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Thursday 29 October 2015

The night Stalin tried to destroy the Belarussian nation

Reblogged with permission. 75 years ago today Stalin's NKVD massacred almost all of Belarus' literary elite - a genocidal act, still remembered in that nation.


By Paul Goble

Staunton, October 29 – Seventy-five years ago, on the night of October 29-30, 1937, Stalin’s NKVD executed more than 130 Belarusian writers, scholars, politicians and political leaders, the first stage in a purge unprecedented even in Soviet times that destroyed more than 90 percent of the Belarusian intellectual elite.

Among those who were killed and then placed in unmarked graves were Platon Holovach, Mikhas Charot, Ales Dudar, Vasily Koval, Mikhail Kamy and “many more,” Yevgeny Afnagel of Khartiya 97 writes in a commentary on this tragic anniversary (

Afnagel notes that Moscow sent a list of 103 “enemies of the people” to be executed, and the Belarusian communist leadership added several dozen more. He suggests that “in modern history, it is impossible to find examples of such a mass destruction of literary figures” on a single day.

Of course, he continues, “repressions in Belarus began long before this, from the very first years of the establishment of Soviet power.” But it was on October 29-30 that this effort “assumed a systematic character with the obvious goal of the final assimilation of the people and the liquidation of the Belarusians as a nation.”

In the days and weeks that followed, Afnagel points out, the NKVD “liquidated” Belarusian teachers, doctors and scholars, and in the years before the outbreak of World War II, it killed or sent to the GULAG “more than 2,000 Orthodox and Catholic priests.”

This ended “the relatively brief period of Belarusianization in the 1920s,” a time when many residents of the republic “began to recognize themselves as a nation with their own history, traditions and culture.” That wasn’t what Moscow wanted: it simply wanted to use them as an advertisement to Belarusians living abroad in Poland and elsewhere.

But the policy had consequences which exceeded and in fact violated their expectations: “Belarusian language schools were opened, textbooks, newspapers and journals were published in the native language,” and many Belarusians rose to positions of authority in the Red Army and the government.

“’Belarusianness’ became mainstream” and as a result it was “difficult to control.” According to Afnagel, “its result could become at a minimum an autonomous policy of the leadership of the Belarusian SSR and at a maximum, the genuine independence of the republic” from Moscow. To block that, the Soviet authorities dispensed with Belarusianization.

But that policy had done its work, and one of the consequences is that today Belarusians still, “after two or three generations” remember what was done to them on the night of October 29-30 and afterwards. Indeed, the memory of this action became “a catalyst for street protests” at the end of Soviet times and the successful drive for independence.

Belarusian historian Igor Kuznetsov has devoted his life to researching the destruction of the leadership of the Belarusian nation by Stalin and is certain that “sooner or later, a real court over Stalinist crimes will be convened in Belarus” (

Candles lit at KGB building in Minsk in memory of victims of Stalin's repression, Via
Over the last decade, he says, “we have prepared and brought forward documented charges” about these crimes, “and although the situation in [Belarus] is most unfavorable from the side of the state … all the same we have completed this first stage,” working on it since 2006. He hopes that a real “Nuremberg” on the crimes of Stalin will eventually occur.

This evening, Belarusian activists plan to mark this anniversary on the Day of Memory of the Victims of Stalinist Repressions with a demonstration on Mensk’s Independence Avenue in front of the KGB headquarters.

Monday 26 October 2015

Russia's brave 75yo protester

Reblogged with permission. Russia's 'justice' system is bringing new meaning to the term Kafkaesque in the legal assault on one brave pensioner protester. In the UK for years a similarly aged, anti-war lone protester literally camped opposite the Houses of Parliament. In Russia, one man holding up a sign is a huge threat to the system. Which is odd given the President's huge poll ratings is it not? His treatment also shows the impunity for those seen to be defending the Kremlin's interests, even when thuggishly.


By Halya Colynash

The members of two pro-Kremlin organizations [NOD and SERB] who attacked an elderly pensioner holding a single-person picket outside the History Museum in Moscow on Oct 24 threatened to do the same to “all those who insult Putin, insult Russia”.

75-year-old Vladimir Ionov was standing alone with a placard reading “We have Putin, no need for a mind” when he was approached by Igor Beketov [who calls himself Gosha Tarasevich] from SERB who demanded to know why Ionov was insulting people who had voted for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tarasevich claimed also that the words on the placard fall under Article 319 of the Criminal Code (insulting a representative of the authorities).

Seconds later Ionov was doused first in green paint, then with some kind of chemical cleaning substance which got into and burned his eye. The assailants must have been aware they were attacking somebody old enough to be their grandfather.

All of this was recorded on a video by Alexandra Ageeva. You can see activist Maria Ryabikova leaping in to defend Ionov, and being pushed away. They move away as the banner is grabbed and ripped to pieces, while others take photos with their phones.

No police officers came even close. It is quite likely, however, that they would have been there immediately had any other people tried to defend Ionov, since that would have provided an excuse to accuse Ionov and others of holding an ‘unauthorized gathering’.

Ionov’s trial is currently underway on surreal and disturbing charges. He is the first of four people so far to be tried under a new article of the Criminal Code which envisages up to 5-year sentences if a court has issued three rulings on administrative offences within 180 days. It is quite standard in today’s Russia for police to detain people at entirely peaceful protests, with administrative protocols then drawn up and processed by the courts with no questions asked. Three such unwarranted administrative penalties can now lead to criminal prosecution.

"We'll give up everything we have, but we'll save Assad!"
Ionov is accused of four episodes: a single-person picket on Jan 10 with a placard: “Je suis Charlie” [this was just after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris]; taking part in gatherings on Jan 15 and on March 21, as well as participation in a picket in support of Nadiya Savchenko on May 11 (the imprisoned Ukrainian MP’s birthday).

On June 28 the authorities blocked Ionov’s pension card citing his non-payment of administrative fines as the reason. He is now, therefore, effectively deprived even of his pension.

At the preliminary hearing back on Sept 17, the judge asked Ionov if he understood what he is accused of. He replied that this was impossible to understand.

"The police state killed our Boris."

Four people are now facing criminal proceedings under Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code: Ionov; Mark Galperin; Ildar Dadin and Irina Kalmykova.

The Memorial HRC stated on Feb 4 that the new legislation destroys freedom of peaceful assembly in Russia (More details here: Russia criminalizes peaceful protest)

After the jump see video of Ionov being attacked. Pictures via Sarah Hurst.

