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Nazis in Ukraine

25 Feb

I have been watching the events of the last two weeks or so in absolute horror. The sight of open Nazis in Ukraine with Nazi insignias on their clothes, waving far right flags used in the war by Nazi collaborators and getting, until recently, uncritical coverage in the BBC and other media outlets, fills me with rage and despair, as an antifascist, as a Jew and as a human being 😦

There is however a real risk of any social anger against Yanukovich and his backers in the Kremlin being written off as being driven by the extreme right, a tactic that Russia has made use of before despite an increasingly intolerant and far-right political climate towards gay people, Muslims and other minorities with the Putin regime’s tacit approval. While they have come to be dominated by the extreme right, such as the extreme right wing, antisemitic Svoboda party, one of whose activists established a ‘Joseph Goebbels research centre’ and the the even further right Pravy Sector, initially at least the makeup of the protests was a lot more mixed and included left-wingers and even anarchists. The character of the protests changed when neo-Nazi activists were able to overpower other groups protesting, by for example smashing up a stall by Ukrainian trade unions in the square. The fact that they were physically more well prepared and well armed put the fascists at the forefront of most of the fighting against the police and government. They were able to set up barricades deciding who came in and out of the protest camps and most of these were dominated by far-right groups. However even now the protests are not fully dominated by Nazis – many homeless people came to the protest camps for example attracted by the free food.

It may seem unusual in the UK but protests with this sort of mixed character are not unusual in Eastern Europe. In 2009 for example, there were protests in Moldova against the Communist Party who at the time controlled the country. These protests eventually forced the removal of the governing party and resulted in a victory for a coalition of ‘pro-European’ parties, some of whom, but not all, included the extreme right. Russia was quick to allege fascist involvement in the protests, a charge that didn’t really stick given the wide range of people involved in them. But there was a grain of truth involved in these claims. The protests split the country with many Russian speakers, rural people and older people being against them and shocked by the disorder. On the other hand fascist groups were involved in the protests as well as ordinary people, leftists and ‘liberal‘ pro EU nationalists such as the ‘Hyde Park‘ group (portrayed in western media as a liberal, pro-European integration group, but when I took their leaflet on a demonstration I walked past while I was living there, I discovered it was racist).

Although I do have some time for some of the activists in this group and others of a similar political nature, the insipid pro-EU liberalism of these organisations as a whole, and uncritical attitude towards anything which opposes Russia, leaves much to be desired – their politics don’t tend to go further beyond the idea that “we should join the EU and all be nicer to each other”, and with the implied idea being that EU integration, likely to be opposed by Russians, is itself a good idea in itself, that it will automatically make the country more prosperous etc – and that the only “problem” is Russia. Thus in these social movements and organisations you get liberals, pro-EU “economic liberals” and free-market types alongside social democrats and leftists who think that joining the EU will lead to a more “european style” democracy and standard of living – and fascists, who will have very different motivations for wanting closer ties to the West from the above, but the vagueness and apolitical liberal nature of the above means it’s easy for them to support it or to be supportive. When there I came across a few people who supported government austerity plans and supported the EU because they imagined that they would largely impact old Russian people who were “communists” – these plans were popularised on this basis, too.

Groups like Hyde Park are often in favour of human rights and campaign for very reasonable things, but they also campaign against things like “the russification of the national curriculum”. Being pro-western and pro-EU usually implicitly means the increased use of the national language – and the marginalisation of the Russian language. It is doubtful whether many of these groups would organise protests against for example, Romanian and Ukrainian nationalists in the same way.

In addition, irredentist nationalist slogans such as ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc‘ (Bessarabia is Romanian land) were common during these protests, some people (not all of them far-right) thinking that closer integration to the EU would be a way to reunite with Romania, something which is by no means only supported by the extreme right but is promoted by them as the answer to the country’s problems – an answer that by implication excludes Russians. A closer look at the groups promoting this ideology reveals racism against Russians and Jews as well as extreme homophobia. I once looked out of the window on the way to work and saw protesters with Romanian flags, ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc’ and the Celtic cross on a black background leaving you in no doubt as to where they were politically.

Here’s a video of Moldovan fascists marching to be part of Romania.

When I was there the new Moldovan government introduced an austerity programme which included, for example, ending free bus travel for pensioners. Surprisingly this received a bit of public support from some people I met who initially at least saw these policies as targeted at old Russians and Communist Party supporters. One of these people also told me that “our language is very dirty, with a lot of Russian words”. On my way to work I used to walk past a headquarters of a religious group with an icon of Jesus and Mary facing the traffic – facing inward was a billboard alleging a conspiracy between Jews and the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church complete with “photo evidence”, a surprising theory given that this church has been caught selling copies of the Protocols and other extreme-right literature in Russia.

