. Judah - Ministry of Truth is calling for you.
Sadly, this is another example of shallow, unscrupulous journalism permiating media today. Remember, back in the 1930s, European news outlets were praising USSR for its accomplishments while millions of Ukrainians were starving to death. Not much changed since then. Notice, not a word in this article about the fact that communists got 13% of the vote. This is the party that drowned Europe in blood for the past 100 years. First, it was Bolsheviks' terror, then, came famine and "zachistka", alliances with nazis and another starvation in 1947-48, looting of national resources and finally in your face corruption and efforts to restore Soviet Union. How about calling communists for who they really are: neo-fascists, Mr. Judah? In essense, there's no difference between the two ideologies as both espouse hate and government control of industry. People in Eastern Europe know this quite well.
I cannot believe that it is on Bloomberg. It is very offensive. Tim Judah missed a lot of facts about ukrainian nationalists. Ukrainian nationalists waged a heroic struggle against the terrible communist plague. Very few examples of such heroism can be found in history. They fought desperately against the great empire of evil when there was no hope for victory.
There is no reason to think that Svoboda is neo-fascist party. This is a common nationalism as in any country, without hatred towards other nations. And Ukraine is really need it as anywhere because many people seriously doubt the existence of the Ukrainian nation, need for Ukrainian state in general. Citizens have no national idea. It's one of the reasons why we voted for Svoboda.
And the nonsense about fascism in Svoboda spread by сommunists and the Kremlin. And the fact that for communists voted 13% that's what is so awful, because we apparently went through it, they have already killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s. Sorry for my english.