Borotba on Ukraine: ‘An alarm bell for pro-democracy and anti-fascist forces’
Ukrainian Svoboda (freedom) party members carry portraits of Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.
June 12, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The following address was delivered by Andriy Manchuk on April 11, 2014, to a three-day, European-wide anti-fascist meeting in Athens, Greece. He spoke on behalf of Borotba group of Ukraine. Borotba is a significant association of left groups and activists in Ukraine formed in 2011.
The theme of the anti-fascist meeting in Athens was, “From France to the Ukraine, and from Norway to Greece: No Pasaran!” [They shall not pass!]. The following text was first published on the English-language page of Borotba’s website. The original translation has been slightly edited for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, and published on June 12, 2014.
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By Andriy Manchuk
Our East European country is witnessing one of the most dramatic moments in its modern history. The Ukrainian left faces challenges we have not confronted for many years. After violent and bloody clashes in the centre of Kiev, the power in our country was seized by a coalition of ultra-right and neoliberal political forces. The newly established regime immediately started close cooperation with the richest oligarchs – with those who (along with the representatives of the European Union and the United States) provided the financial aid and international support to the Euromaidan protests. Some of these oligarchs were recently appointed as governors in the key industrial regions that are the least loyal to the new right-wing government with the expectation that they would suppress the anger of indignant protesters there.
The right-wing ideology is a kind of synthesis of neoliberal illusions about the nature of “decent European capitalism” and clerical bigotry of Ukrainian nationalism. It dominated in the Euromaidan protests from the very beginning and almost everything there was under control of right-wing politicians. They managed to exploit the anger of many impoverished and marginalised Ukrainians dissatisfied with the corrupt bourgeois regime of Yanukovich – the regime that we also have been fighting against for many years.
After 20 years of mass, anti-communist propaganda, the left in Ukraine was pushed into the margins of politics while the right wing used social populism combined with pro-capitalist and nationalist slogans to make political gains.
It is not accidental that Euromaidan was greeted and backed by the most reactionary forces and politicians of the EU and US. The new Ukrainian authorities are ready to open Ukrainian markets to their patrons and to impose on society (still suffering from an ongoing economic crisis) a package of neoliberal reforms as a condition of receiving International Monetary Fund loans that should help them to stay in power. The property and capital of the super-rich remained untouched by the new regime, and the new authorities are preparing to overcome the economic crisis at the price of imposing social cuts and a rise of prices that will affect the impoverished majority of Ukrainians.
To divert attention from it own politics, the right-wing authorities skillfully use the issue of Russian intervention in Crimea and ignite nationalist and militarist hysteria inside the country. Unfortunately, a part of our liberal-patriotic “left” willingly buys into this rhetoric. That is how the new authorities try to channel the anger of defrauded people—turning its against “internal” or “external” enemies.
Meanwhile, clashes and shooting sprees in the centre of Kiev are still happening. The rival paramilitary units fight with each other for the control over seized buildings or property and continue to unlawfully detain, beat or torture people. Neo-Nazi gangs openly show off their racism, sexism or homophobia. They do not even try to hide their weapons when roaming Kiev streets.
Moreover, they have killed some people in Kharkiv. The office of Borotba in Kiev was looted as well as offices of the opportunist Communist Party of Ukraine. Neo-Nazis seized their offices and turned them into own bases. Many monuments to Lenin, to WWII soldiers and to heroes of the Revolution of October 1917 have been demolished or desecrated, including the grave of workers killed in the uprising against counterrevolution that began in the Kiev Arsenal and other factories in 1918.
Extraordinary elections are nearing: disappointed or duped people will have a narrow choice between well-known bourgeois politicians or corrupt, super-rich. At the same time, the new authorities are trying by all possible means to prevent democratic referendums over the issue of self-government in southeastern regions, where protests against the new regime are growing. The new rulers of Ukraine try to present these protests as simply “pro-Russian” or “inspired by the Kremlin”, but our Borotba organisation is effectively fighting to win the masses away from the influence of pro-Russian nationalism. We are irreconcilable opponents of the Putin regime that our Russian comrades are fighting against. We are against war and any interference in the Ukrainian conflict as it may trigger the military confrontation of two imperialisms.
Expecting the intensification of the current crisis, we are getting ready to take part in the process of organisation of mass protests against anti-social reforms and far-right terror of the new authorities. And in this context, any international support is quite crucial for us. We are thankful for your attention and solidarity. And especially we would like to thank our comrades from southern and eastern Europe, who are witnessing the rise of ultra-right influence amidst the background of crisis caused by neoliberal policies of the EU.
Right-wing political regime
The new government of Ukraine is the most right-wing government in Europe since the end of WWII. And this is not only a Ukrainian phenomena, it is an alarm call for all European lefts. Considering that EU authorities actively helped Ukrainian right wingers to come to power, we understand that it will be a rather difficult task for us to win a victory over them without responsive international actions of the left in different countries.
The recent protests in Ukraine (November 2013-February 2014) have resulted in the establishment of a right-wing political regime, a coalition of ultra-right and neoliberal forces. Paramilitary squads of the ultra-right groups now control the capital of the country using the tactics of pogroms and violence against dissenters. They openly demand to vest them with the power of police and state security service officially or give them full control over the law enforcement services.