That said most people I met there who had been involved in the protests or were at least supportive of them were definitely not fascist, but were very dissatisfied by the inequality presided over by the Communist Party and also, frequently, actual and perceived discrimination in favour of the Russian minority. They were in the majority of cases motivated by real and justified anger at the government, and in the moldovan case fash were in a definite minority. The protesters occupied government buildings and struck at the power of the state. You have to remember that the left in these places is practically non existent and where it does exist the organized left isn’t worthy of the name, being bag carriers for the Kremlin and presiding over neoliberal policies and corruption, promoting Russian nationalism and trading on Soviet nostalgia, but with something far nastier frequently lurking underneath – the former communist president of Moldova describing a black opposition activist as ‘a negro who came down from a tree’ . The lack of a left that is not nostalgic for the soviet union and with it, Russian rule over the ‘backward’ eastern european countries, itself a key idea in Russian imperialist nationalism has been one of the contributory factors that has opened the gateway for the extreme right.

The fact that Russian far-righters have been involved on the opposite side to the Maidan protesters, and, ludicrously, that the police have reputedly been told that the protesters are led by Jews despite clear evidence of fascist involvement, demonstrates that the idea that Yanukovich’s regime and the Kremlin are motivated by antifascism is hard to swallow, as is Putin’s claim that he is against corruption and imperialism when the regime is perfectly happy to tolerate their own oligarchs and use Russian military bases in former soviet countries as a way to control them.

With that in mind however, it is clear that the far right have played a huge part in the Ukrainian protests, bigger than their part in Moldova or even for that matter in the Orange Revolution in 2007, where groups such as UNA-UNSO, a paramilitary organization which was one of the forerunners of Svoboda, played a role in the demonstrations, and several figures in Viktor Yushchenko’s party had links to them. By unbreaking the link above BTW you can see an odd article combining a call for Ukraine to join the EU with antisemitic statements about ‘Jewish lords’. It is estimated that around 30% of protesters are involved in far-right groups such as Svoboda and Pravy Sector and many more will sympathise with them, especially because these neo-Nazis have been doing the bulk of the fighting with the government. Even more concerning is the fact it looks likely that Svoboda may enter a coalition in the new government. This used to be their old logo by the way:

Svoboda's original logo. nice huh?

If Russia’s conduct has been grotesque as they try to portray themselves as a bulwark against fascism it has been equally sickening to see the UK government portray these events as entirely peaceful protesters while Nazi symbols have been on display and protesters have been photographed with weapons, wearing helmets and shields with far-right leaders screaming about how they want to kill their enemies. The images of lynch mobs and ‘government supporters’ forced to pray at shrines for dead protesters (when they say government supporters what does that mean, officials or just some poor random Russian?) And the reports that Nazi propaganda has now been legalized are extremely disturbing – whether or not we should have such a law it’s a strange priority for a new government. The images of these “friendly protesters” daubing Celtic crosses and SS symbols on areas they occupied should worry anyone.


The more disturbing part of this is the entirely uncritical attitude of the EU and the American government, describing the protesters as being ‘peaceful’ even when they are photographed with fascist insignia and weapons. It is, to pit it mildly, very unlikely that Ukraine will become a Nazi dictatorship to say the least. One of the candidates for the new president, Klitschko, looks like an apolitical figurehead brought in on the basis of his popularity elsewhere, and he is far from being universally popular with the protesters at Maidan, especially not the organized far right. Like most of the high profile politicians there such as Yulia Timoshenko, the corrupt ‘gas princess’ feted by the west and seemingly transformed into some sort of Aung Sung Suu Kyi figure, Klitschko has had his own rumours of corruption such as a doping scandal.

It may even be that Yanukovich’s old party get back in at the next elections. We don’t know, all sorts of scenarios could play themselves out. However the deeply concerning thing for now is the possibility of further ethnic violence in both Ukrainian and Russian areas – already there are reports of Crimeans in Sevastopol holding ‘antifascist’ rallies to ‘defend Russia’. In the early 1990s the leaders of the pro-Russian separatist breakaway state of Pridnestrovie (Transnistria) used pro-Romanian and anti-Russian sentiments by Moldovan nationalist leaders such as the slogan “Suitcase – train station – Russia”, to justify breaking away from Moldova. The fears people had of the possible consequences of Moldovan independence were very real given that during the 1940s the Nazis had turned the area into a giant death camp.