See a surreal transcript from Ionov's trial.

See also:

Thursday 22 October 2015

Ukraine: Punished for pursuing a European future

Demo immediately after President Yanukovych cancelled EU Association Agreement, November 2013

Reblogged with permission from Progress. Jamie Milne is a Labour Councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and the founder of Labour Friends of Ukraine. He tweets @j_m_milne.


By Jamie Milne

The report by the Dutch Safety Board into the Russian BUK missile that brought down flight MH17 provided a brief revival of interest in Ukraine this week. But for those who know and care about this embattled but optimistic country the trend is clear – the Russian annexation of Crimea and attack on eastern Ukraine is being forgotten.

Ukraine has suffered extraordinary hardship in the last 18 months and, while Ukrainians hold their future in their own hands, western support is vital. The European Union and United States must not allow their response to Russian aggression to become frozen along with the conflict.

If they can manage to rouse themselves for the first rewriting of European borders by force since the second world war, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and David Cameron should consider three approaches that would discourage future aggression and eventually roll back past misdemeanours.

First, the west should undergo a fundamental rethink of policy towards Russia which persistently sees differences between Vladimir Putin and the west as artificial and born of mistrust rather than a reflection of completely incompatible visions of the future. It must, of course, continue to isolate Russia in light of its intervention in Syria. Obama blundered by rewarding Putin with a meeting straight after his visit to the United Nations. The message on Russian state media was clear – diplomatic isolation over Crimea and the Donbas was over. Since then American policy appears to have changed with the growing realisation that Russia’s intervention is explicitly pro-Assad and entirely unconcerned with Islamic State. Freezing out Russia is both a moral and prudential approach that deepens Putin’s pariah status for his support of one of the world’s worst regimes and denies him the diplomatic showboating he desires.

Punishing Russian eschewal of international norms is vital but little thought has been given to support for Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and the new Ukraine. For a young nation of 45 million people that has put lives on the line to pursue a European future this is an unforgivable omission. For the west, the wisest Ukraine policy is also the best Russia policy – assist in the creation of an enterprising, successful country shorn of corruption that Russians are envious of and wish to emulate. A flourishing Ukraine solves the Donbas problem and ultimately addresses the Putin problem. The current approach – a mean trickle of cash that keeps Ukraine on life-support coupled with credulous diplomatic agreements – is an unwitting pro-Putin policy.

Finally, western leaders must stop acting as moderators and start behaving like an ally. The Minsk II agreement signed by France and Germany legitimised the Kremlin-backed rebels and left Poroshenko a mendicant in his own country – requiring permission to secure his own borders and to hold elections in the Donbas.

The politically ‘wised-up’ speak knowingly of Putin’s strategic cunning but the truth is his assault on Ukraine has been a disaster. Only through a pitiful lack of willpower and turning our back on our values have we made it possible to lose an easy fight. In putting right their mistakes, Obama, Merkel and Cameron would be doing a better day’s work than they have done for a long time on the international stage and would go a long way to silencing a man who has become the world’s principal cause of instability.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Why Ukraine needs its own Harvey Milk

Reblogged with permission from OpenDemocracy Russia.


By Anton Dmytriiev

On 25 October, Ukraine will vote in local elections where not a single openly gay candidate will stand. The country’s LGBT movement and public conservatism are both to blame.

Right now, the Ukrainian media is full of stuff about how there are several active gay organisations around — active like there’s no tomorrow. At the same time, we hear about how it’s all doom and gloom: it’s generally time to split.

We’re supposed to be fighting for European values, but only on the initiative of a few individual politicians and NGOs. It’s a planned spontaneous battle. It seems we were there on the Maidan together, fought the ‘terrorists’ together in eastern Ukraine, but neither the public nor the government has any values or impetus for change.

This month, people in Ukraine go to the polls to elect local government bodies. Across Europe, and the Atlantic, openly gay and lesbian mayors and local councillors have been elected in post-Soviet Poland and Czech Republic, in Germany and France, in libertarian northern Europe and Mexico. As for transgender people, Anna Grodska is a member of the Polish Sejm, Vladimir Luksuria has been a member of the Italian parliament and even in Cuba Adela Hernandez won a seat in the national assembly.

That is what is meant by openness, freedom, LGBT political activism and a mature society. Even in communist Cuba.

Things are very different in democratic Ukraine. We spend our time being amazed at other people’s projects – bad mouthing and passing judgement on them – rather than creating our own. It’s so much easier to copy the history of Europe or the USA than come up with something for ourselves.

Of course, it’s much more important to sit twiddling our thumbs or publicly campaign for things that nobody really cares about than to do something really earthshaking.

Dreaming about changing the world as we play in our sandpit is so much easier than trying to actually do it.

Potemkin villages 

Let’s start with copying: during Gay Pride in Kyiv this summer, there was a lot of talk about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be appointed to public office in the USA in 1977. But what's important here is that this only happened eight years after the Stonewall Riots in New York. During those years, the American public had gradually become aware of LGBT rights.

Milk served just 11 months in office in San Francisco, but in that time he sponsored an important anti-LGBT discrimination law for the city, and prevented the passing of a discriminatory amendment to Californian state law. This campaigning led to the assassination of Milk along with San Francisco’s mayor George Moscone in 1978.

Now here’s a question: how many Ukrainian and Russian gay activists – not just ordinary guys but the ones that give media interviews, lead organisations and spend grant money – were assassinated in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed? The answer is: none.

Do you know why? Because none of these gay activists and their organisations present any threat whatsoever to public life, the government or the ethical values of any part of the population, and nor do they bring anything new to the political or everyday life of their fellow Ukrainians.

This is not to say that people should aim for martyrdom,. But it’s all very simple – not one gay rights organisation represents the interests and hopes of even 1,000 people. It can aspire to this, but in Ukraine, more often than not, NGOs (including LGBT ones) are like Potemkin villages – pure facades, set up to satisfy somebody’s own personal interests.

To put it another way, if our conservative society fails to react to the ideas and proposals of LGBT activists, this is because these ideas and projects never reach beyond the offices of a niche social group. It’s all just a simulation of frenzied activity.

You can read on social media about this or that gay activist receiving a grant to travel abroad, organising a training workshop or once again upsetting the Orthodox Church hierarchy. But has any of this done anything to reduce public hostility to people of another ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation? Not one bit!

