Ukrainian nationalism, the far-right and Maidan

“More importantly, they had the force of an organized minority: they had a clear ideology, they operated efficiently, established their own ‘hundreds’ within the self-defence structures. They also succeeded in mainstreaming their slogans: ‘Glory to Ukraine’, ‘Glory to the Heroes’, ‘Death to the Enemies’, ‘Ukraine Above Everything’ an adaptation of Deutschland über Alles. Before Euromaidan, these were used only in the nationalist subculture; now they became commonplace. Probably everyone who used the central metro station in Kiev in December witnessed a scene like this: a group of nationalists starts to chant ‘Glory to the Nation! Glory to Ukraine!’, and random passers-by on their way to work or to their studies chant back: ‘Year Glory to the Heroes! Death to the Enemies!’ Everyone now knew how to respond, what was expected of them.

Of course, not everyone chanting ‘Glory to the Heroes!’ was a far-right sympathizer-far from it. The majority chose to interpret the slogans a certain way, as referring not to the heroes of Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, but to the heroes of Maidan. Still, this was a real success for the far right, something neither the liberals nor the small numbers of leftists who took part were able to achieve. Why these slogans rather than other, not so questionable ones? Why not some socio-economic demands? It shows who was actually hegemonic in the process. Numerically, yes, the far right had a minor presence, but they were dominant on the political and ideological level.”

“Yes, Ukrainian nationalism now mostly has these right-wing connotations, and the emphasis on the figures you mentioned has clearly overpowered the leftist strands. But when it emerged in the late nineteenth century, Ukrainian nationalism was predominantly a leftist, even socialist movement. The first person to call for an independent Ukrainian state was a Marxist, Yulian Bachinsky, who wrote a book called Ukraina Irredenta in 1895, and there were many others writing from Marxist positions in the early twentieth century. But any attempts to revitalize socialist ideas within Ukrainian nationalism today have been very marginal. Part of the problem is that it’s not so easy to reactualize these ideas: the people in question were writing for an overwhelmingly agrarian country, something like 80 per cent of Ukrainians were peasants. The fact that the working class here was not Ukrainian was, as we know, a huge problem for the Bolsheviks, intensifying the dynamics of the Civil War in 1918-21 because it was not just a class war, but also a national war; petty bourgeois pro-Ukrainian forces were able to mobilize these national feelings against a working-class movement that was seen as pro-Russian. Today, of course, Ukraine is no longer an agrarian country but an industrialized one, and since roughly half the population speaks Ukrainian and half Russian, it is no longer so easy to say who is the oppressed nation and who is the oppressor.

Then there is the fact that the right has worked to reinterpret figures such as Makhno along nationalist lines-not as an anarchist, but as another Ukrainian who fought against communism. In their eyes communism was a Russian imposition, and anarchism too is depicted as ‘anti-Ukrainian’. At the Maidan, the far right forced out a group of anarchists who tried to organize their own ‘hundred’ within the self-defence structures. They also physically attacked leftists and trade unionists who came to distribute leaflets in support of the Maidan-one of the speakers on stage pointed them out, saying they were communists, and a rightist mob surrounded and beat them.”

A historical timeline of 20th century “mass culture”

“In retrospect, the rise of mass culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries looks like the development of national cultural markets. National culture industries producing mass-reproducible forms — films, vinyl records, radio broadcasts, and illustrated magazines with half-tone images — displaced the city as the site not only of live performance and exhibition, but even of book and newspaper publishing. They also enclosed the cultural commons as all sorts of vernacular art forms that had circulated as common property, or part of the public domain, were recorded, copyrighted, and sold as commodities.

Before the 1980s and 1990s, these ‘national media systems were,’ as Robert McChesney has noted, ‘typified by domestically owned radio, television and newspaper industries.’ Despite ‘major import markets for films, TV shows, music and books . . . dominated by US based firms, . . . local commercial interests, sometimes combined with a state-affiliated broadcasting service predominated.’ Nevertheless, the years after World War II saw the beginnings of a global cultural market, often experienced as a tide of ‘Americanization,’ because of the prestige of US films, products, and musics. Against this stood the powerful, if unsuccessful, alternatives posed by the Second and Third Worlds: the attempt to delink the culture of the Communist world from the world cultural market, and the struggle by postcolonial states to orchestrate a new world information order.

In the wake of the age of three worlds, a radical privatization and deregulation of mass communications established a global market in cultural commodities, dominated by a handful of world-spanning corporations, among them Sony, News Corp, Disney, AOL-Time Warner, Viacom, and Bertelsman.”