And in addition the very real likelihood of attacks on, for example, Jews – in the last few months several antisemitic attacks have taken place and there are reports of Jews being threatened and told to get out of the country – as well as Crimean Tartars who often traditionally identify with Ukraine in an area that is majority Russian and who are discriminated against and tend to have a far higher poverty and unemployment rate than the rest of the population as it is, having been deported by Stalin and only allowed to start returning at the end of the 1970s.

The wider implications of the protests and what they mean for the far-right will be felt for a long time to come. While it is very unlikely that the far right will emerge completely victorious and the leaders of a new Ukrainian Reich, as some of the more hysterical commentary from pro Russian sources has seemed to imply, this is a huge victory for the far right and they are extremely strengthened by it, they have grown in confidence and gained a fair amount of experience and some public support, despite the fact that the majority of Ukrainians have not participated in the protests and nowhere near the numbers of, for example, Egyptians who did. The repercussions of this will be felt for a long time to come. At the level below the top echelons of the state institutions like MAUP, the Ukrainian university which had ex KKK leader David Duke to speak and routinely gives ‘lectures’ attacking Jews, will feel more confident in propagating their views now they know they can do so with impunity.

Some further thoughts.

It is difficult for leftists to argue in these countries that there was anything good about for example Lenin and Trotsky when many Eastern Europeans experienced even Lenin’s rule as a brutal occupation and following his death the cult of Lenin became inextricably linked with the Soviet state and Russian rule. The whole concept and vocabulary surrounding ‘communism’ has for a lot of people become linked to ethnicity (although austerity measures, rising inequality and attacks on already shit pay and conditions affect everyone regardless of ethnicity) therefore especially here, taking all your views from these ‘dead Russians’ is unlikely to be helpful, one reason perhaps why Trotskyism never took off there).

There is a worrying tendency in many eastern European countries for some people within the state to take advantage of the bitterness that people feel about the Soviet occupation and communist rule and use this to argue that the Nazi occupation was as bad, or less bad than what happened under communism. Ironically these trends started to develop in some countries under communism itself with Ceausescu arguing before his death that Antonescu, the fascist leader during the war, had in fact been a national hero. Likewise in Ukraine, the Holodomor (the famine in the 1930s which killed millions of people) has become a cornerstone of the far-right, who have used popular anger about the suppression of information about this issue and the lack of recognition about it, especially in Russia, as a way to promote nationalist conspiracy theories and far-right ideology.

In Hungary, much of the Jewish community have boycotted the official commemorations of the holocaust because they whitewash Hungary’s involvement in the war and refuse to admit that the government did anything wrong. A similar trend has emerged in Lithuania, where the EU has actively assisted in propagating this agenda, and where leading politicians have described Nazi sympathizers during the war as heroes and partisans and anti-Nazi fighters as criminals. And the EU are somehow absolutely fine with this state of affairs just as they are with the ‘peaceful protesters’ in Ukraine.

'peaceful' protesters

Watching this from over here makes me feel so powerless. Not really much else I can say. And yeah I know I don’t have links to back up everything I’ve said here but it’s late, work in the morning and I’ll put them in tomorrow or over the next few days. Comments, criticisms etc always welcome.

Meanwhile back in the real world … the curious case of steve topley

28 Apr

If the story is as it seems to be there are truly disturbing implications. Not only could you have your support cut off for saying the wrong thing or getting to an ATOS assessment on a “good day” rather than a bad one (or you might have it cut off anyway) now you could well be locked up for a casual comment.

Although ATOS staff have medical training there is actually no obligation for confidentiality as there would be in a medical setting – so people are falling foul of it because of what they say, imagining it’s confidential.

Load of bollocks …

9/11 truthers made to look like twats again.

18 Mar

if you know me at all you may be aware of my feelings on the so-called 9/11 “truth” movement which in my opinion is snake oil to sucker the gullible emotionally and financially at best and at worst a gateway to fascism. Either way it has nothing to do with the truth about 9/11 and in fact hampers any efforts to investigate the real facts of that day and its leading proponents, Alex Jones, David Icke, Nick Kollerstrom etc make their living through utter parasitism.

Given this I found this hilarious. One of them was called up in court for refusal to pay his TV license on the grounds that the BBC is a “terrorist organisation”, they thought it could be a chance to air their “views” in a “court of law” (actually only a tiny magistrate’s court). Things did not go according to plan however.

