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On the internet there is a tongue-in-cheek axiom known as Godwin’s Law.
It holds that in online discussions on any conceivable topic it is only a matter of time before someone compares their opponent to Hitler or the nazis.
It applies to Western media narratives too — Nasser, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Gadaffi, Assad and lately Putin have been cast in the role.
It’s a favoured device of self-styled liberals eager to justify a new round of sanctions or “humanitarian” conflict.
But there’s a counter law — let’s call it the Harding Hypothesis — which strains to avoid the use of the term “fascist” to describe movements that fit the designation like a glove.
Much of the Guardian’s coverage of events in Ukraine has followed this path. Reports on the killing of an activist from Oleh Tyahnybok’s Svoboda Party by Oksana Grytsenko and Luke Harding are a case in point.
Svoboda openly glorifies Waffen SS veterans, anti-semites and nazi allies. Its MPs have physically attacked Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko when he was speaking in parliament.
Yet Grystenko and Harding wrote of Svoboda: “Tyahnybok’s party is nationalist in orientation and took an active role in the street protests in February that saw Yanukovych flee to Russia.
“The pro-Ukrainian party, which was previously in opposition, has four ministerial posts in the new government.”
The Guardian has run several similar pieces in recent weeks, downplaying Svoboda’s ideological character and ridiculing Russia’s denunciation of “fascists” as Kremlin-inspired propaganda.
Even the committed leftist academic Alex Callinicos has written of “the exaggeration of the role of the extreme right in the anti-Yanukovych movement.”
The precise fascist paramilitary role in the Euro-Maidan protests is still unclear, but it appears to have been a major element in escalating violence between what had originally been largely peaceful protests and the security forces.
Back in February, before Yanukovych’s fall, Associated Press reported: “When the protests started in December, attracting not only tens of thousands of Ukrainians but a flurry of visits from Western officials, the gatherings’ determined peacefulness was an integral part of their claim to legitimacy.
“But in mid-January the image of placid but principled people changed sharply, to frightening scenes of protesters heaving stones and firebombs at police.”
One London-based photographer, Tom Jamieson, who created a portfolio of the Euro-Maidan protests, told Wired.com: “Every single person without fail had a club or a bat or something like that. You couldn’t help but notice the DIY nature of the whole thing, from the barricades themselves to the totally inadequate body armour that people were wearing, and the weapons as well. It looked like something out of Mad Max, it was crazy.”
“Jamieson says he did see evidence of more substantial weaponry on the protesters’ side, including automatic weapons, but those were carefully kept out of view in order to avoid escalating the violence.”
In early March, leaked excerpts from a telephone call between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton suggested that agent provocateurs may have been involved in some kind of false flag operation, which quickly forced some rapid back-pedalling from Paet and a no comment from Ashton.
The murky links between the fascist paramilitary groups and the “respectable” neoliberals in power in Kiev therefore remains an intriguing topic.
Certainly it is simplistic to view the post-coup coalition installed in Kiev as fascist. After all, it includes “pro-Western,” read neoliberal, conservatives as well as those “nationalist in orientation.” The tensions between these two forces did not take long to erupt in violence and protests.
Oleksandr Muzychko, leader of the fascist paramilitary group Right Sector, was killed in dubious circumstances by Ukrainian special forces on March 25. Muzychko had reputedly boasted that he would fight against “communists, Jews and Russians for as long as blood flows in my veins.”
Conspiracy theorists had a field day with four conflicting accounts of Muzychko’s killing already in circulation within less than 24 hours, ranging from suicide to the extra-judicial execution of a man who knew too much.
The official explanation given by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry ad hoc investigation commission could have come straight from a Dario Fo farce.
Ukraine’s Interfax news agency reported that: “Based on the questioning of witnesses and experts, a conclusion has been made that, when policemen knocked Muzychko down, he ‘fired two shots at law enforcement officers, causing himself a perforating wound.’
“After that, in an attempt to fire another shot, he miscalculated his own movements and the bullet trajectory due to physical force applied to him by policemen and shot himself right in the heart,” the Interior Ministry said.
