Russia Insider, a right-of-center web site run by Moscow-based expats, has spotlighted an article in The Daily Beast, which, with amazing loopiness, poses the question, “Why Are Swastikas Hot in the West Ukraine?” After noting that such images are popping up all over – on military helmets, in party insignias, in demos, etc. – the reporter, Anna Nemtsova, assures us that neo-Nazism has nothing to do with it. To the contrary, the swastika merely stands for national independence and resistance to Russia. To be sure, “most nationalist and ultra-right youth organizations in Ukraine today use symbols that millions of Ukrainian citizens associate with the Nazi army.” But, she says, “one reason, certainly, is that the much longer and very deadly occupation by the Soviets is also a huge part of the national consciousness.” Given that the Soviet occupation was so much more recent, the old one has thus acquired a certain burnished glow. “[I]n Lviv,” Nemtsova goes on, “…legislators and the local administration insist the Nazi symbols are not dangerous for the country.” She quotes a political official declaring, “I don’t care what flags or symbols they use for as long as they fight for Ukraine’s freedom,” and passes along comments by a certain Ostap Stakhiv, the 28-year-old leader of a start-up ultra-right group calling itself Idea of the Nation:
The swastika is a very strong symbol, and as soon as we adopted it, we immediately grew popular among young people. Those who join us know exactly what they want, and they are ready to go to the very end. … A yellow swastika on a black field stands for power and spirit.
All this without a hint from Nemtsova that anything is amiss. So not to worry: the swastikas that nice young Ukrainian nationalists are waving these days have nothing to do with the ones that bad old Nazis used to display. The new ones stand for strength and nationalism whereas the old ones stand for, umm, nationalism and strength.
This is all quite ridiculous, of course. The new swastikas are exactly the same as the old ones. The reason they’re so popular among Ukrainian nationalists fired up with anti-Russian zeal is that they remind them of the last time the Russians took a good beating, which was at the hands of Hitler’s Wehrmacht in June 1941. What everyone else remembers as the start of a long nightmare was, from a Ukrainian nationalist perspective, a short-lived period of national liberation. Since the Nazis were on the side of freedom and patriotism, local rightists welcomed them with open arms, declared a fascist Ukrainian republic in their honor, and then went on a rampage against local Jews just to show that their heart was in the right place. In Lviv, for example, where the slaughter claimed an estimated seven thousand lives, the killings began as soon as German troops arrived in town on July 1, 1941, and went on for days after. By displaying the swastika, Ukrainian nationalists are essentially adopting the same logic. It they don’t specifically endorse the actions that followed, they don’t reject them either.
Not that this is particularly surprising. When the Euromaidan barricades went up last November, leftists raised the alarm about the prominent role that ultra-rightists were playing in Kiev, only to be dismissed either as hysterics or pro-Russian stooges. But Nemtsova’s article is one more piece of evidence that the left was correct and that the stooges were entirely on the other side. The New York Times has written about a growing neo-Soviet trend in the pro-Russian east where people are increasingly nostalgic for the good old U.S.S.R. But what seems to be happening in the rest of the country, the portion under Austro-Hungarian domination prior to 1918, is an equal and opposite process of neo-fascism, one in which the swastika is more and more popular and the World War II collaborator Stepan Bandera, whose forces slaughtered not only Jews but tens of thousands of Poles, is more and more hailed as a national hero.
Although fascists like the Svoboda Party and Right Sector have gotten most of the attention, the phenomenon is much more widespread. In 2011, parents with small children waving Ukrainian flags crowded into downtown Kiev to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the German “liberation” while soccer fans have long made a point of taunting opponents from the east by hoisting Bandera’s portrait. Last week, Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s “moderate” president, declared October 14, the day Bandera’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army was founded in 1942, to be “Day of Defender of Ukraine.” As Alya Shandra, the editor of Euromaidan Press, helpfully explains (in somewhat imperfect English), the purpose of the proclamation is to
go beyond the black-and-white painted by Soviet historiography … by giving room for glorification of forces that fought against Red Army and Soviet powers, such as the army of the Ukrainian People’s republic and the UPA. Vilified in Soviet times … these military formations [are] gradually getting the appreciation and attention they deserve. This gains a special meaning nowadays, as thousands of Ukrainian men and women are giving their lives to fight off the regular Russian army invading its East.
So there you have it. Contrary to Soviet propaganda, World War II was not all black and white and the Ukrayins’ka Povstans’ka Armiya, as Bandera’s fighters were known, are finally coming in for a bit of their own. The Ukrainian People’s Republic, led by the Ukrainian nationalist Simon Petlyura, is coming in for praise since its forces fought against the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, even if they killed around 50,000 Jews in the process.
A Banderist-Petlyurist state has thus arisen on the banks of the Dnieper, one that vilifies Russians, brands dissidents as “terrorists,” and, according to Human Rights Watch, uses cluster bombs against the civilian population in the east. As The Times noted, “The army’s use of cluster munitions, which shower small bomblets around a large area, could also add credibility to Moscow’s version of the conflict, which is that the Ukrainian national government is engaged in a punitive war against its own citizens.”
Precisely. Where the Times once airily dismissed Moscow’s depiction of neo-Nazi running amuck as “caricatures in the Russian media’s fun-house mirror,” it is now forced to backtrack. This is why pro-Washington shills like Nemtsova are rushing into action, telling readers to pay no attention to the proliferating number of swastikas because they’re really quite benign.
