Na­tion­al­ists As­sem­ble

Right-wing par­ties seek to unite ahead of 2019 elec­tions

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY VERONIKA MELKOZEROV­A MELKOZEROV­[email protected] A man par­tic­i­pates in the na­tion­al­ists' rally to cel­e­brate an­niver­sary of Ukrainian In­sur­gent Army in down­town Kyiv on Oct. 14. (Volodymyr Petrov)

De­spite the way some West­ern and most Rus­sian me­dia de­scribe Ukraine, it isn’t ruled by na­tion­al­ists. The na­tion­al­ist par­ties and can­di­dates have had lit­tle po­lit­i­cal suc­cess, win­ning very few seats in par­lia­ment.

But it can change in 2019, as var­i­ous na­tion­al­ist move­ments say they want to join forces for pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

They will try to take ad­van­tage of Ukraini­ans’ dis­ap­point­ment in the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, none of whom, ac­cord­ing to the June poll by GFK Ukraine re­search group, has more than 10 per­cent of sup­port.

Na­tion­al­ist lead­ers, most of whom don’t have a trail of po­lit­i­cal past, will present them­selves as a fresh al­ter­na­tive.

It helps their pro­file that many of them are vet­er­ans of the war in the Don­bas. About 15 per­cent of Ukraini­ans, or about 6 mil­lion, see the pos­si­ble new lead­ers coming from civil so­ci­ety and vet­eran com­mu­nity, reads the Razumkov’s Cen­ter poll pub­lished in June.

But na­tion­al­ists have more than their mil­i­tary past to win a vote. They also took upon the role of vigilantes, form­ing squads and vow­ing to do their own jus­tice to com­pen­sate for gov­ern­ment and law en­force­ment fail­ures.

That could be their trump card: Ex­perts pre­dict that in times when around 70 per­cent of Ukraini­ans do not trust gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions, na­tion­al­ists have all the chances to en­ter par­lia­ment.

It’s not all rosy for na­tion­al­ists, though. Their big­gest chal­lenge is that there isn’t a sin­gle na­tion­al­ist party or move­ment, mean­ing that na­tion­al­ists stand a chance only if they unite.

And this is what they are plan­ning to do. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Na­tional Corps and Svo­boda rightwing par­ties told the Kyiv Post that at least three move­ments were ne­go­ti­at­ing an al­liance: Na­tional Corps, Svo­boda, and the Right Sec­tor.

“We are plan­ning to nom­i­nate a sin­gle pres­i­den­tial can­di­date (for the March 2019 elec­tion) and form a sin­gle list of can­di­dates for the par­lia­ment elec­tions (in Oc­to­ber 2019),” Svo­boda’s long-serv­ing leader Oleh Tyah­ny­bok told the Kyiv Post on July 7.

Na­tional Corps’ spokesper­son Ro­man Ch­erny­shev says na­tion­al­ists will present their new strat­egy by au­tumn. So far, they are en­joy­ing only mod­er­ate sup­port: Around two per­cent of Ukraini­ans said they were ready to vote for an al­liance of Svo­boda, Na­tional Corps and Right Sec­tor in a poll pub­lished in July by GFK Ukraine.

Past fail­ures

So far, Ukrainian right-wing par­ties have en­joyed lit­tle suc­cess in main­stream pol­i­tics.

It’s proven hard for them partly due to their as­so­ci­a­tion with the Ukrainian na­tion­al­ist move­ments of the 20th cen­tury, par­tic­u­larly the Ukrainian In­sur­gent Army. While this move­ment fought for Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dence against Soviet au­thor­i­ties and Nazi Ger­many, it also has a con­tro­ver­sial rep­u­ta­tion due to eth­nic cleans­ings and its one-time al­liance with the Nazi regime as it was go­ing against the Soviet Union’s Red Army for Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dence.

In the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion of 2012, Ukraine’s best-known na­tion­al­ist party Svo­boda made it into par­lia­ment for the first time, get­ting 10 per­cent of the votes and win­ning 37 out of 450 seats.

But they didn’t re­peat their suc­cess in 2014, when the party got 4.7 per­cent of the votes, failing to meet the five-per­cent thresh­old. In the same year, its leader Tyah­ny­bok came 10th in the pres­i­dent’s elec­tion.

Even the surge of pa­tri­o­tism that came in 2014, as the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion ousted a pro-Rus­sian gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych, didn’t seem to help the far-right. Rus­sia re­acted by an­nex­ing Ukraine’s Crimea and start­ing a war in east­ern Ukraine.

