Svoboda (Freedom), which until recently had been relegated to Ukraine’s political fringe, handily won in three of the country’s western-most provinces in Sunday’s vote, preliminary tallies show.
Local elections held in the former Soviet republic propelled Svoboda to surprise victories in Ukraine’s Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano- Frankivsk regions.
Svoboda, whose campaign program emphasized Ukrainian patriotism and resistance to the Kremlin, captured between 30 and 34 per cent of the popular vote in the three districts, according to a survey by the Research and Branding Group.
By contrast, its closest rivals obtained between 10 and 13 per cent in each local contest.
Svoboda also tripled its popularity in Ukraine’s central and northern regions, as compared with the results of the 2010 presidential elections, according to mostly complete official ballot counts.
Oleh Tyahnybok, 41 and a former surgeon, is Svoboda’s charismatic leader. His oratory, with its unique mix of erudition, pithy peasant wit and passion, stands out in Ukraine’s political arena.
Tyahnybok calls himself a patriot fighting for his country. His opponents call him a racist and neo-Nazi.
‘That’s baseless lies, Svoboda is for equal rights for all Ukrainians,’ an angry Tyahnybok said during a pre-election television talk show. ‘Anyone who is for an independent Ukraine is our ally.’
Svoboda’s grassroots are in old Galicia, a rugged region formerly belonging to Austria-Hungary and Poland. Unlike the rest of Ukraine, it came under Russian control only after World War II.
Tyahnybok quit medicine in 1996 and entered parliament in 2002 as a member of the Our Ukraine political party, headed by former president Viktor Yushchenko.
Our Ukraine, like Svoboda, supports market reforms and closer relations between Ukraine and Western Europe. But Tyahnybok’s rhetoric has stirred up controversy.
Yushchenko expelled Tyahnybok from Our Ukraine in 2005 over a televised Tyahnybok diatribe in which he praised Ukrainian partisans who fought ‘Ruskies, the Krauts, Jewishness and other unclean elements.’
He called on the Yushchenko government to strike fear into the ‘Russky-Kike mafia’ purportedly running Ukraine.
Yushchenko’s political star has waned badly since then, and Our Ukraine managed to capture only 2.3 per cent of the national vote in the Sunday vote.
Outside Ukraine’s western region, where Svoboda achieved outright victories, the party drew 5.1 per cent of ballots cast nationwide, making it Ukraine’s fifth-most popular political party, according to a GfK exit poll.
‘A couple of years ago, Tyahnybok’s men were regarded as a marginal group…Today, they are a really influential force,’ wrote Ukrainian political commentator Konstantin Dymov in an article titled ‘The Nazification of Galicia.’ (article continues below)
The Svoboda party platform, which criticizes oligarchs and tycoons, makes some commonplace proposals directed at the middle class, along with nationalist criticism of Russia.
The party calls for farm assistance, cracking down on corruption and a foreign policy that puts ‘Russia and Ukraine on equal terms…rather than like the Tsar to his slave.’
Tyahnybok’s sure feel for his electorate, and its dissatisfaction with Ukraine’s Russia-leaning government, was in full evidence on May 27 in Lviv, when thousands of angry demonstrators turned out to hurl catcalls and insults at President Viktor Yanukovych’s vehicle convoy.
Tyahanybok fired up the crowd with an angry speech attacking the president and his administration. Later in the day students put on a humorous street play featuring Yanukovych as a bewildered prison convict – a nasty reference to assault and robbery sentences Ukraine’s president served in his youth.
One actor, playing the part of a stereotypical Orthodox Jew complete with wire glasses and Yiddish accent, obsequiously promised to rewrite Ukraine’s history books: ‘That’s right your worship, there never were any Ukrainians. And their language – it’s not a language, it’s just Russian with a Polish accent!’
The crowd appeared to enjoy the anti-Semitic satire.
Konstantin Dymov (Lviv, Ukraine)
Unfortunately, Ukraine lacks a strong anti-fascist movement
LADY YULIA’S FADING FAME
The local elections in Ternopol Region, Western Ukraine, have attracted interest as a probe of electoral sympathies on the eve of the presidential and most probably, also extraordinary parliamentary elections. This year’s 50% turnout was very unusual for this region, earlier famous for high voting activity. It can be partly explained with the appeal of Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko to boycott local elections. As the name of her political party, BYUT, was not erased from ballot papers, one half of the local electorate still voted in its favor, while the other disappointed half sought a more radical option.
Other observers believe that in fact, the Prime Minister’s appeal of boycott was motivated with the recognition of inevitable defeat. In Ternopol Region’s legislative assembly, her party used to hold a majority for years. However, the implications of economic crisis for Western Ukraine aroused massive disappointment in her leading capabilities. In any case, a 10% result of her party indicates that Mrs. Timoshenko’s popularity in Western Ukraine is rapidly shrinking – along with her opportunities to gain the Presidential chair.
On this background, the second place of United Center, the party founded by President Viktor Yushchenko’s chief of staff Victor Baloga, looks not very surprising, given Mr. Baloga’s “administrative resource”, as well as influence in West Ukraine’s business circles.
THE EXPECTED SENSATION
The most popular political force in Ternopol appeared to be the All-Ukrainian Freedom Association, chaired by MP Oleg Tyagnybok. This young politician expected an even higher result than the one third of the vote his party garnered.