The Daily Beast piece is a joke, but a dangerous joke since the effect is to disarm readers and allow fascism to slip in through the back door. Neo-Nazism under the impact of the economic crisis is spreading not only in the western Ukraine, but in Hungary, the Baltics, and elsewhere as well. The more people turn a blind eye to it, the stronger it will grow. It wasn’t so long ago that nice respectable people thought that fascists were people they could sit down and do business with. FDR referred to Mussolini in 1933 as “that admirable Italian gentleman” while, less than three weeks after Hitler took power, Winston Churchill was among those singing the praises of a new Germany
with its splendid clear-eyed youth marching forward on all the roads of the Reich singing their ancient songs, demanding to be conscripted into an army; eagerly seeking the most terrible weapons of war; burning to suffer and die for their fatherland.
Eighty years later, The Daily Beast is serenading western leaders as they go down that same garden path, oblivious to the consequences.
Do you have evidence for your assertion that all Ukrainians are Nazis? Some are, but you seem to be claiming that every Ukrainian who opposes Russia therefore supports Hitler. And most Ukrainians don’t; they just want a normal, democratic, independent country.
As for nice respectable people who thought they could do business with fascists, well…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov–Ribbentrop_Pact
And you also make no mention of certain facts as to why Ukraine might be unfavorably disposed toward Russia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor
I’m sure that all these facts have just slipped your mind, and are not due to you omitting anything that does not fit in with your preconceived notions (sarcasm).
The best thing that can be said about your claims that everyone in Ukraine is a Nazi is that it is not quite as dishonest as Walter Duranty’s genocide denial. But you’re giving it your best.
In the interests of objectivity, the Human Rights Watch you cite was inconclusive regarding who used cluster munitions. A subsequent report concluded that both sides have used them.
Unless you aim to fuel resentment, please be more careful in reporting matters of such grave significance, and when your claims turn out to be inaccurate or incomplete, please make use of your editorial privilege.
Regarding your claims about the prevalence of the Swastika in Ukraine: do you assume that a symbol always carries the same meaning, irrespective of time and place? In that case, how do we distinguish between Hindu and German uses of the Swastika? One group which uses the Wolfsangel symbol, the “Idea of the Nation” group, which you discuss, happens to be backed financially by Ihor Kolomoisky, who is Jewish. Doesn’t this simple fact cause us to suspect that the ideological character of such groups is more complex than your piece would suggest? If the meaning attributed to symbols can vary, Anna Nemtsova’s investigations should be encouraged. Writing Central and Western Ukraine off as “Nazi” is hardly contributing to the resolution of this conflict. (A related fact you might like to address is that far-right groups fared very poorly in both the parliamentary and presidential elections in Ukraine in 2014 – much less poorly than in, say, the United Kingdom, France, or Greece. If Ukrainian Nazis are everywhere, how can this be?)
More generally, it is interesting that you justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which cemented an alliance between Stalin and Hitler, as an act of pragmatism and perhaps ill-judgement. To quote you: “Given their isolation, the Soviets can hardly be blamed for doing whatever was necessary to preserve their fighting capabilities.” Where Ukrainians formed allegiances with Hitler against Stalin, who had already murdered a few million Ukrainian civilians, you see only criminality and moral depravity.
It seems to me that making financial and technical support contingent on legal, economic, and political reform is precisely how the West should engage the current Ukrainian government. It also seems that human rights reforms are more likely where the West engages Ukraine than where Ukrainians are left to grapple with Russia on their own. In the latter case, atrocities seem likely.
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Keep on doing what you’re doing Daniel. And thanks!
As for meanings, which one commenter talks about… Huh?! Does ASA mean aspirin? If it doesn’t, does ‘that’ mean anything? The commenter made our point for us, for yes, the meanings of the same symbols wore by people who believe the same things that those who first wore the symbols believed means that the meanings are the same. Duh!
Sick Naziism is spreading. Yes, It’s cool to the young, poorly raised, fully propagandized people in Ukraine, but that doesn’t mean that they are not also poorly raised and fully propagandized. And they had the admittedly difficult choice to care or not. Caring is knowing. When you’re surrounded by vicious Nazis, Are you going to announce that you disagree with it? But who’s courageous here? So, yes, it’s hard for young Ukrainians to stay principled when surrounded by evil. And that’s how you get young monsters who go along with the violent crowd in doing things like burning people alive in buildings and torturing innocents who they get their hands on. The young people who say no to the evil all around them, knowing that the consequences to that could be severe, are not suicidal. They are courageous, principled and represent a better future for the people of Ukraine than the CIA’s tools.
These fierce killers haven’t even got the courage to say what they mean. What the Nazis in Ukraine want, if we’re willing and foolish enough to give it to them, is to stamp their Naziism as democratic, benign and nationalist (in a good sense). We are to just call bad, good. A spokesperson for the Azov battalion, Alfred Alferov, said: “I really hope that Canada — the country that always been a historical, political ally of Ukraine — is going to make a right decision, by supporting the laws that are aimed to help Ukraine and refute all the political statements that Azov Regiment is a neo-Nazi formation.” (http://bit.ly/24fAWoN). Other times and places (back home), when they are among all the other vicious Nazis, they brag about their Nazi character and about how open they are about it. When asked, Nazi killers in various battalions respond with statements along the lines of ‘We don’t care about flags and symbols and affiliations.’ Indeed, Except when you want attention, and cred, and think that maybe a reputable (undeservedly) country like Canada might give it to you. Then you hide your symbols away.