A couple of Mondays ago, on a cold, colorless morning at 9am sharp, I found myself in the singular predicament of joining the back of a queue of around fifteen 9/11 “Truthers” in a dismal magistrates’ court in Horsham, a small English town about an hour from London. These Truthers were mostly male, middle aged, and—I’m sorry to say—a little stinky.

Their conversation sounded something like this:

“… you believe that you’ll believe anything…”

“…Building Seven…”

“… Osama Bin Laden, don’t make me laugh…”

And the delightful…

“… other than the lizard thing—which I personally don’t have any great problem with—everything else that man has said has been spot-on…”

More here. Enjoy 🙂

Thanks capitalists.

23 Feb

For making fleeing domestic violence a financial impossibility for many people once again. At the same time as trumpeting progress by talking about things like the number of women in the boardroom.

Doesn’t it make you sick. Revolution can’t come soon enough.

The world is their playground.

20 Feb

The world is their playground.

I am going to write about something that I have been meaning to look into in more depth for a while. As you may be aware the Cambridge Union recently asked Marine Le Pen to speak.

Oxbridge student unions are no stranger to right wing freaks.

In the past Julian Assange, international fugitive from rape charges and hero of conspiracy loons and “anti-imperialists” everywhere has been invited to speak to the Oxford Union via video link, and they invited Nick Griffin to speak a few years before that.

On a thread on urban75 my attention was drawn to another incident where the “liberal” president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, who has been in favour of affirmative action and refused to allow an army-based program onto its campus because of its discrimination against gay people, invited Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to speak on its campus. A head of state whose hands are dripping with the blood of political opponents and trade unionists, who openly tortures people, who uses anti-semitic propaganda to bolster support for his regime.

When you think that YOUR intellectual curiosity exists in a vacuum devoid of any social responsibility, that you can ignore the motives of people coming to speak to you and treat the place simply as a “forum for robust debate” you are in effect treating the world and everyone in it simply as a playground, as one poster there put it, for your intellectual curiosity. A world where nothing else matters except YOU and whether YOU “develop” personally – and what kind of development? A world where the “debate” of “ideas” (in fact nothing so high minded, just networking opportunities and opportunities for people like Le Pen to persuade the up and coming bourgeoisie of other countries that they are “moderate” and “reasonable”) occurs independently of anything else and where nothing else matters except the members of that debating society themselves. A world where these ideas and the situations that produced them exist independently of any real world consequences and any struggle.

I am writing this article because I want to respond to a truly terrible piece in the Independent in which it is argued that

There’s a difference between Nick Griffin showboating for votes on national television and Le Pen exposing her views to the ridicule of a few curious students

The problems begin with the article immediately. While it is true that there is a difference (I’ll come to that later) Le Pen is said to be “exposing her views to the ridicule of a few curious students” rather than being on *shock! Horror!* television, “showboating for votes”. As if Le Pen is simply exposing herself to “ridicule” rather than trying to get votes and influence, as all politicians do. Secondly there is no guarantee that her views would have been ridiculed at all!

Nick Griffin himself went to Cambridge, where he studied history, then law – or was this lost on the writer of the Independent piece?

Finally, it hardly needs saying that the Cambridge Union are hardly a just a “group of curious students” – notable alumni include Ken Clarke, Michael Howard and Vince Cable, and the Cambridge Union have hosted several other guests from Ronald Reagan to Gaddafi, still described on their website in glowing terms.

The Cambridge Union is deemed to be better than Question Time – er, why? Because Question Time is targeted at a mass audience? I think it’s somewhat more than that. The entire piece is based on a mistrust of the working class who should not be trusted with hearing fascist ideas whereas the Cambridge Union are, despite the fact that the backgrounds many of them will have grown up in, the sense of entitlement, of belonging to an elite, cleverer, more powerful, perhaps superior to the rest of the population, and the resulting lack of contact with working class people and ethnic minorities could well contribute to a sympathy with the politics of the extreme right. Such an event would hardly be without precedence.

The beginning of the article opens with the claim that “the critics say that giving the MEP – who was re-elected for the second time in 2009 – a platform to speak at the Cambridge Union gives her ideas legitimacy and free publicity. Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students’ Officer, has even demanded “the invitation to fascist Marine Le Pen [be] withdrawn immediately.”” Oh the audacity of him to demand that the representative of a party with a history of far-right views in a country which has hardly been noted for its fantastic record on racial relations is pulled out of such a debate.