The new far-right party Right Sec­tor that sought promi­nence for their role in the EuroMaidan protests, won some 1.8 per­cent of the votes in 2014, and its leader Dmytro Yarosh got less than one per­cent dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in 2014.

Look­ing ahead

Polls say that na­tion­al­ists failed to grow their sup­port since 2014. Less than one per­cent said they would vote for Na­tional Corps and the Right Sec­tor, some 3.5 per­cent would sup­port Svo­boda, ac­cord­ing to the Razumkov’s Re­search Cen­ter poll pub­lished in June.

The na­tion­al­ists’ re­sponse to that? The polls are in­cor­rect, and so were the 2014 elec­tion results.

“Svo­boda did en­ter the par­lia­ment (in 2014). The Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion might have made a mis­take when count­ing the votes — on pur­pose or not,” says Ch­erny­shev. “And the Right Sec­tor just wasn’t ready for the elec­tions. They were ex­pe­ri­enced fight­ers but not politi­cians.”

Ch­erny­shev says that na­tion­al­ists will be bet­ter pre­pared in 2019. He claims that the Na­tional Corps, cre­ated in 2016 by law­maker and ex-com­man­der of Azov Vol­un­teer Bat­tal­ion An­driy Bilet­sky, is get­ting fi­nan­cial back­ing from local busi­nesses and is set­ting up of­fices in Ukraine’s re­gions.

The Na­tional Corps’ re­port for the first three months of 2018, avail­able on­line, says the party has branches in 13 oblasts of Ukraine and about Hr 1.5 mil­lion in its bank ac­counts.

Stronger to­gether

That na­tion­al­ists can win big only as a united force isn’t a new re­al­iza­tion.

Back in March 2017, six right-wing par­ties and move­ments signed a doc­u­ment called the Na­tional Man­i­festo. The signees were Svo­boda, Right Sec­tor, Na­tional Corps, OUN, Ukrainian Na­tion­al­ists Congress, and Sich-C14.

The doc­u­ment called for co­op­er­a­tion to fight for the pros­per­ity of Ukraine as a nation-state.

But over a year later, an ac­tual al­liance is still in the talks.

“A lot will de­pend on whether na­tion­al­ists will be able to im­ple­ment their plan to form a united list for the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions,” An­dreas Um­land, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and ex­pert in far-right move­ments, told the Kyiv Post. “If so, their chances to pass the five-per­cent bar­rier are high.”

If they don’t form a united list, only Svo­boda will have a chance to come back to par­lia­ment, Um­land added.

Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gist Volodymyr Fe­senko echoes Um­land’s opin­ion.

He be­lieves Ukraini­ans would pre­fer an ex­pe­ri­enced Svo­boda over the Na­tional Corps, “whose mem­bers showed them­selves be­ing ef­fec­tive on the streets but not in pol­i­tics,” he added re­fer­ring to the nu­mer­ous cases when Na­tional Corps, as well as other far-right or­ga­ni­za­tions C-14, Tra­di­tion and Or­der, and Na­tional Mili­tia, vi­o­lated public or­der and law.

Eth­nic attacks

Since the be­gin­ning of 2018, mem­bers of far-right move­ments have at­tacked par­tic­i­pants of the women’s rights march, clashed with po­lice dur­ing the LGBTQ march, and at­tacked sev­eral Roma camps in Kyiv and west­ern Ukraine.

The attacks on the Roma, which ap­peared to have eth­nic grounds, caused an in­ter­na­tional back­lash. West­ern na­tions and hu­man rights’ watch­dogs have con­demned the na­tion­al­ists’ ac­tions and called the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment to in­ves­ti­gate the attacks as hate crimes.

In re­gards to that, na­tion­al­ists think that the attacks should not be de­scribed as eth­nic ha­tred, claim­ing that they de­stroy Roma camps be­cause of the il­le­gal set­tle­ments.

In June, mem­bers of the Na­tional Mili­tia, a move­ment af­fil­i­ated with the Na­tional Corps, de­stroyed the Roma camp in Kyiv’s Holosiyivs­ky Na­tional Park.

Ch­erny­shev claims the park’s staff asked the Na­tional Mili­tia to help with mak­ing sure that the Roma leave the park area af­ter po­lice al­legedly ig­nored their re­ports. A park em­ployee, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Olek­sandr Sokolenko, backed this claim in a Face­book post fol­low­ing the mili­tia’s at­tack on the camp.

“We brought no harm to Roma. We gave them 24 hours and they left,” Ch­erny­shev said. “We de­stroyed only those things they called houses and cleaned up the area.”

The videos they shot in the park show young men, mem­bers of the Na­tional Mili­tia, crash­ing the Roma tents.

