Nationalism

Understanding Ukraine

A group of researchers and specialists in the field of Ukrainian nationalism studies, headed by Andreas Umland, has posted a statement and petition addressed to journalists, commentators and analysts writing and broadcasting about the EuroMaidan protest movement.

In particular, the statement focuses on the role of far right groups in Ukraine’s protest movement, and a warning about the Russian imperialism-serving effects of some supposedly anti-fascist media reports from Kyiv.

The statement notes that

the movement as a whole merely reflects the entire Ukrainian population, young and old. The heavy focus on right-wing radicals in international media reports is, therefore, unwarranted and misleading. Such an over-representation may have more to do with the sensationalist potential of extremely ethnonationalistic slogans, symbols or uniforms than with the actual situation, on the ground.

We even suspect that, in some semi-journalistic reports, especially those in Kremlin-influenced mass media, the inordinate attention to far right elements in Ukraine’s protest movement has nothing to do with anti-fascism. Paradoxically, the production, biases and dissemination of such reports may themselves be driven by an imperial form of ultra-nationalism – in this case, its Russian permutation. By fundamentally discrediting one of the most impressive mass actions of civil disobedience in the history of Europe, such reports help to provide a pretext for Moscow’s political involvement, or, perhaps, even for a Russian military intervention into Ukraine, like in Georgia in 2008.

On his blog the researcher and editor Anton Shekhovtsov has provided a detailed analysis of the pro-Kremlin network behind the anti-Ukrainian defamation campaign now being conducted in various branches of media and online. Shekhovtsov writes that

There has been a huge tide of false, incorrect and bloated reports that exaggerate or over-emphasize the significance of the far right in the current Euromaidan protests in Ukraine. A Moscow-based journalist Alec Luhn writes in The Nation about “the Ukrainian nationalism at the heart of ‘Euromaidan’“, a leftist Seumas Milne argues in The Guardian that “in Ukraine, fascists, oligarchs and western expansion are at the heart of the crisis“, while a self-styled “independent geopolitical analyst” Eric Draitser, in his nauseatingly misleading piece for his own Stop Imperialism (later re-published by The Centre for Research on Globalization), even goes so far as to claim that “the violence on the streets of Ukraine […] is the latest example of the rise of the most insidious form of fascism that Europe has seen since the fall of the Third Reich”.

These and many other similar articles are all written according to the same pattern, and their aim is to discredit the Euromaidan protests as the manifestations of fascism, neo-Nazism or – at the very least – right-wing extremism.

 

Misunderstanding Maidan

This post by Brian Whitmore on Radio Liberty’s The Power Vertical blog appears to be based on a misunderstanding of what the Maidan protests in Ukraine are all about. Noting the rise of right-wing nationalism among younger Russians, Whitmore draws a parallel between this phenomenon and the presence of nationalist groups among the Ukrainian protesters:

This politically active youth has no memories of — and certainly no nostalgia for — the multiethnic Soviet Union. In Russia, this manifests itself in the antimigrant slogan “Russia for Russians” as well as in opposition to what nationalists call Vladimir Putin’s “Chekist regime.” In Ukraine, it manifests itself in a yearning to be free of Moscow’s influence and meddling — which all too often veers into overt Russophobia.

Perhaps the “overt Russophobia” should rather be seen as an expression of Ukrainian lack of “nostalgia” for the Soviet Union. As Andreas Umland is quoted as pointing out in an article recently published in the Financial Times, the nationalist groups in Ukraine represent only a small minority of the protesters

and have no chance of “becoming parliamentary or taking over”, even if the protests succeed in toppling Mr Yanukovich.

By all the evidence, the Ukraine opposition is largely democratic and anti-fascist. In Russia the situation is different: there the Bolotnaya protesters are a dwindling minority, while a Putin-enabled takeover by fascist or nationalist forces remains a real possibility. The “Rusomaidan” envisaged in the Power Vertical post looks unlikely to materialize.

Better Russia

New_Russia_on_territory_of_UkraineIn Slon, Leonid Ragozin takes a long and searching look at the twin identities of Ukraine. In the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine he sees a “Better Russia”:

It’s a more peaceful country with a better climate and less abrasive manners than Russia, a country where Russian military personnel and “northern” oil pensioners still go to live out their days as before, and to where  – as in Cossack times – the Empire’s more freedom-loving, enterprising and talented citizens escape.

