Note: This is a personal analysis on aspects of the situation in Ukraine and will not be perfect. It is not intended to support EITHER the Kiev government, Russia or the rebel groups in Eastern Ukraine.
A few months ago I published a piece on here about Nazis in Ukraine, their involvement in the Euromaidan protests and role in the new government, the role of Russia, the west and the state in these and the mixed and often very chaotic character of many social movements in Eastern Europe (in Western Europe too increasingly – witness the increasing presence of antisemitic conspiracy theorists, Freeman on the Land types, and even the odd EDL supporter on many protests and campaigns against austerity, war, and so on. It’s OK though – we’ve got a more advanced state of consciousness than ‘backward’ Eastern Europe, so that’s all right then).
Since I wrote that article the situation has developed in a way that at the time I thought wouldn’t happen, at least for the next couple of years. Ukraine is slipping into civil war. Despite what Russia Today and the BBC want you to believe, atrocities are being committed on both sides; the deadly fire in Odessa at the weekend which Odessan police did nothing to prevent being the most horrific example. Accusations and conspiracy theories are being traded by both sides as the country slides further into a deadly conflict. Ukraine, when I went to Kiev and Odessa a few years ago, was a very modern country – while some places were obviously poor, the infrastructure was nothing like Moldova or Transnistria next door. In fact one of the things about the place was how similar in many respects it seemed to the UK in terms for example of the upkeep of the roads and buildings. People seemed happy. And then this happened.
While the Kiev government is sending working class kids out to die – at least 14 soldiers have been killed and many more injured – in its attempt to retain the ‘territorial integrity‘ of Ukraine and sending ‘civil activists‘ (ie fascist and other paramilitary gangs) to try and seize back control, don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking there is anything progressive let alone anti fascist about the main forces on the other side or that either camp of nationalists should ever be supported in this war.
Miners in Eastern Ukraine have been kidnapped, held hostage and tortured by separatists on the pro-Russian side with some having disappeared. Many miners have good reason for not wanting to join Russia, such as the threat of losing their jobs (this page is in Russian, from a mining union in Eastern Ukraine) and the mines being shut down. Antisemitic leaflets have been distributed asking Jews to register their property – initially said to be the product of the separatists but what was almost certainly carried out by someone who either wanted to stir up trouble or to take matters into their own hands. It wasn’t a ‘hoax’ as some people have stated – the leaflets and the people handing them out were all too real. Roma have been attacked and robbed by armed groups wanting to ‘cleanse’ the region of them – one of the spokespeople being a Donetsk separatist who originally joined the Right Sector – remember them? – in Kiev, then went back home to fight for the Russian side when he ‘realized’ that the revolution was ‘controlled by Jews‘. Separatists have even broadcast antisemitic propaganda on television.
Despite Russian propaganda about protesters peacefully defending themselves from fascism life in the areas controlled by separatists has become very frightening indeed. Fascists and neo-Nazis are also taking part in the pro-Russian separatist groups. It is sickening to watch the obscene spectacle of various leftists parading around their anti fascist credentials while cheering on people every bit as racist and violent as anyone involved with the coup in Kiev. Knowing that they will never have to be on the sharp end of their ‘war against fascism’ and feeling comfortable demonizing people to who statues of Lenin and hammers and sickles all too frequently mean imperialism, state repression and murder, and to overlook antifascist fascism when it is staring them in the face. If you are an anti fascist you oppose fascism and neo-nazism at all times and with no exceptions,not just when you feel like it.
These people are part of the ‘Donetsk Republic’ separatist group in eastern Ukraine. The bottom photo was taken in 2012 and shows them posing with other neo-Nazis in the banned Obraz group, notorious for murders of journalists in Russia and Serbia.