While the in­ci­dent was de­nounced as an eth­nic at­tack, it played well with the na­tion­al­ists’ self-pre­sen­ta­tion as the source of al­ter­na­tive jus­tice.

“We come and solve the prob­lem, while the po­lice pre­fer to ig­nore it. Peo­ple see the results of our ac­tions and they will sup­port us,” Ch­erny­shev said.

In April, an­other na­tion­al­ist group C14 burned an­other Roma camp in the west­ern part of Kyiv, on Lysa Hora (Bold Moun­tain). The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s leader Yevhen Karas also claimed the rad­i­cals were re­spond­ing to a call for help from the local en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists.

The wave of attacks on Roma camps went on af­ter that. In the most re­cent at­tack, a Roma man was killed in Lviv in west­ern Ukraine on June 23. A week af­ter that, a Roma wo­man was found killed in Zakarpatty­a Oblast. The prox­im­ity to the attacks led many to al­lege it was a hate crime.

Both C14 and Na­tional Corps con­demned the killings in their in­ter­views with the Kyiv Post but in­sisted their ac­tions in Kyiv were jus­ti­fied.

“Peo­ple died and that is a crime, that must be in­ves­ti­gated,” Karas says. “Still, we drew at­ten­tion (to the Roma) and po­lice won’t ig­nore the prob­lem of Roma crimes and con­flicts with lo­cals as they did for ages.”

How­ever, the In­te­rior Min­istry spokesper­son Artem Shevchenko says that po­lice did not ig­nore the prob­lem. Ac­cord­ing to him, the crimes by the Roma peo­ple, most of which are petty thefts, make up only a small per­cent­age of Ukraine’s crime sta­tis­tics.

And point­ing at the eth­nic ori­gin of a crim­i­nal is a way to heat eth­nic con­flicts, Vy­ach­eslav Likha­chov of the Ukrainian Na­tional Mi­nori­ties Congress told news web­site back in Fe­bru­ary.

“It’s not a Roma who steals a wal­let, but rather a thief. The eth­nic­ity of the thief is con­sid­ered to be the rea­son of the theft only by those whose wal­let has been stolen,” Likha­chov said.

Street jus­tice

In May, the C14 ac­tivists de­tained a Brazil­ian na­tional Rafael Lus­varghi, who used to fight against Ukraine on the Rus­sian-backed sep­a­ratists’ side in the Don­bas.

Lus­varghi was ear­lier sen­tenced for 13 years in prison on ter­ror­ism charges but got a re­trial and was re­leased. The ac­tivists learned about it, seized Lus­varghi in a Kyiv monastery where he stayed, and brought him to the State Se­cu­rity Ser­vice (SBU) head­quar­ters, where he was de­tained again.

But the law en­forcers aren’t happy with such help.

When try­ing to do their own ver­sion of jus­tice, na­tion­al­ists plunge Ukraine into mar­ginal chaos, In­te­rior Min­istry’s Shevchenko said.

“By do­ing that, na­tion­al­ists work in fa­vor of the Krem­lin,” Shevchenko said.

Pleas­ing the Krem­lin?

Al­though Ukrainian na­tion­al­ist groups deny any ties with Moscow, they are some­times ac­cused of play­ing along with Rus­sia.

The SBU Head Va­syl Hryt­sak also said the Krem­lin might have been be­hind the na­tion­al­ists’ deadly at­tack on the Roma camp in Lviv.

But any al­le­ga­tions that Ukrainian na­tion­al­ists are fi­nanced and di­rected by Moscow are in need of hard proof, Um­land said.

“Oth­er­wise, such spec­u­la­tions ap­pear to be mere dis­trac­tions from the var­i­ous fail­ures of Ukraine's law en­force­ment agen­cies to pre­vent xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence,” he said.

Ac­tivists of na­tion­al­ist par­ties and move­ments protest against the oli­garchs’ in­flu­ence on Ukraine in Kyiv on April 3. Some 2,500 peo­ple marched in cen­tral Kyiv to de­mand “a fu­ture free of oli­garchs.” Na­tion­al­ists in the past en­joyed lit­tle po­lit­i­cal suc­cess in Ukraine but might get lucky in 2019 elec­tions if they form an al­liance — and they claim they will. (Oleg Pe­tra­siuk)

Leader of the C14 na­tion­al­ist move­ment Yevhen Karas speaks with the Kyiv Post on July 5 in Kyiv. C14 ac­tivists are known to at­tempt "street jus­tice." They de­tained a for­mer sep­a­ratist fighter in Kyiv and at­tacked a Roma camp to make it leave a city park. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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