Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ukraine's Maidan activists are not 'fascists'

Disturbingly, some of the Western left wing and even some of the media have adopted the Russian propaganda meme that protesters and activists centered on Ukraine's Maidan are "nationalists" and "fascists."  

It is strange then that Ukraine's power structures and military have given themselves over so willingly, bloodlessly, to a group of fascists. Does that make Ukraine's military leadership fascistic?  Were they not fascist a month ago under President Yanukovych?  Absurd premises lead to absurd conclusions.

Only in Ukraine is it "nationalistic" to insist that in the one country on earth where people speak Ukrainian that Ukrainian should be the official state language, and receive other forms of protection.  Only in Ukraine is it "nationalistic," not patriotic, to proclaim, "Glory to Ukraine," (I myself was witness to an incident when these words provoked a fistfight), or to sing the national anthem.  

If Western liberals were to judge France by the same standard as they do Ukraine, then they must label them a bunch of "French nationalists" whose borders don't deserve sovereign protection.  Likewise, that makes American Republicans who rail against "press 2 for Spanish" or sing "The Star Spangled Banner" at ballgames a bunch of fascist nationalists.

And yet even those comparisons are not quite apt, since native French and English are spoken in other countries and on other continents. Not so with Ukrainian. If Ukrainian dies in Ukraine, it dies in the world. And with it would be lost the richness of Ukrainian culture. Ukrainian is worth fighting for, worth protecting.  Yet any casual visitor to Ukraine would get the impression that Russian, not Ukrainian, gets preferential treatment.  Most television shows, newspapers, magazines and books are in Russian only. Most films are shown in Russian, albeit with Ukrainian subtitles -- a modest victory for Ukrainian "nationalists." 

Indeed, outside Ukraine, the "great and powerful" Russian language has a huge country of 142 million people to protect it: Russia. Therefore, Russia doesn't need Ukraine for the Russian language to flourish. Anyhow, nobody from any Ukrainian political party has ever proposed legislating what language people speak in their everyday lives -- and yet the lumpen on the streets of the South and East of Ukraine firmly believe this lie.  In this lie, nurtured cynically by Russia, lies much of ethnic Russians' support for Russia's annexation of Crimea....

Next, there is the "nationalist" Svoboda (Freedom) party in Ukraine, whose leaders said that Jews in league with Russia have sought to keep Ukraine down. Granted, this was several years ago, but still it's cause for the West to be deeply concerned, right?  Well, not so much. Svoboda is still a small party and it doesn't stand a chance of winning many seats in Parliament or in the Cabinet of Ministers.  

Moreover, Jews were activists on Maidan.  Indeed, there was a Jewish brigade on Maidan including "four Israelis with combat experience."  I've heard of "self-hating Jews," but this would be a new extreme, if indeed Israeli Jews came to Ukraine to support anti-Semitic fascists!  

And Israel's Haaretz newspaper recently examined the level and anti-Semitism among pro-Maidan forces and concluded: no big deal.  Jews were among the pro-Maidan activists and at least four Jewish protesters were killed by Berkut special police.

So what other "evidence" does Putin's Russia and the deluded Western left offer of Ukrainian fascism? The fact that many Maidan activists revere Ukrainian nationalist freedom fighter Stepan Bandera. He is a controversial historical figure, to say the least. I won't go into the entire history of it now. It suffices to say the mere mention of his name is enough to cause spontaneous brawls in both Ukraine and Russia. You can make up your own mind about Bandera. 

Let me offer this: there are many times more statues of Lenin in Ukraine than of Bandera.  "Anti-Maidan" and "pro-Russian" activists in Ukraine have banded together to protect Maidan protesters from tearing down statues of Lenin as they did in Kyiv and other cities. Lenin is a symbol of Russian oppression and terror -- including two Soviet-imposed famines on Ukraine when millions died of hunger. It is now acknowledged by the U.S. and the West as genocide. (Russia, as the protector of the Soviet legacy, not surprisingly, disagrees). Thus reasonable people would cast suspicion on anybody, or any group, defending the legacy of Lenin. And yet it is not so.  And yet Bandera is called a "mass murderer" by many ethnic Russians in Ukraine. For them Bandera, not Lenin, is the bogeyman of Ukrainian history. Go figure.

(An epitaph on Bandera: two of his brothers died in the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz; his father was executed by the Soviets; and three of his sisters were sent to Soviet gulags in Siberia.)

