Way to go, Mark! Хороша робота!
By Mark Rachkevych
May 22, 2014 | Kyiv Post
All dictators need an enemy, real or imagined. It’s the telltale sign of an authoritarian state and one that Russian President Vladimir Putin embraces to Orwellian proportions. Appropriately, his latest external enemy is Praviy Sektor, one of the most visible militant nationalist groups that provided securityduring the EuroMaidan Revolution and defended it from police brutality.
The loosely-structured coalition has since registered as a political party, and its leader Dmytro Yarosh, a native of Russian-speaking Dniproderzhynsk in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, is running for president.
At the Ukraine Crisis Media Center on May 22, Yarosh described Ukraine as a “neo-colonial” state that only started building an independent nation after EuroMaidan ousted the corrupt and criminal regime of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych in late February. His brand of nationalism is one of a positive, empowering aspiration akin to a liberationist movement. And he views the 100-day revolution as the final shattering of Russo-Soviet tendencies in Ukraine based on comrade capitalism instead of institutional state-building.
Russia’s Kremlin-controlled media started demonizing the group in the early stages of EuroMaidan. Praviy Sektor became synonymous with neo-fascist, a term that Russia gratuitously uses for its enemies and those who pose a threat to its interests.
Moscow’s free public relations – its state-owned English-language Russia Today news channel alone has a $400 million yearly budget – elevated the nationalist group to such heights that it overshadowed the pluralistic fiber of EuroMaidan.
Today, millions of eastern Ukrainians who historically favor watching Russian TV channels, fear Praviy Sektor is at their doorstep getting ready to slit their throats. Many attacks on Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatists alike get attributed to Praviy Sektor in Russia’s propaganda campaign. Journalists months prior in Crimea also reported on the ominous Praviy Sektor scare among the local population as the Kremlin bloodlessly annexed the peninsula.
As Ukraine’s former ruler and oppressor, Russia historically vilifies any group or individual who has ever tried to break away from its grasp. The practice goes back centuries.
Starting in the 18th century, with czarist Russia’s increasing encroachment on Ukraine’s quasi-independent state, Cossack leader Hetman Ivan Mazepa forged an alliance with Swedish King Karl XII who was waging war against Peter the Great. Russia never forgave Mazepa’s “betrayal” and its history books say the act violated the two nations’ “fraternal brotherhood.”
By contrast, a pact that Cossack leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky signed with Russia a century earlier is viewed by mainstream Russian historians as the start of a beautiful relationship that re-united the two Slavic entities. To Ukrainian nationalists, the Pereyaslav Treaty marked the beginning of Russian domination over much of Ukraine that eventually devastated the Cossacks’ once flourishing lands and subjugated them to Moscow.
Next on Russia’s villification hit list was Semyon Petliura, who headed the Ukrainian People’s Republic Army and for a time the Directory government of the UNR when Ukraine briefly gained independence in the wake of World War I. Eventually Bolshevik Russia took over more than half of modern-day Ukraine’s territory while he emigrated to Paris in 1924 where he was assassinated. Again, mainstream Russia glosses over this period of Ukraine’s statehood and many Ukrainians believe their nation’s first capital was Kharkiv before it was moved to Kyiv – a purely Soviet historiography of events.
Incidentally, writer Mikhail Bulgakov who was a young adult living in Kyiv when Petliura came to power, hated the very idea of an independent Ukrainian state. He felt the same way about Petliura whom he called a “wonderful bookkeeper.” Towards the end of his short story “The City of Kyiv” he wrote: “May the memory of Petliura be damned.”
The Kremlin also lavished free publicity upon Stepan Bandera who headed the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists during and after World War II. The militant organization’s main goal was to attain Ukrainian independence. Many of its members fought with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), an underground resistance movement that fought Nazi Germany and Soviet forces until the mid-1950s. The USSR’s propaganda machine demonized Bandera to such an extent that his name still instills fear in many Russians today. Indeed, the term Banderivtsi is another Russian code word for an independent-minded Ukrainian.
In fact today, Putin doesn’t recognize the interim government in Kyiv and his media minions often refer to it as a “junta” or a “banderite regime.” These hollow labels will continue to be sputtered until a government appears in Kyiv that is either “friendlier” to Moscow, loyal, or willing to be controlled by it. Any other option means to be branded a “fascist” by the world’s most bona fide fascist state ruled by a former KGB lieutenant-colonel who constantly needs a phantom enemy to justify his criminal acts.