What have gay rights activists done to break the stereotypes created in people’s minds by the politicians, our national culture and the media? Nothing.

The capital effect doesn’t even work in Kyiv


Of course, it's cool to live in Kyiv, organise parades, processions, festivals and cultural activities. But it won’t change public attitudes to anything. And sitting round a table in some official building and discussing some law that no one takes any notice of is even more absurd, given Ukrainians almost total disregard for any law.

It’s a truism that, in any post-Soviet country, the capital is completely unrepresentative of the place as a whole. This is the case in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and, naturally, Ukraine as well. So until we have gay parades in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Lviv and Odesa we can’t talk about an organised movement and activism.

Talking of Odesa: its governor, the ‘great democrat’ Mikheil Saakishvili banned a Gay Pride parade in Odesa earlier this year, causing a storm of protest from Europe and the US. There are basically two explanations for this. In the first place, back when Saakishvili was president of Georgia, he refused to allow gay parades in Tbilisi. In 2013, the first Gay Pride event to take place in Georgia (after his resignation) was disrupted by homophobic violence. In the second, the organisers of the Odesa event were not a broad group, but a dubious organisation with a dubious past.

All this had predictable consequences: an Odesa court banned the parade; gay groups complained about censorship and curtailment of their rights; the EU and the US embassy sent messages of support, and both radicals and church authorities had another chance to pronounce that LGBT and Odesa were incompatible.

Everyone, in short, was happy and got what they wanted – apart from the public and gay people themselves.

Harvey Milk and the local elections 


Many LGBT activists, thanks to their close relations with the centres of power, have connections with and are known in political circles. People from president Petro Poroshenko’s political bloc even took part in the Gay Pride parade in Kyiv in June this year, and Poroshenko himself said he would not interfere with the event. But will we see the first real gay and lesbian candidates at the real local elections? Far from it.

The simplest explanation of this is that Ukraine's political parties are conservative. They have no desire to sully their unblemished image by consorting with members of the LGBT community. But that’s a double lie: the parties’ reputations are less than spotless, and they would be happy to welcome gays and lesbians, but only if the activists were real activists, involved in advocacy campaigns and lobbying. There is no problem about coming to an agreement with a party or an individual politician – it’s just a question of social impact and the influence of the activist.

However, the fact that a gay activist who works as an aide to a parliamentary deputy close to Yulia Tymoshenko can’t even stand as a candidate in a local or municipal election is an indicator of his social worth and his organisation’s influence, even at local level.

As it happens, in Kyiv nobody will stop a gay candidate from standing for mayor. Again, it’s the capital effect: there have been openly gay mayors in Paris and Berlin, and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, although he’s not gay, is a far cry from the grey bureaucrats of eastern Europe. But Kyiv hasn’t produced any colourful candidates.

And would the armchair and Facebook activists have the guts to follow in Harvey Milk’s footsteps not only in inspiring tens of thousands of his fellow Americans, but in sharing his tragic fate?

This is the main problem for Ukraine’s LGBT community: most of those who call themselves its leaders would rather sit in their armchairs, speak at meaningless conferences and dispute with the perennially conservative Orthodox Church. This is the vicious circle of LGBT activism in Ukraine.

All the members of our organisations are also terrified of being murdered, as Milk was. For in spite of all the assurances it gives the west, the Ukrainian public’s level of tolerance has not noticeably risen in the last few years – indeed, if anything it has fallen.

Of course, it is easy enough to condemn some politician who makes a provocative demand for a ban on abortion or the criminalisation of single-sex relationships – this is in fact what most Ukrainians do, and they even derive some sado-masochistic pleasure from it.

But at the same time the self-appointed leaders of our country’s gay movement are incapable of standing for election openly, as members of our community, at even a local level. Many of the activists that I know hide their fear and impotence behind protests that they ‘are destined for higher things’ and are aiming for membership of the Verkhovna Rada, the national parliament. What of it, they ask, that Harvey Milk started small? We Ukrainians can make it to the top in one go.

So why bother, then, with the activism and bravery, or the human rights and awareness-raising activity that all these LGBT groups engage in? Is it to raise their leaders, on the bones and wounds, the stigma and discrimination experienced by thousands of gay men and lesbians, to their desired lofty place in a high-ceilinged cabinet in the corridors of power? Why?

To satisfy their own egotism and prove to themselves that all their demonstrative but worthless efforts for the LGBT movement can be transformed into not only money, but real power. Power for power’s sake.

Ukraine can’t reproduce western LGBT movements 


That’s it. In Europe and the USA the battle for gay rights was always accompanied by radicalism and frequent violence (both justified and otherwise) on the part of all sides in the conflict. It was also gradual and attracted members of different social groups. And public opinion was often swayed by openly provocative actions by LGBT activists and groups, especially at local level.

Ukrainians will never hear sexual minority voices, selectively transmitted through their somewhat amorphous LGBT organisations, simply because these prefer intrigue, backroom deals, alienation from processes, arrogance and non-interference to confrontation and real activism.

In other words, LGBT groups, instead of fighting for their rights, continue their mere semblance of activity: talking about draft laws, amendments, decisions, constitutional changes and other bits of waste paper. None of this has any connection with the real world and real people – the law here has never shaped how things actually happen.

In the 24 years since Ukraine became an independent country, our gay activists, living in their imaginary, mythical world, have found themselves unable to organise an open and bold political campaign, to show that Ukraine could produce a gay mayor or parliamentary deputy.

Meanwhile, thousands of LGBT people in Ukraine are still forced to lead a double life and live in fear, just because the people who call themselves their leaders are even more cowardly, unself-sufficient and dependent on foreign grants.

These activists and organisations are no use to Ukraine. They don’t help it become better, and think broadly and globally. We need to take our cues from Harvey Milk.

See also:

Monday 12 October 2015

Russia's eight Crimea myths

Ukrainian independence referendum, 1991

Reblogged with permission from Window on Eurasia.


By Paul Goble.