But all the above-mentioned is academic. Anybody who bothered to go to Maidan could see that it was not decorated with swastikas, hidden fascist symbols, or echoing with anti-Semetic rhetoric. These were normal people. Scratch that -- better than normal. These were, and are, the most liberal, progressive people in Ukraine: doctors, teachers, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, lawyers, journalists, students, and human rights activists. These are the dynamic people who make Ukraine go. And as the country's most honest and honorable, they were the most likely to suffer under President Yanukovych's corrupt and lawless regime.

Therefore it's painfully unfair of the West to dismiss Ukrainians' struggle -- which was peaceful and orderly until President Yanukovich tried to evict unarmed people with deadly force from Independence Square -- with terms like "fascist," "neo-Nazi," or "nationalist."  In our ignorance and haste to judgement, we should not throw out such loaded terms willy-nilly. 

I challenge anybody to find a report from a Western journalist on the ground on Maidan who corroborated Russia's fascist or nationalistic narrative of events there. It was perhaps the most well-covered revolution in history; beyond the Western media like BBC, it was YouTubed, Facebooked and Tweeted by thousands of people. If there were rampant fascist sentiments there -- not just a few neo-Nazi malcontents -- then we surely would have seen their faces and heard their voices. 

And finally, regarding neo-Nazis, Putin had best remove the beam from his own eye before remarking on the speck in Ukraine's (Matthew 7:5).  Putin tolerates an active and violent neo-Nazi movement within Russia. He finds them useful to conduct planned attacks and pogroms on gays and national minorities, mostly from the Caucasus. (For many graphic examples, go to YouTube and search "skinheads Russia.")

Putin should send his Black Sea Fleet out of Crimea to fight Russian fascists at home!

UPDATE 1 (05.03.2014):  My friend TK wanted to add something about Stepan Bandera. I haven't fact-checked it, only cleaned up the grammar & spelling:
Just FYI: about Nazi collaborators among Ukrainian nationalists. Many tend to forget during WWII only 14,689 Ukrainians collaborated with Hitler, but 1,150,000 Russians collaborated with Hitler and almost all European countries either collaborated as a whole or had their own collaborators with Hitler. Bandera spent one year in Berlin prison, received proposal to diversify (?) the rear of Red Army, refused to collaborate and then was confined for three years in a [Nazi] concentration camp Sachsenhausen. Bandera announced Ukraine was an independent country in 1941 when Hitler occupied Ukraine and he never collaborated with Hitler. The second person after Bandera was Lev Rebet, who spent three years in Auschwitz concentration camp (he was liberated in 1945), so all those insinuations about anti-Semitic Bandera are just Soviet propaganda. Both were killed by the same KGB officer.
There has been so much Russian propaganda on each and every possible social media, including many in English. What Russia is definitely great at is propaganda and plotting diversions internally and externally. But it is a devastating loss to the Ukrainian nation (as to any other as a matter of fact) not to know its own history. Seventy years of Soviet propaganda and 20 years of not paying attention to education, even worse the last four years of returning back to the distorted Soviet version of history led to absolute ignorance of own country and own identity that we observe now in the east-south and Crimea. Even if you ask people there who is Bandera and what he did, the only answer you will get is he is a fascist, but nothing else. Even more, most people in the rest of Ukraine will not be able to tell you much either with an exception they would not call him fascist. I strongly believe that making the population un-educated, illiterate and uninformed is the way for corruption, destruction and dictatorship. If you have sheep, not a nation, it is very easy to rule them. That relates to any country, but Russian rulers have mastered this tactic.
UPDATE 2 (05.03.2014):  This should ease the fears in the East and South of Ukraine that the new government is fascist: it's talking seriously about federalism, something the ousted Party of Regions never achieved (because they didn't want to). Reported Reuters today [emphasis mine]:
[Prime Minister] Yatseniuk has been gradually unveiling the outlines of the new government's plans for bringing the former Soviet republic's economy back from what he says is the edge of an abyss.
Earlier this week he announced plans to trim government spending by up to about 16 percent and said the government would meet any conditions set by the IMF to secure a new loan package. 
On Wednesday he said it was vital to give more authority to the regions, hungry for financial and, in some cases, for more political independence.
"One of the main things the new Ukrainian government must do is dismantle the centralized power created in the last four years," Yatseniuk said, referring to Yanukovich's rule.
Although this is part of a long-running debate and applies to all regions, it can be seen partly as a gesture to Russian speakers in the east at odds with the central government.  

UPDATE 3 (06.03.2014):  Here is yet more evidence that fascism and anti-Semitism aren't an issue on Maidan or Ukraine's new government: an "Open letter of Ukrainian Jews to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin," dated March 4, 2014. 

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