Benedict Anderson on Europe, Asia, nationalism and the state

“Before the late seventeenth century, when French intellectuals began to claim the superiority of their civilization, none of the European countries denied that the civilization of antiquity was superior to its own, and they competed against each other to learn more about it in order to be civilized. Whether in wartime or peacetime, no country could boast that it was the centre of civilization, a European version of ‘sinocentrism’ as it were, and throw its head back declaring it was no. 1. Innovation, invention, imitation and borrowing took place incessantly between different countries in the fields of culture (including the knowledge of antiquity), politics, global geography, economics, technology, war strategy and tactics, and so on.

Nothing like this existed in East Asia, nor even South Asia. In East Asia, China and Japan both set up geographical and cultural boundaries and often attempted to shut out the ‘barbaric’ outside world with drastic closed-door policies. The necessity of competition with other countries over politics, economics, technology and culture was only scarcely felt. Southeast Asia was probably the closest parallel to Europe. It was diverse in terms of culture, language, ethnicity and religion. Its diversity was further magnified by the historical lack of a region wide empire (which was associated with frequent political turmoil), and later by the colonial rule of various Western powers. It also resembled Europe in its openness to the outside world through trade.

Because Europe, after Rome, never experienced a single stable master, it remained an arena of conflict, cooperation, commerce and intellectual exchange between many medium-sized and small states, and became the logical place for the birth of linguistic/ethnic nationalism, typically directed from below against despotic dynastic regimes. Though European nationalism adopted key ideas from the Creole nationalism of the Americas, it was deeply affected by early-nineteenth-century Romanticism, which was foreign to its Creole predecessors. It had huge appeal for outstanding poets, novelists, dramatists, composers and painters. It was also quite aware of, and felt solidarity with (though not always, of course), other popular nationalisms as fellow movements for the emancipation of the people from despotic dynasties – a solidarity later expressed institutionally in the League of Nations, the United Nations, and many other forms.

After the world wars of the twentieth century, however, many young nationalisms typically got married to grey beard states. Today, nationalism has become a powerful tool of the state and the institutions attached to it: the military, the media, schools and universities, religious establishments, and so on. I emphasize tools because the basic logic of the state’s being remains that of raison d’état ensuring its own survival and power, especially over its own subjects. Hence contemporary nationalism is easily harnessed by repressive and conservative forces, which, unlike earlier anti-dynastic nationalisms, have little interest in cross-national solidarities. The consequences are visible in many countries. One has only to think of state sponsored myths about the national histories of China, Burma, both Koreas, Siam, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Vietnam or Sri Lanka for Asian examples. The intended effect is an unexamined, hypersensitive provinciality and narrow-mindedness. The signs are usually the presence of taboos (don’t write about this!, don’t talk about that!) and the censorship to enforce them.”

Bonus: Philippe Aghion makes a related point

Then there’s the separate yet related question: why did the growth takeoff occur in Europe in 1820 and not somewhere else before? Why not in China for instance where you had so many inventions since the middle age? We believe that in these other societies you had vested interests, whether economic or political, that were scared that new inventions would threaten their power. So they sought to block them. That was less of an issue in places like Europe where competition between European countries made it more difficult for any single government to prevent innovation and progress, as Joel Mockyr has argued. 

German nationalism vs. France in the 19th century

Quoted from Jugendstil and Racism: An Unexpected Alliance by Angelika Pagel

“…hostility grew strong as a result of Napoleons occupation of Germany. The hoped for unification of the many petty German states under the leadership of Prussia and with the help of the French Revolution had not been achieved. The Vienna Congress of 1814-15 failed to establish a sovereign German nation-state with unified national politics and France, though defeated, even managed (through Talleyrand’s diplomacy) to emerge from the talks with its hegemony in Europe re-affirmed. Germany’s struggle for national unity would continue throughout the 19th century while the other major European powers had long since achieved this status. Disappointed and envious, Germans turned inward and backward, to ideas of tribal nationalism, of common ancestry in a shared Germanic past. Gradually, this idea of an integral German nation and people (Deutsche Nation und Volkstum) degenerated into the myth of blood-and-soil; antisemitism emerged as a “logical” consequence of this tribalism and the Nazi battlecry “One People, one Empire, one Leader” (Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer) epitomized the desire for national unity spanning the entire 19th century. Even after the Vienna Congress, the “glorious power of French nationhood” was experienced by the Germans in painful contrast to their own lack of national unity.”