“’Krimnashizm’” – as the ideologem “Crimea is Ours” is spelled in Russian – consists of a complex of eight myths that are intended to justify Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine and mobilize support for it, Arkady Popov writes in a 4500-word heavily footnoted article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal.” (

The eight myths which form the core of “’Krimnashizm,’” in his telling are:
  • Myth Number One: Crimea was Given to Ukraine
  • Myth Number Two: Russia has a historic right to Crimea
  • Myth Number Three: The Crimean people have freely voted to rejoin Russia
  • Myth Number Four: Taking Crimea from Ukraine was a matter of “extreme necessity.”
  • Myth Number Five: Ukraine is an artificial state.
  • Myth Number Six: The Euro-Maidan was fascist.
  • Myth Number Seven: Russia has risen from its knees.
  • Myth Number Eight: Incorporating Crimea is cost-free.
In today’s edition, the Russian historian and commentator examines the first of these myths, that “Crimea was given to Ukraine and shows that none of the claims Putin and his propagandists have offered in defense of their seizure and occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula stands up to close examination.

The myth that Nikita Khrushchev took Crimea away from the RSFSR and gave it to Ukraine is “the very first brick in the edifice of ‘Krimnashizm.” Many Russian writers had complained about Khrushchev’s action and Boris Yeltsin’s failure to criticize it, but it is perhaps instructive that Putin did not join that “chorus” until 2014, just before he invaded.

“The first feeling” one has in reading statements about Khrushchev supposedly “giving” Crimea to Ukraine is “perplexity,” Popov says. Khrushchev had only been first secretary of the CPSU Central Committee for four months, hardly time enough for him to have enough power to act on his own on something like this.

Moreover, the “Krimnashizm” ideologists act as if Crimea were the only example of part of one republic being transferred to another. In fact, it happened quite frequently – for a listing, see this author’s, “Can Republic Borders Be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, 28 September 1990) – and in Soviet times never with any consultation with the peoples involved.

According to Popov, there are three variants of the myth about Khrushchev giving away Crimea: the alcoholic one, the holiday one, and the political one. None is accurate. Khrushchev wasn’t drinking when the decision was made. It didn’t occur at a time linked to any particular holiday. And transferring Crimea to Ukraine might have been expected to cost him more support among Russian CPSU officials than any gains he would make among the less numerous Ukrainian ones.

Propaganda on Crimean street
Politics was involved in the decision, but not the kind the “Krymnashists” describe. After the death of Stalin and the removal of Beria, Moscow faced the problem of expanding agricultural production. Crimea was a disaster area but had the climate and soils to be a productive place.

Khrushchev and Georgy Malenkov visited Crimea in 1953 and concluded that it could be developed if it got water from Ukraine. Without that, its agricultural production would not go up and consequently linking the area to Ukraine instead of the RSFSR made sense, given the policy priorities of the leadership in Moscow.

What should have happened, of course, Popov writes, was the return of the peninsula to the Crimean Tatars “but apparently the time for such radical decisions had not yet come: from the moment of the death of Stalin had passed less than a year,” and Khrushchev’s rehabilitation of the punished peoples lay in the future.

As far as Khrushchev’s “’voluntarism’” on Crimea is concerned, there is no basis for such claims, the historian says. “In January 1954, Khrushchev was still not so strong that he could decide such questions on his own.” And it is clear that he spoke with other members of the leadership and they collectively agreed.

When claims to the contrary fall away, present-day “Krymnashists” argue that Khrushchev didn’t follow constitutional procedures, when in fact he did as much as any other Soviet leader, or that there wasn’t a proper quorum when in fact the record shows otherwise, Popov points out.

And when those are pointed out, the “Krymnashists” try to make a special case out of Sevastopol. But there too, there is no evidence for their contentions that that city was special in a territorial sense. The only reason this false argument is raised, he suggests, is that in 1993, Khasbulatov’s Supreme Soviet declared that Sevastopol had “federal status.”

“This absurd degree was disavowed by the president of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, and the UN Security Council at a special session declared that this decree did not have legal force,” Popov writes. At that time, Russia’s permanent representative did not cast a veto.

Those who raise questions about the transfer of Crimea from the RSFSR to Ukraine clearly forget that there are a lot of other places where similar questions could be raised: Tuva, Vyborg, Sakhalin, Kaliningrad, Karelia, and so on. Thus, making these kinds of arguments about Crimea is potentially very dangerous.

Many of the “Krymnashists” also attack Boris Yeltsin for not demanding “the return” of Crimea in 1991 when the USSR fell apart. But they forget two things: the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Union was predicated on the absolute acceptance of the union republic borders as fixed and that Ukraine, including Crimea, has just voted to leave the USSR.

To have challenged those borders would have opened “a Pandora’s box” for Russia and all the others, Popov says.

“All myths,” the historian concludes, “offer a false picture of the world,” but artistic ones do not claim they are real. “Political myths are something else: their inventors and distributors angrily insist that in them is given the only reliable conception of reality” and that they must be respected regardless. And that makes them dangerous, even for those who employ them.

See also:

Saturday 10 October 2015

Russia painting Crimea's Tatars as 'ISIS supporters'

Newly erected hoardings on border. Left: On your way to Crimean Tatar Autonomy. Right: On your way from Crimea to Free Ukraine. Via Olga Klymenko

Reblogged with permission. Although news about the situation of Crimean Tatars is rarely in mainstream media the potency of their fightback for the Kremlin is described in this post. See also Paul Goble on the reaction to the current blockade of the peninsula initiated by the Tatar leadership. Their importance in the information war can be seen in their vile treatment by pro-Kremlin trolls. See, for example, this attempt to fictionalise Tatars fighting for the Nazis in WW2.


By Halya Colynash

For the second time in a week, the de facto authorities in Russian-occupied Crimea have publicly claimed via Russia’s official RIA Novosti that Crimean Tatar leaders are recruiting Crimean Tatars to become Islamic State fighters. The allegations are especially ominous given Russia’s current military involvement in Syria which Moscow asserts, in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary, is directed against the Islamic State. They also coincide with the latest unexplained siege by armed enforcement officers of the predominantly Crimean Tatar Ak-Mechet suburb of Simferopol and the ongoing offensive against the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar self-governing assembly.

On Oct 9, Ruslan Balbek, deputy prime minister of the de facto government in Crimea asserted that the leaders of the Mejlis, and particularly Mustafa Dzhemiliev, had, as Crimean politicians, encouraged the development on the peninsula of radical religious sects, whose militant ideology was alien to most Crimean Tatars. “Therefore now, having settled in Ukraine, they have surrounded themselves with Crimean radicals who during various years [sic] fought in the ranks of the Islamic State, and after Crimea’s re-union with Russia left the peninsula.” Balbek specifically claims that Dzhemiliev is recruiting ‘radicals’ for the Islamic State, and that he has encouraged Crimean Muslims to take part in ISIS in order to “later use their military experience for subversive activities in Crimea”.