Despite its today’s politically correct name, Freedom Association has not much changed after being renamed from Social-Nationalist Party of Ukraine (SNPU) in February 2004. In fact, it is the same radical nationalist movement that has revived the slogan of “Ukraine for Ukrainians”, inherited from the wartime Nazi collaborators from Stepan Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Freedom’s outspoken xenophobia, particularly directed against Russians, is so radical that the infamous UNA-UNSO movement looks on this background like a society of Russian-Ukrainian friendship.
Back in 2004, Tyagnybok’s intention to invent a nicer name for SNPU in 2004 was motivated with his desire to make a political career on the eve of the expected “orange revolution”. Being elected to the Supreme Rada (Parliament) in 2002, he joined the faction of Our Ukraine Party, chaired by future President Victor Yushchenko. However, in July 2004, Mr. Yushchenko personally expelled him from the faction, after a public xenophobic speech in which Mr. Tyagnybok urged the youth audience to get rid of Russians and Jews, using humiliating acronyms.
Freedom’s activists practice in painting battle-cries like “A good Russian is a dead Russian” and “Russian language is made for idiots” on city walls. A couple of years ago, Tyagnybok’s men were regarded as a marginal group, more or less popular only in district towns of Lviv Region. Today, the former Socialist-National Party positions itself as a really influential force. That is quite natural: the economic and political crisis, undermining the people’s confidence in establishment parties, hurls the vexed West Ukrainian voters into the embrace of radicals. This ominous tendency alarms all the sober-minded and decent citizens, regardless from their ethnic origin.
At the same time, it is obvious that Freedom would never reach its success without generous financial support that could hardly be provided by local business circles alone.
According to media rumors, Freedom was co-financed by Igor Kolomoyski, owner of Privat Group and an ethnic Jew. The version of support of a neo-Nazi party by a Jew sounds hardly surprising for Ukraine, whose business tycoons are marked with exceptional cynicism.
THE FUTURE “DEATH SQUADRONS”
For what purpose is Freedom Association is nurtured by top business? Drawing parallels with Latin America of 1970s, we can guess that its mission is to fulfill most dirty operations in a case of a “Day X”. The current social instability may erupt in hunger riots, possibly originating from the underpaid army. For this occasion, a neo-Nazi force is pretty convenient. In order to save their interests, the oligarchs may initiate a pogrom of Russians, with the ensuing intervention of NATO peacekeepers.
In case of a revolutionary situation, Bandera’s successors may unleash political terror, eliminating the real opponents of the political regime, and providing a pretext for introducing a state of emergency with an ensuing oligarchic dictatorship. At the same time, the radical rightists may serve as cannon meat in a provoked war conflict with Russia; this possibility has been already raised in mass media. It is noteworthy that Mr. Tyagnybok frequently agitates for oppression of the Russian majority of Crimea. Thus, political and military excesses shouldn’t be ruled out.
THE DEMORALIZED LEFTISTS
Logically, the ultra-rightists should be opposed by leftists. But in the elections to the Ternopol Region’s Assembly, not a single leftist party managed to gain popularity. The Socialist Party, after its decline in Kiev, lost its faction in the Ternopol Assembly as well. Even in the current disastrous, the Socialists were reluctant to strike a deal with the Communists – though the two parties could at least pursue tactical goals, and jointly overcome the 3% barrier to use the joint faction as a tribune.
However, nothing was done in this direction. As a result, many traditionally leftist voters made their choice in favor of the centrist Party of Regions, chaired by ex-Premier Victor Yanukovich; this party won almost 10%. Its electorate is obviously composed not only from ethnic Russians but also from local intellectuals who fear the political revival of Bandera’s heritage.
In 1998, Ukraine’s Communist Party won 10% in Lviv. This success could be developed in grassroot work. Instead, CPU ruined itself from inside, with implications affecting not only Lviv but most of other regional cities. Today, a 10% result is a pie in the sky for CPU even in Eastern Ukraine.
The decline of CPU was accelerated with the scandal of the love affair of its leader Pyotr Simonenko with a young journalist. Though the manner of digging in family linen, displayed by Ukrainian media, is pretty disgusting as well, it is noteworthy that by that time, Mr. Simonenko had already disappointed leftist voters with his public political deal Mrs. Timoshenko, who is hated by most of ordinary communists. In addition, Mr. Simonenko and his circle also undertook all kinds of measures to oust his intra-party opponent Leonid Grach, ex-chair of the Parliament of Crimea.
Some authors regard CPU as not more than a political relict. But to my mind, this approach is erroneous in the situation when types like Mr. Tyagnybok are ascending to power. Instead of factionalizing, leftists should unify all anti-Bandera forces. In case particular ultra-leftists succeed in their initiative of splitting CPU, the outcome will be miserable: the disappointed leftist electorate will abstain and eventually melt.
Unfortunately, Ukraine does not have a unified and consistent leftist party today. The degradation of the leftist camp leaves space for ultra-nationalism, with a real threat for life and well-being of millions. Even in a critical situation, leftists continue to discuss who of them is a better Marxist, and to plant intrigues against one another.
Unfortunately, the option of an ethnic massacre is becoming more and more probable. Following Bandera’s imperative “Power should be ruthless”, Freedom is likely to get rid of all the civil rights and liberties. Today, the problem of power is becoming black and white: either we exterminate them, or they will exterminate us. The healthy forces of Ukraine – of the whole Ukraine, from Uzhgorod in the west to Lugansk in the east, are to unify in order to build a strong shield against rising neo-Nazism.