The article goes on to say that Marine Le Pen doesn’t need free publicity, that she appeared supporting David Cameron’s stance on Europe a few days ago, and is now part of the mainstream. Later on it goes on to say that the Cambridge Union address will be a chance to show her how wrong she – and the FN’s British counterparts – are when they attempt to make far-right views part of mainstream society. It is confused, incoherent nonsense and all of it is wrong.

The article itself says that she is mainstream. She even supports David Cameron’s stance on Europe – well, so that’s OK then! Although we have a far-right government in power which has introduced workfare schemes and other draconian changes to the benefit system and is driving down working and living conditions, and although successive labour and tory governments have tried to head off far-right opposition by adopting, in name at least, much of their rhetoric and demands such as “british jobs for british workers”, it is not so far fetched that many of the students at Cambridge will not only be supporters of the Tory party but may be sympathetic to views that are further right than the official line of that party. If their views really are so similar then why would the idea of Le Pen convincing some of the people hearing her talk be so far fetched?

The article talks dismissively of a “prolonged debate about whether we should deny the far right a platform”. In the case of the Cambridge Union this is rather like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Suffice to say the principle of stopping fascists from speaking, breaking up their meetings, etc, in periods where the extreme right have been on the rise, is not simply a matter of interfering with “free speech” and spoiling these people’s fun. In the past it has been a matter of survival.

We have to look at the “very specific context” here, we are told, because rather than being on Question Time where all those chavvy proles are in the audience or watching on television, Le Pen will be speaking to a small audience predominantly made up of students. This makes a fundamental difference apparently – students at one of the country’s elite universities are inoculated against far-right views, even though they are “mainstream” and close to David Cameron’s. I think it may well make a difference but not in the way the author of this article thinks.

One of the arguments for allowing her to speak is because students who may be studying the rise of the far right will have an opportunity to see her squirm, “Paxman-like”. If they are Cambridge students they will surely have access to other material about the far right, and in any case she will have been on her best behaviour. She is speaking to people, many of whom will in all likelihood become a future political elite and she needs to persuade them that she is not an extremist, that she is “moderate”. That she is somebody they can do business with. Secondly a massive assumption is being made here, that watching Question Time (with Newsnight hardly the most proletarian show on earth, vanishingly few people watch it and those who do are probably already somewhat familiar with what fascism is) or another television programme where a fascist politician is interviewed cannot offer a similar insight. The unwashed masses who watch Question Time (!) are not to be trusted, Cambridge University denizens are.

After all, it’s an academic environment! Well, that’s me told!

“Those in the auditorium will at the very least have a brief background of Le Pen and will know to be sceptical of the dangerous words being uttered.”

The dangerous words like supporting the European policies of the British Tory Party, of which many of them will be enthusiastic supporters of? Didn’t think so! Why is it assumed that going to an elite university means you are clever, that you are able to distinguish in the rarefied atmosphere of a debating society that Le Pen’s words are “dangerous” yet many of the people watching television programmes, who have to face issues such as racism, discrimination, and so on and are at the sharp end of it, are somehow too stupid with their “vague notions of what a politician might stand for” to be trusted to hear the words of the extreme right – who are not so extreme now after all! She will downplay all of the FN’s troublesome racist past and pass for reasonable. But it’s all right people – “those in the audience will be well aware of this”. That’s OK then.

The whole article is symptomatic of the elitist bollocks that passes for journalism in the realms of the Independent and the Guardian. Rather than being dumb proles with their “vague notions of what a politician might stand for” (as if there are no students, especially not in Oxford or Cambridge, without a clue about politics) the Cambridge students “will force an answer on subjects that she has tried to avoid”. Not just might. Will. They will force an answer! Rather than allowing politicians to dodge questions as usual or to stop her political opponents from speaking because of arcane “points of order”, no! They will! They will force an answer!

There’s an assumption that because she’s not looking for votes this is somehow harmless. Are votes the only form of political influence – are they even the main form of political influence that matters these days?

The article gives the conclusion that “it will be up to the audience to show her just how wrong she is, and why nationalist parties such as her British counterpart the BNP do not have a place in British society.” Will it really be up to them – and will they even want to, or will they, like Nick Griffin and many other bourgeois and upper class fash here and in France, end up playing a key role in the development of such parties? Such massive assumptions and such fawning over the elite vanguard saving us all from the far right.

The world really is their playground. No responsibilities and certainly no consequences.