71-year-old Mustafa Dzhemiliev’s defence of Crimean Tatar rights and Ukrainian democracy and his unwavering commitment to only peaceful protest, have earned him immense respect throughout the world. As well as numerous international awards, the veteran Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It seems safe, therefore, to assume that outside Russia the allegations will be dismissed as scurrilous lies.

The concern is about the purpose of such inflammatory claims and their impact on an audience in Crimea and in Russia which receives its information solely from state-controlled media.

There can be no suggestion here that the state-controlled RIA Novosti is simply reporting Balbek’s words. The agency refers dismissively and wrongly to the Mejlis as “an organization unregistered in Russia” and claims that both Dzhemiliev and the Head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov “left Crimea”, and were later banned entry to Russia for five years “because of their extremist statements, inciting ethnic enmity”.

Pro-Kremlin media have been particularly active in hurling mud at the Crimean Tatar leaders since they initiated the Crimea Blockade now into its third week. There were initial attempts to mention only ‘Ukrainian radical nationalists’ as involved in the blockade. Then on Oct 5, one of the few Crimean Tatars who chose to cooperate with the Russian occupiers, Zaur Smirnov claimed that Islamic State recruiters had fled from Crimea to (mainland) Ukraine, and were now actively recruiting Ukrainian Muslims. “He excluded any possibility of their returning to Crimea”.

Once again RIA Novosti can be relied on to provide a highly contentious version of events. It claims that “Crimea became a Russian region after a referendum held in March 2014 in which the overwhelming majority of inhabitants …. voted to join Russia” (see: Even Russian human rights body finds Crimean referendum falsified)

The rest of the brief report returns to Smirnov’s claims that “radicals implicated in Islamic State left the peninsula after reunification with Russia”.

Thousands of Crimean Tatars, as well as other Ukrainians, were forced to flee Crimea after Russia’s occupation of their home. Attempts to deny legitimate opposition to annexation, claiming that opponents are ‘radical Muslims’, are a brazen – and menacing - distortion of the facts.

None of it, unfortunately, is new. The first signs that Russia was seeking to use growing fear of the Islamic State and ‘Muslim radicals’ for its own benefit came in early Autumn 2014. News that Russia’s Justice Ministry wanted to get the renowned human rights organization Memorial dissolved coincided with a defamatory TV programme alleging that Memorial was cooperating with terrorists and radicals now fighting for the Islamic State.

Media reports appeared which painted Crimean Tatars as ‘radical Muslims’ who could unleash a wave of violence in Crimea. On Oct 8 a particularly sinister article entitled “Islamists in Crimea are getting up to something” appeared in the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya. It begins with the words: “Fighters schooled by war in Syria and Novorossiya are amassing on the borders of the peninsula” (more details here Bogus claims of ’Muslim radicalism’ as weapon against the Crimean Tatars. )

Mustafa Dzhemiliev reported within a month or so of annexation that Russian FSB [security service] officials were quite openly watching Muslims in their mosques, and it was not long before armed searches of Crimean Tatar homes, mosques and religious schools began. Russia has increasingly used its excessively broad legislation on so-called ‘extremism’ against Crimean Tatars and all opponents of Russia’s land grab.

Ai-Vasyl Mosque
On August 14, 2015, FSB officers turned up at the Mosque in Ai-Vasyl [Vasilyevka] in Yalta to install video surveillance. They claimed that this was needed to ‘counter terrorism’, although the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission points out that no legitimate grounds were provided.

It remains unclear why police and OMON riot police have effectively surrounded the ak-Mechet district of Simferopol for two weeks, with armed officers appearing at people’s homes from 7 a.m., checking documents, copying out phone numbers, etc. There were so-called ‘anti-terrorist exercises’ in early April, with those obviously targeting Crimean Tatars. There have also been suggestions that Muslims will be called in for so-called ‘prophylactic talks’.

It is fairly widely feared that through its bombing of mostly non-ISIS targets in Syria and open support for Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad, Moscow will face retaliation within Russia. This probably is a real risk from President Vladimir Putin’s latest political game, making the renewed attempts to gain mileage against Crimean Tatar opponents of annexation particularly cynical and dangerous.

See also:

    Tuesday 6 October 2015

    A short history of anarchism in Ukraine

    Set design by A. Tarasov for Eduard Bagritsky's play, Duma pro Opanasa, 1966. (c) A. Chernyak / VisualRIAN.

    Reblogged with permission from Open Democracy Russia.

    Anarchism may be a popular political brand in Ukraine today, but it’s not anarchism as we know it.


    By Denys Gorbach

    For westerners on the left, including anarchists, the Maidan protests of 2013-2014 turned Ukraine from an unknown quantity into the home of a mass grassroots movement—and one they had to understand. For many on the left, this meant a trip to our country: 2014 was Kyiv’s year of ‘revolutionary tourism’.

    But the ‘tourists’ involved in anarchist movements at home were dazed and confused on the streets of Kyiv: why was their red and black flag flying alongside the swastika and Celtic cross? Why was there a portrait of Nestor Makhno, the anarchist revolutionary leader of a century ago, on a tent belonging to a nationalist group? And why were locals who called themselves anarchists one moment calling for the creation of a mono-ethnic state the next? Anarchism occupies a very specific place in the worldview of your average Ukrainian, and their perception of it differs from sympathetic westerners.

    Soviet propaganda

    The origins of this difference go back, as it often does, to the Soviet Union. Like other left wing opposition tendencies, anarchism as a political movement was annihilated by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s.

    By the time Nikita Khrushchev came to power in the late 1950s, when the oldest Ukrainians still alive today developed their world views, anarchist organisations and groups were a thing of the distant past. So what they knew about anarchists was learned either from school history lessons, which described them as either naive bourgeois muddlers or evil traitors to the workers’ revolutionary movement, or from Soviet film.

    Vitaly Matveev as Nestor Makhno in Khmuroe utro (1959), from
    Indeed, it was Soviet cinema and literature that created the images of anarchism and anarchists which still underpin public perceptions in Ukraine today. Or more precisely, the two images. The first was of wild, lawless semi bandits of the type recruited by Nestor Makhno in 1917 for his revolutionary army — mostly uneducated peasants who had never left their villages before (plus the odd sailor hooked on cocaine).

    These people, according to the myth, may have thought of themselves as defenders of the workers’ interests, but in fact were ordinary criminal elements, strangers to constructive labour and therefore against the Bolsheviks.