More of these antifascist protesters again:
The Russian government, of course, is firmly antifascist, so much so that it has just introduced a law banning the glorification of Nazism. An interesting turn of events given that a Russia 24 TV presenter and her guest had a nice chat about how the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves, and the relationship between the Russian state and a certain Alexander Dugin (see page 107), who has been a key influence on Putin’s foreign and domestic policy and repeatedly appeared on state TV before the Crimea referendum. Dugin is one of the founders of the National Bolshevik Party, notorious for posting pictures of girls in military uniforms on the internet. Dugin wholeheartedly endorses Putin’s Ukraine policy, saying that the south and east of Ukraine ‘welcomes Russia, waits for it, pleads for Russia to come (link broken)‘. Then there’s the Russian state’s tolerance of groups like the notorious Occupy Paedophilia, who made a name for themselves arranging to meet with and torturing gay men and posting the videos online. One of Occupy Paedophilia’s leading figures is a neo-Nazi called Tesak, who began his career filming racist attacks before he entered the field of child protection.
Furthermore, there are high level connections with European far right parties and the Russian state; in Crimea, for example, a range of observers from the European far right including Jobbik were invited to see whether the referendum was ‘free and fair’ and none other than Nick Griffin observed the Russian election in 2011. The far right were useful for the Russian states foreign policy aims – arguing that its intervention in Crimea is justified in the European Parliament for example. The flags of Dugin’s organization, the Eurasian Youth Union, can be seen in this demonstration.
What happened to Crimea anyway since its takeover by the Russian Federation? While Russia’s actions in taking over the peninsula had genuine popular support, and while the Ukrainian government had little control as a part of Ukraine, since the Crimean annexation the Tatars, a group which already faced severe discrimination, have faced government crackdowns and accusations of ‘extremism‘ for, among other things, displaying a Ukrainian flag, and now face the threat of their representative body, the Mejlis, being disbanded.
Given the state’s abysmal record on press freedom, censorship and the murders of journalists that have taken place in Russia, it is not at all cynical to think that rather like ‘anti terror’ laws in the west and prosecution of people for saying ‘we need to start rioting’ on Facebook, this ‘antifascist’ measure is going to be used to stigmatize critics of government policy and shut them up. After all, everyone hates fash, right? Just like the ‘war on terror’, this time there is a ‘war on fascism’ which is simply a way to criminalize dissent and demonize people who do not agree with the separatists Putin’s government is backing. Wonder if they’re going to bang Dugin up for his articles promoting ‘truly revolutionary, authentically fascist fascism‘? Can you guess the answer?
In much the same way, the post-coup Kiev government is talking about ‘special operations’ to fight ‘terrorists’ and one of the posters on the Maidan showed a Russian flag with a swastika superimposed onto it. As one anarchist writer in Ukraine observed, words and symbols change their meaning, and both the Maidan and ‘anti-Maidan’ sides which initially shared similar goals of economic demands, pay rises and workers rights, a better life for ordinary people, against the state and government corruption, rapidly degenerated. Demonizing the Maidan protesters and by extension Ukrainians who want the country to stay together, claiming they were all fascists – what about the anarchists and trade union organizations who stayed in the square despite being attacked by these groups, for example? – can only fuel civil war propaganda and only helps the far right and others who want to intensify this war.
The group in the photo, the ‘Russian Orthodox Army‘ of ‘Orthodox Donbass’, are supporters of Russian National Unity, and followers of Dugin and Alexander Barkashov. On Barkashov’s vkontakte page (a Russian social media site which is the equivalent to Facebook) he talks about ‘real fascism’ in Ukraine, Russia’s victory on the 9th of May and the duty to resist the fash again. His group are kitted out in the St George Ribbon which has become a symbol of Russia’s victory in the war. Again, this new found emphasis towards antifascist militancy is an interesting decision for Alex and National Unity, and marks a bit of a departure for them from their previous work in the well known communist class struggle organization ‘the World Union of National Socialists‘. This is their symbol:
Banging on about resisting fascism in Ukraine and Russia’s victory in the war may seem like a strange thing for Barkashov and his comrades in Eastern Ukraine to do, and its certainly bizarre to Western readers to see images such as this, where a far right group using the colours of an imperial monarchist flag, usually seen alongside swastikas and similar symbols during such events as the ‘Russian March‘ or protests against illegal immigration, marches alongside people who are apparently against Nazis. this is until you consider the chaotic character of the demos on either side, the fact the people marching may be – understandably – more worried about the actions of the ‘enemy’ side – in civil war and the events leading up to it people are forced into choosing a side despite the fact they may hate both of them – and the disconcerting possibility that some of the people marching behind that banner may only in fact be opposing fascism if it is by Ukrainian nationalists.
