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 ├╝ber 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.”