    The social structure of the anarchist forces was always shown as strictly authoritarian: the loyal but simple-minded fighters would be in thrall to a cynical and calculating leader (‘Father’ Makhno or a nameless Cossack chieftain) who lived a life of luxury, often in the company of bourgeois women. And there would be merciless executioners to deal with anyone who tried to rebel. Makhnovists were sometimes portrayed as Ukrainian separatists (given that, in 1917, Ukraine was still part of the Russian Empire) and almost always as anti-Semites.

    The second popular image of the anarchist was of a naive intellectual dreamer unable to cope with reality, living in a world of his own and taking his precepts from books. And while the first anarchist caricature in his striped sailor’s tunic or peasant cap represented a threat, the second, in his straw hat and spectacles, was a harmless figure of fun, though he was still a ‘positive character’ of sorts.

    After 1991

    In post-Soviet Ukraine, many ideological concepts were turned upside down, without any further attempt at re-evaluation.

    For instance, one thinks of the popular joke about how, after Ukraine became independent in 1991, the Faculty of Scientific Communism (the most dogmatic of institutions) at Kyiv University was quickly renamed the Faculty of Scientific Nationalism.

    Something similar happened to anarchism, a new social phenomenon that had to be absorbed into people’s existing perceptions of the world, and ideally in step with the nationalist aspirations of the intelligentsia working on the cultural policies of the young Ukrainian state.

    Nestor Makhno. WikiMediaCommons / Koroesu. Public Domain.
    The logic was simple: Ukraine’s most famous anarchist, Nestor Makhno, was best known for fighting the Bolsheviks. As the peasant leader of a peasant army, Makho also fought against the White Guards, or Tsarist forces.

    As all this took place during the Civil War (a conflict which, in the new post-independence historiography, was seen as a war of liberation in Ukraine), the situation was clear: Makhno’s army represented one of the forces fighting for Ukrainian independence.

    ‘Popular history’ fixed the idea in people’s heads that Makhno fought for an independent Ukraine alongside the nationalist forces of Simon Petliura’s Ukrainian People's Republic. In fact, Makhno fought against them, and nationalist writers instead spread legends about Makhno’s wife personally sewing him a yellow-and-blue national flag.

    But how can people not see the obvious contradiction here: what kind of anarchist fights to set up a state?

    The issue here is that Ukraine’s patriotic mythology is based on a romanticised image of the Zaporozhian Sich, a semi-autonomous Cossack territory in central Ukraine in the 15th-18th centuries.

    Writers and artists of the Romantic school were equally enthusiastic about the Cossacks, and Soviet historiography supported this tradition of viewing the Zaporizhian Sich as a progressive entity. The result was a powerful romantic national ancestor myth: Cossacks living in the wild steppe, valuing their freedom and independence higher than anything, refusing to recognise any monarch and taking up arms against every neighbouring state in the name of the Ukrainian nation.

    Ukraine, unlike most of its neighbours, has no history as a state to pin its national myth to: Kievan Rus was destroyed by the Mongol Horde in the 13th century, after which the territory of today’s Ukraine was governed by Lithuania, Poland, the Crimean Khanate and Russia.

    Thus the Cossack military-democratic republic was adopted as a model and ‘precedent’ by Ukrainian historians in the 19th century. Most of these historians, as socialists, were favourably disposed to the archaic democratic system in the Sich, in contrast to the authoritarian rule of the Tsars. Over the border, in Russia, the Cossack myth paints this group as the one most loyal to the Tsar and the Ancien RĂ©gime.

    The Makhno myth

    Monday 5 October 2015

    BBC's John Simpson incites Brits to break the law over Crimea

    A protest in the first month after Russia’s invasion which would now get participants arrested

    Reblogged with permission. There has been some speculation that the reason Simpson made the trip and wrote the piece was to secure support for an exclusive interview with Putin. A number of people have made complaints to the BBC.

    That such a senior BBC man would go to Crimea and write what he did immediately became a news item on Russian state media war propaganda.

    Here is warning about consequences of visiting Crimea.


    By Halya Coynash

    BBC journalist John Simpson has ‘uncovered Crimea’s charms’ and a quite staggering degree of contempt for international law and human rights. In a travel piece for the Telegraph, he encourages people to do as he did: break the law, effectively whitewash Russia’s invasion and forced annexation of Crimea and wax lyrical about the charms of Crimea, while ignoring extremely serious human rights concerns under Russian occupation.

    Simpson alleges that “there are moments in international affairs when the clouds part, and the sun illumines an area which has been murky for years. They have recently parted over the magical peninsula of Crimea; and my advice is, take advantage of it.”

    Wonderfully lyrical and frighteningly nihilistic. The clouds in this case “did not part” but were wrenched apart, and a cursory glance at the globe would cast a better light on the number of countries and borders which can with equal justification, or none, be dismissed as ‘murky’.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn’t have phrased the attempt in the following paragraph to justify Russia’s annexation better, although the two men’s arguments are identical. Crimea was allegedly always “Russian”, and therefore it was “that engaging old crook Nikita Khrushchev” who first did the fiddle. So what then, if Russia “by foul means, grabbed it back”?

    Simpson might like to consider that Andrei Zubov, the history professor from Russia’s prestigious MGIMO Institute who was dismissed for criticizing Russia’s land grab, has said that he would have failed any student who argued that Crimea had always been Russian. Should the BBC journalist feel the need to delve into the history of the area. Observance of the law, however, is not optional.

    Simpson could argue that he does not incite people to break the law. He simply avoids telling his readers that this is precisely what they will be doing if they take his advice and visit Crimea via Russia.

    This is not through lack of knowledge, and the Telegraph even provides a link to the Foreign Office information about Crimea. This states unambiguously that:
    “From 4 June 2015, to enter or exit Crimea, foreign nationals will need to provide their passport and a special permit issued by the State Migration Service of Ukraine.”
    Simpson was thus in breach of Ukrainian law and is advising Telegraph readers that they should behave similarly.

    It is worth noting that a Russian NGO and its head are now facing harassment and threats of criminal prosecution for warning people of the legal implications of visiting Crimea. In June the consumer rights society ‘Public Control’ published information which accurately described Crimea as ‘occupied territory’ and warned of the legal ramifications of any trips undertaken without Ukrainian permission. Within hours, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office was threatening prosecution and the website had been blocked. A summary in English of this advice can be found here. Unlike the BBC’s foreign correspondent, we would recommend that readers heed it. There is nothing murky about international law and Ukraine has every right to impose restrictions on territory which has been illegally occupied.