“Following another shot, when Muzychko was already dead, policemen, not realising this fact, took away his gun and handcuffed him.”
So when wrestled to the ground, Muzychko shot himself twice, the second time after he was dead, and then highly trained special forces unknowingly disarmed and then cuffed a corpse.
Not surprisingly this script for “Accidental Death of a Fascist” was dismissed by Muzychko’s comrades who demanded the resignation of the interior minister and surrounded the Ukrainian parliament building for several days.
The stand-off only ended when police forced the Right Sector to evacuate its headquarters at Kiev’s Dnipro Hotel after a Right Sector member went on a shooting spree, wounding three people, among them Kiev city administration first deputy head Bohdan Dubas.
ight Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh, who turned down a government post to run for president on May 25, has published his manifesto. It calls for a nuclear Ukraine, the sacking of 65 per cent of public-sector workers, closer links with the European Union and Nato as well as the tripling of military spending.
Yarosh is unlikely to win much in the way of electoral support — opinion polls show him barely registering 2 per cent — but that is hardly likely to worry Right Sector, which will undoubtedly use its street-fighting tactics, arms and paramilitary bases to capitalise on the inevitable social discontent generated by the EU-supported austerity programme.
Before its dissolution into Right Sector, Muzychko and Yarosh were members of the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People’s Self-Defence. This was an organisation initially led by Yuriy Shukhevych, son of Roman Shukhevych, a wartime nazi collaborator and member of the Bandera wing of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B). The elder Shukhevych had in fact been trained in a Gestapo espionage school in Zakopane in German-occupied Poland during 1939–40.
In 1943, as the war was clearly turning against their nazi allies, thousands of OUN-B supporters deserted the police forces and formed the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). The same year, other Ukrainian fascists directly joined the nazis, who faced by a resurgent Red Army, formed the Waffen SS “Galicia” Division of Western Ukrainians.
Apologists for the UPA attempt to portray it as a purely nationalist group unencumbered by links to the nazis, even to the extent of claiming that its infrequent clashes with German occupation forces shows that it was patriotism not fascism that motivated them.
Yet according to Ivan Katchanovksi of Ottowa University: “At the end of 1943, the UPA and the OUN-B leaders conducted secret negotiations that resulted in tactical collaboration with Abwehr, I-C, and the Wehrmacht, and the Hungarian military, against the Red Army and partisans. It involved, in particular, secret agreements by the UPA not to attack the Axis forces, collect and supply of intelligence by the UPA, training of radio operators and supply of weapons to the UPA.”
With scarcely any Ukrainian Jews left alive, the UPA still managed to account for another 1,000 of their deaths, as well as kill thousands of Soviet partisans and civilians, but for a period the full brunt of Ukrainian fascism was visited on the region’s Polish minority.
In April 1943 Mykola Lebed, the leader of OUN-B after Bandera and Stetsko had been detained by the nazis, proposed “to cleanse the entire revolutionary territory” of the Polish population.
Roman Shukhevych, by now a UPA commander, issued the following order on 25 February 1944: “In view of the success of the Soviet forces it is necessary to speed up the liquidation of the Poles; they must be totally wiped out, their villages burned … only the Polish population must be destroyed.”
This second genocidal assault claimed the lives of as many as 90-100,000 ethnic Poles in Western Ukraine. It exposes the lie that the UPA was involved in a two-front war against nazi and Soviet totalitarianism.
Rather, the conflict was between the illusions of Ukrainian fascists fighting for a racially pure state of their own, versus the realities of German fascist plans to ultimately annex Ukrainian territory and kill or subjugate all “racially inferior” Slavic peoples.
During his presidency the “pro-Western” Viktor Yushchenko awarded Roman Shukhevych the posthumous title of Hero of Ukraine.
What neither the liberal left nor the ultra-left acknowledge is that in no other European country since 1945 has the legacy of a fascist and genocidal movement been embraced not just by an extremist fringe but across the political right. It is this unique situation in the Ukraine that should alarm all anti-fascists.
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