In actual fact, our friends Orthodox Donbass are behind the anti-Nazi banner. Their vkontakte page is currently recruiting for more antifascist fascists. The self proclaimed leader of the ‘people’s militia’ of Donbass, Pavel Dugarev, is a former member of Russian National Unity who supports the ‘progressive socialist party’ – sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of progression or socialism about this party, which in 2011 joined the ‘People’s Front for Russia’, a coalition of small Russian parties with Putin as its leader. Other far right groups such as a revived version of the Black Hundreds are also involved and the ‘peoples militia’ page includes images of Ukrainian people as monkeys and pigs. In this video from March taken by a Black Hundreds supporter from St Petersburg involved in the anti-Maidan movement in Odessa, Anton Raevsky, one man holds up an antisemitic sign and in a bizarre twist the Kiev government is increasingly accused of being run by both Jews and Nazis.
In Crimea, a memorial to the murdered Jews in Sevastopol during the holocaust was defaced by graffiti saying ‘AFA’, ‘CCCP’ and a hammer and sickle. This doesn’t eve begin to make any sense until you consider that for some people communism and antifascism aren’t the same concepts they are here. While some people view communism as an international movement a lot of people view it as linked with Russian nationalism and the end of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ as a Russian victory against fascism. Similarly, many Ukrainians will have a family history of fighting in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, of which a part collaborated with Hitler while fighting the Soviet Union and carried out atrocities in Poland and elsewhere, despite the fact most Ukrainians suffered appallingly under the Nazis. These red and black colours as opposed to the wolfs hooks and swastikas used by Right Sector etc are often not viewed unfavourably.
I knew people who were involved in the protests against the communist party in Moldova. Some of the people involved in this protest, which like the Maidan demonstrations ended up toppling the government, were fascists. The vast majority were not. If state violence such as that which killed 88 people in Kiev or which resulted in kids from Chisinau being tortured and disappeared in 2009 is regarded as ‘antifascism’ then what are you going to end up thinking that is? The Right Sector and similar groups gained support because of their willingness to fight the government. Imagine if you are on your first protest and then you see your mates get shot, you start to get sympathy for the nationalists because they are the most militant, and then you see the racism of the movement in full swing, you see them attacking people, you realize the enemy isn’t ordinary Russian speakers but the government – if you see people calling you and your dead mates fascist scum and cheering on ‘resistance’ as civil war breaks out in your country what the fuck is that going to do? What exactly are you going to think anti fascism is? Are these people really antifascists?
On the news of a ‘fascist bank’ run by the former governor being set alight by rebels, one commentator remarked, ‘what about all the other banks which still rob from the people’? What about them indeed? The language now routinely used by all sides of the media – ‘Russians’, ‘separatists’ ‘pro-ukrainians’ and so on, does not help, as if there are no other Ukrainians disaffected and worried after a coup, and for that matter no others worried about the prospect of Russian intervention. The war is destroying any form of class solidarity. According to one activist any form of protest or social struggle apart from nationalism is almost dead. Most people do not want war but as the bodies begin to pile up that sentiment will change with people on both sides feeling they have no choice.
Even anarchists and communist activists are not immune from this – could anyone realistically say they would be immune if the same thing happened here? This account talks about anarchists who were involved in anti-Yanukovich demonstrations and were attacked by anti-Maidan protesters – they were forced to defend themselves alongside Right Sector fascists, for a fight and a cause they didn’t want. In this context the stance of groups such as these Donbass anarchistsmust be considered remarkable. Nobody can say how we would react over here.