And this alternative Russia, unlike the original, has a chance in our lifetime to become part of a Greater Europe, to achieve its standards of state governance and quality of life. Such a Russia will, more than Ukrainians themselves, be interested in preserving Ukrainian statehood  because this will be the guarantee of its survival and success. If you really need a single, albeit diverse, Ukrainian nation, then it is with the help of such a Russia that it will be built.

Instead of relying on a narrow and sometimes intolerant Ukrainian nationalism, Ragozin thinks, the Euromaidan movement would do better to maximize its appeal to this “other Russia”. After all, he points out, the movement’s most prominent  leader, Vitali Klichko, is a boxer trained in the  Soviet army and with direct experience of the authoritarian and “athletic” mentality typical of the so-called “titushki” who are charged with maintaining support for Yanukovych’s government.  If Klichko could extend his influence to this constituency, and even become its leader, Ragozin believes that

there would be no need for the fighters of the Right Sector, the Molotov cocktails and medieval catapults: the Berkut would take him to the Rada and to Bankova.

After reading this the only question that occurs to me is whether the influence of Putin and Great Russian chauvinism may not now be more widespread among Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population than Ragozin is prepared to admit.

Pogrom in St Petersburg

A camera follows a group of Russian nationalists as they make the rounds of St Petersburg fruit stalls run by migrants from Central Asia and the south of Russia, overturning and stealing the fruit and threatening the migrants – mostly women and elderly men –  with baseball bats. The police back up the nationalists, first standing idly and approvingly by while the intimidation takes place, and then detaining many of the migrants on suspicion of illegal status.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ju4LUSMFu8

Hat tip: Marina Litvinovich on Twitter

The Catastrophe

On June 22 – the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia in 1941 – the Russian “intellectual nationalist” website Sputnik  & Pogrom published an article with the title The Birthday of Hope that lamented the outcome of what is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. “In speaking of the ‘catastrophe’ of  June 22,” the article’s author wrote,

Soviet – and also post-Soviet – propaganda only partly tells a lie. A catastrophe did indeed take place. However, it took place not on the battlefields but in the minds of the human beings who made up the “new historical community” – the Soviet people. On June 22, 1941, in the minds of the millions of Stalin’s slaves was born a HOPE that gave rise to a military disaster which put the Stalinist tyranny on the edge of destruction.

On June 22 1941 it was suddenly discovered that there were forces in the world that could challenge the Stalinist cannibals. And the millions of slaves felt that the bloody communist rule, with all its party committees, collective farms and gulags – was not forever, that THINGS COULD BE DIFFERENT. For the first time in twenty years, people had the opportunity to choose, and there were very many who did.

The article makes no attempt to justify Nazism – the author says that “socialists always deceive, and the National Socialists were no exception.” But it does make a radical break with the received wisdom about 1941, a break viewed by some as amounting to blasphemy. There were calls for the author and his editor to be imprisoned. Some saw an irony in the fact that the loudest of these calls came from the pages of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda in an article by the shadowy WikiLeaks journalist Israel Shamir, with a photograph of Yegor Prosvirnin headed Why is he still not in jail? Shamir attacked Russia’s liberal and centre-right  intellectuals, claiming that their supposedly enlightened views are really a mask for Nazi sympathies.

In a reply published on the Sputnik & Pogrom website, Prosvirnin retorted:

I swore an oath to Russia and to the Russian people… You, collective deputy Yarovaya and collective publicist Shamir, are not Russia and are not the Russian people… Why are you still not in jail, deputy Yarovaya? Why are you still not in jail, Israel Shamir? Why are you still not in jail, Vladimir Putin? Why are you still not in jail, Treasonous Federation? Why?

See also: Intellectual Nationalism

Russians and Rossians

At WoE, Paul Goble has translated extracts from a recent interview with Eduard Popov, head of research at the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, on the subject of Russian nationalism and its current move towards ethnic separatism. Today, Popov notes,

Moscow faces a rising tide of ‘ethnic Russian separatism based on nationalist attitudes’ precisely because the RSFSR of Soviet times has not become a Russian nation state.

To get away from this danger Popov believes that

the country must stop trying to use “the discredited definition” term for non-ethnic Russian (rossiyanin).  “This term is an anachronism which was adopted by liberal ‘Yeltsins’ as an ideological mechanism for suppressing Russian ethnic identity.”  Moreover, “there are no rossiyane; there is an [ethnic] Russian political nation.”