28 February 2014

A comment on Cas Mudde's article "A new (order) Ukraine?"

I am in a tricky situation commenting on Cas Mudde’s article “A new (order) Ukraine? Assessingthe relevance of Ukraine’s far right in an EU perspective”. On the one hand, Mudde is one of the best experts on the European far right whose work I deeply respect and quote often in my own research. On the other hand, his article is exactly the reason why over forty world’s leading specialists on the Ukrainian nationalism and extreme right have issued a statement calling “upon all those who have either no particular interest for, or no deeper knowledge of, Ukraine to not comment on this region’s complicated national questions without engaging in some in-depth research”. As Mudde himself acknowledges that he is “not a scholar of Ukrainian nationalism”, he obviously falls into the category of academics and commentators mentioned in the statement.

While Mudde claims that he did “some serious reading on the issues” of the Ukrainian far right, his “literature review” seems to draw – not exclusively but for the most part – upon my own research published some time ago. My current research, however, has been largely ignored.

Here I will focus on several statements by Mudde in his article:
“In ideological terms Svoboda is quite similar to the other parties that it collaborates with in the Alliance of European National Movements (AENM), such as the British National Party (BNP), the German National Democratic Party (NPD), and the Italian Tricolor Flame”.
This is partly true. However, Svoboda no longer cooperates with the AENM, as Svoboda has been stripped of its observer status in the Alliance in early 2013 by Hungarian far right Jobbik. Svoboda is opposing the Kremlin’s influence in Ukraine, while Jobbik is now cooperating with Russian Eurasianists such as Russian fascistAleksandr Dugin who is calling for the annexation of several parts of Ukraineto Russia. Jobbik is also against the EU and would rather have Hungary join the Russia-led Eurasian Union to be established in 2015. The reason behind Jobbik’s decision to block Svoboda’s cooperation with the AENM was exactly the ideological conflict: Svoboda is pro-EU and anti-Kremlin, while Jobbik is anti-EU and pro-Kremlin. Furthermore, the German National Democratic Party has never been a member of the AENM.
“Svoboda is not even the most extreme far right group represented in the new Ukrainian government. Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) is a coalition of mostly smaller far right groups, including various neo-fascists and neo-Nazis, which came together during the protests”.
While the Right Sector has indeed a neo-Nazi fringe – constituted by the representatives from the “White Hammer” group, “Patriot of Ukraine”/Social-National Assembly – the main group behind the Right Sector is “Tryzub” (Trident) which is far from neo-Nazism, racism and anti-Semitism. Its ideology can be interpreted as national conservative. Furthermore, nobody from the Right Sector is represented in the new government.
“[The Right Sector] has presented itself as the defender of Euromaidan, but has also been linked to much of its most violent actions, including against other (radical left) demonstrators”.
Defending Euromaidan implied readiness to be engaged in violence against police brutality, so this sentence is logically wrong. The protesters had to resort to violence, because otherwise they would have been murdered by the police and thugs. And around one hundred protesters (they are now called the Heavenly Hundred) have indeed been murdered by the police and criminal thugs (titushki) hired by the regime. Some of the protesters have been beheaded; some have been tortured to death; some have been horribly abused.

Among the Heavenly Hundred one will find fallen revolutionaries of ethnic Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian, Armenian and Jewish origin. Mudde seems to completely fail to grasp the gravity of the tragic situation at Euromaidan. Moreover, even the misleading and alarmist article by Volodymyr Ishchenko, to which Mudde refers, does not say that the Right Sector attacked radical left protesters. On the contrary, there was a truce between the Right Sector and the far left who fought together against the common enemy, Yanukovych’s criminal terrorist regime.
“The leader of Pravyi Sektor, Dmytro Yarosh, a 25-year veteran of Ukrainian far right politics, was appointed Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, which advises the president on the national security strategy of Ukraine”.
This is not true. As of today, Yarosh was not appointed Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council.
“In line with a nationalist view of Ukrainian history, Parubiy wrote that: “All people interested in history know that Stepan Bandera was in a German concentration camp during the Second World War, while his brothers were shot dead by the Nazis”.
Bandera was indeed arrested by the Nazis in 1941 and later put into the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, while his brothers were indeed killed in Auschwitz. This is not “a nationalist view of Ukrainian history”, these are historical facts.
“Not only do far right parties in Ukraine have a popular support that is well above the EU average, although only half of that in some west European countries (like Austria and France), the main far right party is more extreme than most of its ‘brethren’ within the EU, and occupies significant positions of power within the new Ukrainian government and state”.
First of all, Mudde seems to be unaware of the fact that popular support for Svoboda has dramatically dwindled during 2013, while Svoboda’s leader Oleh Tyahnybok’s presidential rating has fallen from 10.4% in March 2013 to 3.8% at the end of January –beginning of February 2014. Despite the sensationalist, Kremlin-inspired reports claiming that Ukraine was facing “a neo-fascist coup”, Svoboda has been discredited during the revolution and it will hardly be able to regain the support it enjoyed in 2012. Second, Svoboda may be more extreme than the French National Front or the Freedom Party of Austria, but it is probably less extreme than Jobbik, NPD, Golden Dawn, Tricolour Flame, BNP, etc. Finally, even if certain members of Svoboda are indeed represented in the current government, one should understand that this government is transitional and has to deal with only two major problems in new Ukraine: (1) the Kremlin-backed separatism and (2) the economic crisis. I hope that the early parliamentary elections will take place shortly after the presidential elections, and popular support for the far right Svoboda party may decline. It is important not to forget that Svoboda’s successat the 2012 parliamentary elections was largely driven by anti-Ukrainian and pro-Kremlin policies of Yanukovych’s regime, rather than by alleged right-wing radicalisation of the Ukrainian society.

I have recently written two articles in which I address most of these issues in a more detailed manner. They will be published next week.

To conclude, I will quote the above-mentioned statement of the researchers of Ukrainian nationalism:
We call upon all those who have either no particular interest for, or no deeper knowledge of, Ukraine to not comment on this region’s complicated national questions without engaging in some in-depth research. [...] Reporters who have the necessary time, energy and resources should visit Ukraine, or/and do some serious reading on the issues their articles address. Those who are unable to do so may want to turn their attention to other, more familiar, uncomplicated and less ambivalent topics. This should help to avoid, in the future, the unfortunately numerous clichés, factual errors, and misinformed opinion that often accompany discussions of events in Ukraine.

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