Unlike the fantasies of the Western and Russian media whether it is comparing Putin to Hitler and assuming that he is personally in constant charge of the armed groups in Eastern Ukraine (or for that matter in the western part – some people have promoted bizarre theories about Right Sector being ‘agent provocateurs’), who at times have even fought each other, or saying that Kiev is governed entirely by ‘neo-Nazis’ rather than an unstable hodge podge of right-wing politicians, fash, military types, random celebrities and oligarchs and supporters of the former government, this is not a rerun of world war 2. The fascists of Right Sector and Svoboda, despite their undoubted influence in the government, have found difficulty pushing forward their own agenda, and Svoboda will almost certainly discredit itself in the eyes of its voters as the IMF’s and EU’s policies are enforced rather than their ‘social national’ ones.
Far from being a thoroughly disciplined Nazi state Kiev is finding it difficult to coordinate its operations, with reports of defections in the military and a town hall in Mariupol being captured by Ukrainian troops then abandoned an hour later. This does not mean that its policies are not causing huge suffering, a state that can’t control parts of the country and is relying on militias, far right or otherwise, to ‘defend the nation from chaos‘ is hardly much better than an authoritarian one. At the same time, the ‘cop-bandit coup’ taking place in the Eastern regions attracts significant support from the security forces, organized crime and local ‘entrepreneurs’.
In 1992 there was a war between Moldova and Transnistria which killed 1500 people and caused 160,000 to become refugees. The rebels were helped by a regiment of the Russian army, mostly made up of locals, who remained, and still remain, as ‘peacekeepers’. The war was justified on the Transnistrian side by the terrible memories of the Romanian Nazi occupation during the second world war, and the fact that the nationalist politicians had changed their flag to one almost identical to the Romanian flag and were openly discussing the prospect of joining Romania, an idea promoted by the extreme right in both countries, although in Moldova it has far wider support due to the perceived economic and defense benefits of the EU and the fact that many Moldovans consider themselves Romanian. Organized crime was heavily involved in the Transnistrian separatist movement. Another Moldovan region, Gagauzia, also came close to war, and was granted some autonomy. People suffered from that war and still do today – I once met a Transnistrian man in a bar who had been playing with his mate and picked something up. He showed me the scars but his mate hadn’t been so lucky.
Transnistria relies heavily on Russia for aid, and when you go there pictures of Putin and Soviet symbols are in evidence on many of the buildings. People even come to this tank to take pictures on their wedding day.
Even this so called frozen conflict looks like it may be optimistic and another parallel is the Balkans. There, extreme-right movements in Croatia and Serbia and to some extent Bosnia and Kosovo, gained significant support and both accused each other of being fascists – Chetniks or Ustase, both with some justification, both regimes attracting support from different sections of the left and various governments, and both attracting military and financial support from different the sections of the extreme right. In Greece, for example, adverts were placed in newspapers to ‘volunteer’ for the Serbian forces, and there is evidence some of these ‘orthodox brothers’ were involved in atrocities in Srebrenica as well as elsewhere; members of Barkashov’s group fought in Bosnia (see ‘Alexander Barkashov and the rise of national socialism in Russia‘ by John Dunlop). Other neo-Nazis from elsewhere in Europe became involved in the Croatian side. The far-right Odessa Druzhina put an ‘appeal to the Serbs‘ on YouTube to help them and several Russian far right activists have been deported from Ukraine. Other Nazis from elsewhere in Europe, such as Sweden, have gone to Kiev to help Right Sector, and both movements are clearly being provided with financial support from overseas.
But this is not to say that most of the people on either side will be far right activists. Most people don’t want war and as in the Balkans it appears to have taken many people by surprise; wars don’t necessarily start because people hate each other. It’s difficult for people to imagine it here. Many of the so-called ‘terrorists’ fighting for the Donetsk Republic and similar entities are just teenagers.
The war in Ukraine, with a population of about 45 million people, has the potential to become even deadlier than the Balkans with the possibility of other countries such as Moldova being drawn in, as well as the threat of a Russian invasion that would cause untold numbers of deaths on both sides. Communists are not pacifists but in what looks increasingly like a bloody ethnic conflict choosing a team to support is not an option. Supporting one side made up of paramilitary killers, mercenaries, arms dealers and their political and business elite, who make money out of war and the desperation and fear it produces, while ignoring indisputable evidence of far right influence and buying into war propaganda is not a genuine antifascist position.