    Simpson’s account of Crimea’s beauty and his obvious interest in literature might have inclined him to consider some of those who have suffered most profoundly through Russia’s occupation. These include Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov whom a Russian court has sentenced to 20 years imprisonment after a totally ‘Stalinist trial’ of him and another opponent of Russia’s annexation, Oleksandr Kolchenko.

    One blogger, Yury Ilchenko is currently in detention over an article criticizing annexation, and a EuroMaidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko has been imprisoned for 4 years on totally surreal charges. All independent Crimean journalists have effectively been driven out of Crimea and virtually all Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian media have been stifled, Just in the last few days the first two Internet publications daring to present alternative points of view and information about human rights abuse have been blocked. The list is certain to be extended.

    The Crimean Tatars – the indigenous people of Crimea – are facing constant harassment and persecution, with most leaders in exile and one – Akhtem Chiygoz – imprisoned on legally nonsensical charges.

    Simpson has not followed the example presented by other visitors to Crimea, such as from the far-right Bulgarian Ataka Party, who made a point of ‘recognizing’ Crimea as Russian. Members of the far-right Hungarian Jobbik party are also due shortly and can be expected to be just as approving. Russia is currently going all out to convince its own population and the international community that all is well, and Crimea ‘Russian’. A group of Polish students were almost certainly conned into visiting Crimea, rather than St. Petersburg last week precisely in order to provide good camera stunts. It is galling that a BBC correspondent should now be so obligingly helping Russia’s propaganda efforts.

    See also:

    Russian left: Why is Russia backing Assad?

    Kafranbel, Syria demonstration against Assad + the Russian occupation, v/

    Reblogged with permission from LeftEast, English translation by Nick Evans at RS21.Org.Uk.


    By the editors of the Russian socialist website OpenLeft.Ru

    A whole range of evidence [also here] indicates that Russia is activating its military aid for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad up to the point of direct involvement of Russian troops in the Syrian conflict. Why now in particular, and what lies behind this?

    Taken individually, neither military and political ties, nor economic ties between Russia and the Syrian regime are sufficient to explain the stubborn support for Assad from the Russian Federation, which had become the source of a serious conflict with the West even before the events in Ukraine. Of course, Assad’s regime is now the only reliable ally of Russia in the region, the loss of which would make it unable to continue playing an important role in the Middle East.

    Supposedly, another factor was the [former] control of Syria over the transit of Iraqi and Arabian oil – of fundamental importance for Russia as one of the world’s largest oil exporters. In turn, the desire to seize this control played a major role in defining the anti-Assad position of Turkey, Israel and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf. However, it is telling that Saudi Arabia received a decisive rejection when it completely openly suggested to Russia that it cut off its support for Assad in return for a lowering of the tempo of its oil production – which could have then put the break on tumbling global oil prices.

    Concern about the rise of radical Islamism in the region, and beyond to the North Caucasus, is also not a sufficient explanation. Many analysts see Russia’s support of the Syrian regime as having a significance that goes well beyond the Syrian conflict itself: by opposing the attempts to depose Assad, the Kremlin is opposing the very possibility of a “regime change” sanctioned by international institutions, as it considers that the next target of such a “regime change” could be itself.

    The Russian government’s position on Syria, radically different from that of western governments, has on occasion brought benefits for its reputation abroad: such as when Putin’s column was published in the New York Times, making a plea against military intervention in Syria, and criticising notions of American exceptionalism. However, on the whole, Russia has been more on the defensive.

    Meanwhile, the situation in the Middle East changed, and the rise of ISIS enabled things that had formerly seemed impossible, such as the partial normalisation of US relations with Iran. So the Assad regime also stopped being less unacceptable to the US. In this context, Putin appears to have decided to go on the offensive – perhaps not in the literal sense of sending troops into Syria, but at the very least in the sense of backstairs talks with Washington, using the new Russian airbase in Syria’s Latakia as an excuse.

    According to Bloomberg, this new tactic may well bear fruit – at least some of those working at the White House believe the priority should be widening the alliance against ISIS; they accept the activation of Russian help for Assad as an already established fact and are even prepared to work with Russia in an aerial campaign against the Islamic State. By the looks of it, this is exactly what Putin and [foreign minister] Lavrov are hoping for.

    On the whole the Kremlin’s tactical course can be seen as a continuation of its struggle for a “fairer multipolar world”, in which international relations are not regulated by normative principles of liberalism and Human Rights, but through the mutual recognition of interests and cooperation on concrete questions. It is precisely on these conditions that, through a pragmatic coalition in Syria, Russia is attempting to reintegrate itself into the world order, simultaneously changing the rules of the game.

    So the real consequences of Russian foreign policy, despite Russia’s constant criticisms of the “hypocrisy of humanitarian interventions”, are no better than the same humanitarian interventions. The victims of the Syrian regime are far greater than those of ISIS. Support for Assad is support for a dictator who has turned the military apparatus of his country into an effective machine for the obliteration of its own population. However much Lavrov and [Putin’s press secretary] Peskov make passive-aggressive criticisms of “western hypocrisy”, Russia is at least as responsible for what is happening in Syria as western states.

    And the Kremlin’s demonstrative refusal to take any part in solving the refugee crisis is truly hypocritical. By suggesting that the countries of the EU deal with the consequences of a crisis which it has done so much to create in Syria, Putin’s Russia feels it has the “last laugh”. The drama of 100,000s of people losing their homes is presented in Peskov’s announcements as an elegant lesson, subordinated to the Kremlin’s foreign policy towards its “western partners”.

    See also:

    Sunday 4 October 2015

    Anti-Semitism is no vote-winner even for Ukraine’s far-right

    Andriy Biletsky, MP and commander of the Azov volunteer battalion

    Reblogged with permission.


    By Halya Coynash

    Even the most notorious neo-Nazi in Ukraine’s parliament recently denied having previously made white supremacist and anti-Semitic utterances – among the reasons why Viacheslav Likhachev, head of the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group and leading researcher in the field, expresses ‘cautious optimism’ about the situation with anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine.

