Unrest in Ukraine has spread heavily over the last couple of months, and the fight between pro-Russian rebels and the interim government’s military forces continues. The division in political stances between East and West Ukraine, and the anger people felt towards the former government, made the difference in ideologies between two groups protesting the same cause less important. This made way for extreme far-right groups to gain power.
The protests on the Independence Square started after former President Viktor Yanukovych declined a deal with the EU. The protesters were angry with Yanukovych, who decided to make a deal with Russia instead. Many Ukrainians feel that integration with the EU is important, partly because it would be a way out of the poor economy in Ukraine, but also because cultural and political integration with the EU would be beneficial for Ukraine in the long run.
Journalist Oleksiy Radynski told Vice: “It’s a people’s uprising, it is kind of post-political, no political ideology is in control of this. For sure the far-right was extremely visible from the very start of Euromaidan, but after the violence started on the side of the government, lots of people who would never accept their presence here came here anyway because a much bigger problem is the violence of the government. That’s also how the neo-Nazi ideology becomes more acceptable, unfortunately.”
On 27 February 2014, an interim government was created in Ukraine, with Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister. Yatsenyuk’s government consists of three parties: Batkivschyna, UDAR and Svoboda. All three parties are right-wing, but as Batkivschyna and UDAR are relatively liberal, and viewed as centre-right parties, some people overlook the power of Svoboda, an extremist right party which has been accused of neo-Nazism several times. The symbol of the party, which was one of the main participants in the anti-Yanukovych protest on the Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), resembles the Wolfshook or Wolfsangel. The Wolfshook is a symbol used by SS officers during WWII, and public exhibition of the symbol is illegal in Germany, as it is considered a form of Nazi symbolism.
Earlier this year, Svoboda announced that some of their members had joined Azov Battalion, an all-volunteer special police force. Azov Battalion is headed by Andriy Biletsky, who is also leader of two neo-Nazi groups. Svoboda and Azov Battalion have both denied to be fascist, but with the special forces having a neo-Nazi leader, and the fact that Svoboda started off as the Social-Nationalist party of Ukraine, almost copying Hitler’s NSDAP, these claims do not have a lot of ground to stand on.
German public-service broadcaster ZDF (Second German Television), has broadcasted footage of Azov Battalion fighters wearing helmets and gear showing not only neo-Nazi symbols like the Wolf’s hook and the Black Sun (a Nazi and neo-Nazi symbol that can be constructed into three swastikas), but also showing the SS logo, and Hitler Germany swastikas. Despite the fact that rebels also used old Soviet army helmets because of a lack of new gear, the symbols have a cruel background, and the group that wears them has been associated with fascist ideas far too often for this to just be coincidence.
With anger and despair rising, it is not uncommon for extreme political ideologies to have room to gain popularity. It seems that, despite political differences within the anti-Russia groups, the need for distance from communism is big enough to ignore these differences. It is important, however, to learn from mistakes made in history, and not fall for these traps. As the Guardian calls Azov Battalion Ukraine’s greatest weapon and perhaps greatest threat, the centre-right parties in the government, and citizens themselves have to make sure their power is limited, because we all know too well what fascist ideals can do to people.