Fascist fighters are at the heart of a new paramilitary force that can already muster thousands on the streets of Kiev. The paramilitaries are openly recruiting, carrying out combat training and marching in Ukraine’s capital.
[UPDATE 18 Feb 2014, 11.30am: These are the people in combat gear you can see in the news, besieging the Ukrainian parliament right now. See the blue, three-fingered flags of fascist Svoboda in these pictures.]
Every antifascist should be worried by this development – and its speed and openness.
The paramilitaries have sprung from Ukraine’s “Euromaidan” protests. Most of those supporting Euromaidan are not in any way fascists. But the acceptance of the fascists’ leading role has been a distinctive and disturbing feature of the movement.
The main fascist party, Svoboda, rose from nowhere to win 10.4% of the vote in the 2012 elections and has 36 MPs.
Its presence at the head of the movement has been entirely normalised by its three-way alliance with the conservative Fatherland and UDAR (“Punch”) parties. The three make up the pro-EU opposition to president Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of the Regions.Svoboda – like most modern European fascist parties – made its electoral breakthrough after cleaning up its image, changing its name from the Social-Nationalist Party, ditching its nazi Wolfsangel logo for a three-fingered emblem – and distancing itself formally from its paramilitary wing, the Patriots of Ukraine (see poster, right). Other paramilitary nazi groups kept under the radar.
Now all that has changed.
In early December, Svoboda activists began to make a splash at Euromaidan, toppling Kiev’s statue of Lenin and occupying the city hall. They used this base to train up “defence” squads.
Svoboda’s role gave cover for other nazi groups. Fascists took the lead in the most militant activity – including heavy fighting against the police in January – winning them support and admiration.
The fascist fighters included a new alliance, Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), bringing together hardcore nazis from the UNA-UNSO, Trident, Carpathian Sich and other groups under leader Dmytro Yarosh.
Now, as the protests have reached something of a stalemate, there has been a dramatic shift towards building a paramilitary force, dubbed Samooborona or “Self Defence”.
This move is endorsed by Euromaidan’s politician leaders, who called for people to join Self Defence “hundreds” or squadrons – actually from 50 to 300-strong – at Euromaidan’s main rally of 9 February.
The Self Defence claims 5,000 members in Kiev with 10,000 across Ukraine – there is even an online sign-up form, asking about fitness levels and military experience.
A spokesperson claimed 35 “hundreds” were aligned with the conservative Fatherland party, with 20 run by fascist Svoboda.
These troops are nominally under the Euromaidan “commander”, Fatherland MP Andriy Parubiy. They include “former special forces, spetsnatz” members in the 18th hundred.
But the Right Sector Self Defence forces – they claim 1,500 in Kiev – act under their own commander, Yarosh. Allied with them are 200 Afghan War veterans (from the former USSR’s 1979-89 war).
The force is well equipped with battledress, bullet-proof vests, steel shields, helmets, masks, batons and other weaponry. The fighters have fortified their barricaded positions with barbed wire, a watchtower and a giant catapult for hurling molotov cocktails.
Earlier this month, columns of fighters marched through the streets of Kiev to “picket” the parliament building – and are set to do so again on Tuesday 18 February. That ain’t what democracy looks like.
It is a force to be reckoned with. And it is clear that a very high proportion are fascists.
The real divide reflected in Euromaidan is that between two factions of the oligarchy that controls Ukraine: those whose interests lie with the EU and those who profit from alignment with Russia. Euromaidan is in effect a mass mobilisation behind the pro-EU faction of the ruling class.
The protestors – many motivated by anger at economic collapse, political corruption and police violence against the protests – have not issued any independent demands of their own. The protest has been used as a lever by the opposition politicians in their battle with Yanukovych.
Now there is a new lever – the paramilitary force on the streets.
Among the Euromaidan demonstrators and their supporting media the growth of the paramilitaries – Svoboda, Right Sector and all – has become normalised, just as Svoboda’s presence in the main protest was. Media crews gamely watch the combat training.
The fascists have seized the opportunity of Euromaidan to make a second breakthrough, after their successful move into parliamentary politics.
On the streets the nazis of Svoboda and the Right Sector no longer have to keep quiet about paramilitary stuff. They are recruiting openly. They are on the march.