    It is not easy to write about anti-Semitism in Ukraine at present. The very subject is likely to be met with antagonism, even suspicion that the person speaking is in the pay of the Kremlin. The latter has certainly expended huge amounts of effort and money trying to push the line that first Euromaidan and the government that followed were made up of rabid anti-Semitic hordes. The allegations have been rightly knocked down by authoritative experts and Jewish leaders.

    Viacheslav Likhachev
    In an important interview for the newspaper Hadashot, Likhachev says that one can understand the tendency to assume that anti-Semitism or any negative phenomena are provocation from the Kremlin, or to minimize their importance at a time when the country is at war, with thousands killed or forced from their homes.

    He warns, however, that such an attitude from the authorities must be considered “unacceptable negligence”. The state has certain obligations, and these cannot be categorized as more or less important. Indeed, hate crimes are rightly considered to pose a danger to society and must be properly investigated with the culprits arrested and punished.

    Here, unfortunately, Ukraine’s authorities have never dazzled, and there is no sign of improvement. Nor is Likhachev alone in expressing criticism and frustration.

    As reported, there have been six cases of anti-Semitic vandalism this year to the Menorah at Babi Yar in Kyiv where in 1941 the Nazis murdered over 33 thousand Ukrainian Jews. The latest attack during the night of Sept 13, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was particularly serious and elicited a public call to action from a number of Ukraine’s Jewish leaders. They expressed frustration that the authorities and law enforcement bodies have still taken no effective measures to stop attacks on a monument of importance to each Kyiv resident which honours the victims of one of the worst massacres of the Second World War. They point out that the police have several times initiated criminal investigations only to then terminate them for supposed lack of elements of a crime.

    Vandalism at Babi Yar memorial
    Such inaction, they say, is especially disgraceful given the obvious propaganda uses likely to be made of any anti-Semitic attack on the Babi Yar Memorial.
    “Ukraine’s Jewish community demands an immediate, thorough and comprehensive investigation of these crimes and asks the Prosecutor General’s Office to take the course of this investigation under its control.

    It also seems sensible to install video surveillance or police patrols in the area around the Menorah to prevent a repetition of such vandalism, whoever the culprits are – provocateurs, hooligans or convinced anti-Semites.”

    Likhachev points out that neither this year, nor in 2014, was even one of the vandals who desecrated graves, memorials to the Victims of the Holocaust or other monuments found and punished.

    The police may be stretched, the country at war, but installing CCTV cameras is surely not impossible.

    Likhachev also stresses that given the information front which is part of the hybrid war being waged against Ukraine, the fact that anti-Semites are enjoying effective impunity is of “serious public importance”.

    He is polite but unimpressed by the reports this last January that Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry was about to create the post of Special Representative on Countering Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia. Nothing appears to have come of that plan, but such posts have been established earlier.

    “One solved anti-Semitic crime would be far more effective at demonstrating the state’s attention to the problem than the establishments of Special Representative posts even in five different departments”, Likhachev suggests.

    On the other hand, he notes, in a more recent blog, that Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko made a point, unlike his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, of meeting with American Jewish organizations while in New York this week. Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk has also written to the head of the World Jewish Congress assuring him that the recent cases of anti-Semitic vandalism at Babi Yar will be properly investigated. All this, Likhachev notes, is part of a consistent dialogue which Ukraine’s leaders have developed.

    General trends in post-Maidan Ukraine

    The interviewer, Mikhail Gold notes that there have been statements from certain members of far-right parties, including Right Sector hearkening back to what he calls “the traditional quasi-anti-Semitic rhetoric that they rejected after Maidan”.

    Likhachev says that these are for the moment individual incidents which cannot be said to form a climate in society. He points out that public opinion surveys suggest an improvement in the view by other Ukrainians of Jews since Maidan.

    It is probably logical that anti-Semitism should be appearing among those right-wing radical nationalists who claim to represent the true interests of the Ukrainian people. As such radical nationals move further into opposition and away from the government, accusing the country’s leaders of Jewish origins is an easy way to play on people’s stereotypes about ‘oligarchs’.

    More reassuringly, he points out that you have to try really hard to find such anti-Semitic utterances, even those that are fairly veiled. In fact, he says, anti-Semitism does not hold an important place in the ideology of the Ukrainian far-right.
    “There is a real war, a real enemy, and there is constructive cooperation with real Jews. And the current government, for all its ‘oligarch interests’, ‘Minsk betrayal’, etc., was elected in an unquestionably democratic fashion and has a patriotic platform.”

    Paradoxically, he says, although there are several radical nationalists, xenophobes, and even neo-Nazis in the Verkhovna Rada, “there is virtually no xenophobia or neo-Nazism as a uniting ideology.” The most you’ll find is homophobia and even that is confined to indecent jokes about opponents, etc. A telling detail, for example, was the fact that Andriy Biletsky, a man with a highly dubious neo-Nazi and white supremacist background, recently claimed that he had never made a foul call for a crusade by the white race against Semitic subhumans.

    Likhachev compares this with the situation two years ago when VO Svoboda had a fair number of MPs in parliament, roughly half of whom had gained notoriety for anti-Semitic utterances, The latest opinion polls (as of the end of August) suggest that VO Svoboda has a long way to climb to cross the parliamentary threshold and that its popularity since autumn last year has been steadily falling.

    This, however, contrasts with the rising popularity of Right Sector which gained a pitiful percentage of the votes in the 2014 parliamentary elections. If the elections were held now, they would have a chance of getting into parliament.

    There is evident disgruntlement with the present government, especially given the war and ensuing economic problems. The most important factor, he points out, in people’s perception of Right Sector is the role it is playing in the military conflict in Donbas, in countering Russia’s aggression. He doubts that even 5% of those who would be prepared to vote for Right Sector have any idea about the party’s economic or internal policies.

    Indeed, the homophobic excesses demonstrated by Right Sector activists before and during the Equality March this May, he believes, turned many people away from the party. It was also ominously reminiscent of the homophobia so rampant in Russia.

    It is, in fact, the pro-Russian militants in Donbas who openly express anti-Semitism and even use it for their internal power struggles, and most memorably in their attacks on Ukraine’s leaders (whom they once referred to as “pathetic Jews”)

    Qualified optimism

    There are grounds, he says, for “cautious optimism”, though there can be no guarantees that the improvements are in any way irreversible. Ukraine has on the whole chosen European standards and values, and those who don’t share such values, including radical nationalists, are in a minority. What is worse, he points out, that minority would demonstrate that it shares the far-right conservative views of the supporters of “the Russian world” fighting in Donbas.

    See also: