In an interview conducted by Natalia Malynovska of Glavcom, Vyacheslav Lihachev claims that the Ukrainian public tolerates violence committed in the name of independence. Likhachev is an investigator of ultra-right movements in Ukraine and Russia, coordinator at the Ukrainian NGO Vostok SOS and researcher at the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group. Here we publish the key excerpts from the interview.
Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine has changed the attitude people in Ukraine have to ultra-right organizations and parties. At the beginning of the war [in 2014 in Eastern Ukraine] people who professed extreme right-wing views were first to stand in defense of the country. Though they received the respect they deserved, subsequent elections proved that the electorate was not ready to vote for the parties that represented them, as was demonstrated in the early parliamentary elections in the fall of 2014.
Those same ultra-right forces will have another chance in the 2019 elections. Indeed, any gains their parties may achieve would make them happy. Ever since the beginning of the war, they have been active, organizing marches with torches and issuing proclamations that they will establish “order in the streets,” all the while brazenly flouting and challenging the police. Increasingly, the ultra-right are being accused of escalating street violence with attacks on “leftists” and human rights organizations that defend the rights of the LGBT community and members of the Roma community. In past attacks, the police failed to intervene.
More recently, however, the police have stepped up, namely during the last March of Equality [in Kyiv] and in response to the murder of a Roma in the Lviv region of western Ukraine.
How popular were ultra-right organizations and nationalist attitudes in a newly independent Ukraine?
There is a difference between the nationalist parties and/or individuals in Ukraine who profess nationalism and the ultranationalists, or the ultra-right.
The classical definition of a Ukrainian nationalist is anyone who supports a sovereign and independent Ukraine.
It stands to reason that everyone who voted for Ukrainian independence [from the USSR] at the  referendum, and all those who are today fighting for Ukraine’s right to self-determination are nationalists.
The ultra-right is a conditional ultra-nationalist movement which sees the nation as a community bound by “spirit and blood” versus a “community of citizens.”
Additionally, aside from rejecting values such as human rights, the ultra-right prefer antidemocratic, authoritarian rule.
When you consider that the ultra-right had broad support in other post-Soviet countries after the collapse of the USSR, it is remarkable that in Ukraine, the ultra-right was a small, marginal group, as had been shown with the poor performance of parties like “Svoboda.”
In Romania, the party “Great Romania” got 19.5% of the vote in 2000, and in Hungary, the party “For a Better Hungary” (Jobbik) got 14.8% of the vote in 2009. In Greece, the more radical, openly neo-Nazi party “Golden Star” (“Khristi Augi”) received 7% of the vote in 2012. In 2006 the Slovak National Party won 11.7% of the vote and gained control over three government ministries. Winning 8% of the vote, the League of Polish Families became a member of the ruling coalition [in the Polish government] from 2005-2007. And in Ukraine, it was only in 2012 that “Svoboda” won enough votes to gain a seat in parliament.
This is because the ultra-right had always been weak politically. They had always concentrated on achieving independence for Ukraine. But because Ukraine’s independence was the result of a failure in leadership [the fall of the USSR], due in large part to the actions of the communist elite, rather than to the efforts of nationalists, the ultranationalists stayed weak. They were unable to propose an attractive agenda. They were stuck in their outdated strategies, offering irrelevant ideas and solutions. It’s true that in the days of Yanukovych the ultra-right did enjoy relative success, largely because civic society was seeking a system that would be radically different from the regime. The public did not raise objections to the ultranationalists because life under the rule of Yanukovych was intolerable.
After the Maidan, the popularity of the ultra-right has declined despite the gains they had made in the furor of the revolution and at the front. They were unable to win parliamentary seats in the elections in 2014. With the transition to a normal, democratic, competitive political process, the ultra-right are viewed as an unattractive option.
Today, the ultra-right are actively involved in the war [in eastern Ukraine]. They are passionate about defending Ukraine. For decades they have been warning us about the danger Russia poses. When Russia started its war against Ukraine, the Ukrainian army and the government were in disarray, and the people were confused; the nationalists were in the forefront in defending the country, and the people noticed that. Violence as a response to a threat is natural for them, and in the existential threat Ukraine was faced with in 2014, they demonstrated that they were willing and able.
But for the ultra-right to appropriate ownership of the entire symbolic heritage in the struggle against the Russian aggressor for themselves is unjustified. It’s true that they have succeeded in using their participation in the war as an asset, utilizing it by claiming that they were the ones that had stopped the Russian advance. However, the media and the public are exaggerating the contribution of volunteer battalions in the war. Yes, the volunteer battalions played a crucial role at the beginning of the war, but the burden of the war was borne by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Though there are rumors that the ultra-right is willing to unite and negotiate in order to advance politically, it seems unlikely they would succeed. They are generally too ambitious on a personal level, and the ideological differences among them seem insurmountable.
The public tolerates violent acts from the ultra-right
In the past six months, Ukraine has seen an increase in the number of violent, unlawful actions committed by various ultra-right groups. And this is not just attacks on Roma camps. The ultra-right attack those they consider their ideological adversaries: left-wing activists, representatives of the LGBT community and human rights organizations. Sometimes their actions are inexplicable. For example, a smoke bomb was hurled into the bookstore “YE” in Lviv where an event dedicated to the Holocaust was being held.
The most victimized are the Roma. The level of xenophobia against the Roma is quite high. There are many complex problems associated with the Roma that the authorities are unwilling to take up.
The Roma are perceived by the general public as backward, deficient in socialization. After the first pogrom on Lysa Hora in Kyiv, conducted by members of the C14 gang, other ultra-right groups copied what the C14 gang had done. They sensed that they had hit upon a “goldmine” and the public response was positive.
Are the ultra-right groups forming their own, private law enforcement agencies?
There are those assumptions. In certain instances not only does it make sense, it is accepted as a reasonable and necessary thing to do. After all, members of these ultra-right organizations were involved in protecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine and were members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Armed Forces.
One could say that law enforcement is not responding adequately to these acts of violence, to the hooliganism of the ultra-right. Thorough investigations still have not been conducted and the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. The result of such impunity will lead to a new wave of violence; it encourages more violence. More importantly, it undermines the foundations of the state, it diminishes public confidence in the law enforcement bodies that are the sole authority against violence.
The unlawful acts of violence perpetrated by the ultra-right bring shame on Ukraine. It is vital to confront the state authorities about the inactivity of law enforcement agencies in this matter.
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