Events are unfolding in Ukraine rather quickly and demand a constant review of our analysis. Some offices of left organisations have been looted. Activists of left organisations and trade unions have suffered violent assaults. The parliament of Ukraine (in fact controlled by the vice-speaker from the far-right Svoboda party) has taken upon itself the power in the country. It appointed another member of the Svoboda party as prosecutor-general and released without court decision all the neo-Nazi militants that have been convicted of crimes, including murders.
Many right-wing politicians (from Svoboda and other right-wing parties) were promoted to positions as ministers. In particular, they will control education. Nazis have started a campaign of mass destruction of Soviet monuments commemorating the October Revolution of 1917 and WWII fighters.
In fact, we can say this is the most right-wing government in the history of post-WWII Europe. It is pro-Nazi in its ideology. This is not an exaggeration – the full consequences of the recent events in Ukraine will only be assessed properly in the course of time because we still don’t have the full information needed.
We can say, nevertheless, that the mass protests in Ukraine were the result of the deep social-economic crisis – a consequence of neoliberal economic policy that was being implemented in Ukraine under the pressure of international banks and other financial structures.
At first sight it could seem a paradox that a crisis triggered by right-wing neoliberal policy has led to the uncontrolled rise of the far-right influence. But the crisis developed under conditions of near-total dominance of far-right ideology that didn’t allow building a strong left force. The right wingers occupied the same political niche that the left could not. It was the absence of a left alternative that served as a pre-condition for the sweeping rise of the far-right groups that have taken a kind of monopoly over social protests of Ukrainians.
The left – ranging from social-democrats to the groups of new-left – were driven to the margins of political and social life. That was possible due to the establishment of a right-liberal consensus dominating social consciousness ever since the collapse of the USSR. The intellectuals tolerated ultra-rights backing them politically, thus providing a process of demarginalisation of far-right groups for Ukrainians. Meanwhile, the mass media demonised and stigmatised left ideology, simultaneously transmitting to social consciousness a historic mythology of the far-right forces – namely those that collaborated with German Nazis during WWII and were responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Polish population in western Ukraine. It was this kind of propaganda that has mostly shaped the views of the active part of the Maidan movement, including a significant part of the most victimised of the current social crisis, the “lumpenised” layers of society.
Conservative and liberal European politicians have also contributed to this grievous result by recognising the ultra-right Svoboda party as a legitimate member of the so-called pro-democracy opposition to the regime of Yanukovich. Thus, they turned a blind eye to the xenophobic, homophobic and chauvinist program of this party as well as the pogroms and violent actions of its activists.
Moreover, a group of super-rich Ukrainians contributed in organising Maidan. In particular, these were oligarchs dissatisfied with the dominance of the Yanukovich clan. They feared the rise of his influence that could threaten their economic interests. This group of oligarchs participated in sponsorship of the ultra-right groups and they provided technical and material equipment for their actions.
Under such circumstances, the right succeeded in exploiting and monopolising the protest against the oligarchic regime of Yanukovich. From its very beginning, they controlled and organised protest actions in Kiev, imparting to them right-wing ideology and nationalist sentiments. Nazi symbols were openly shown in Maidan while Nazi slogans were heard quite often there. The “pro-democracy” part of the movement was unable to confront such a total domination of the rights, who succeeded in taking a leading role in Maidan. The real force was on the side of the right. Well-trained squads of neo-Nazis who were given military ammunition served as stormtroopers. Despite the fact that the protest started under “pro-European” slogans, the ultra-rights didn’t hide their hostility to the “European” values and publicly repudiated them in their speeches and articles.
The fact that many European observers preferred either to ignore the domination of the far right in Maidan or to downplay its influence has only aggravated the whole situation. In fact, such a position effectively legitimised far-right actions.
As a result, we had the disastrous rise of street violence in Kiev, infighting of armed groups and killing of people – both supporters and opponents of Maidan. It led to the collapse of Yanukovich’s regime. However, as we had warned, it was our ultra-rights that have benefited from it. De facto, they became the ruling power in most parts of the country because they established conditions when no one social-political force can really confront them.
As a consequence, we have witnessed only a change of elites in power. The interests of the whole ruling class remained untouched. The changes haven’t led to real democratic reforms in the interests of the majority of people.
The situation is worsening now and a collapse of the Ukrainian economy is looming. We are witnessing the rapid devaluation of the Ukrainian currency, which threatens impoverishment to millions of people. The new regime has insufficient funds to guarantee basic public spending. So it negotiates with the IMF, the EU and US for loans, whose conditions will be harsh--demanding the total dismantling of the remnants of the county’s system of social benefits and increases in the prices for public utilities, electricity and gas. Moreover, the EU is demanding that Ukraine open its internal market. That may lead to the total undermining of domestic production that cannot survive without protectionist measures.
This trend, when coupled with violent confrontation in eastern Ukraine, may lead to the dismantling of the state apparatus and complete economic and political collapse in the country. This will open a new outburst of ultra-right terror. Such a prospect seems to be quite real in Ukraine and it could happen in the near future. We think that the new regime will use ultra-right paramilitary squads for suppressing of the social protests and individual dissenters among ordinary citizens.
Under such circumstances, the only alternative is an immediate and active building of a mass left-wing and anti-fascist movement that can serve as a base for opposition to the right-wing regime and to organise people who are angry and dissatisfied with anti-social neoliberal policy.
The right-wing “revolution” in Ukraine is an alarm bell for pro-democracy and anti-fascist forces throughout Europe. In times of economic crisis, the uncontrolled rise of the far right would clear the way to its seizure of political power. We ignore or underestimate this danger at very great peril.