As latest events lead us to wonder if the peace process is defunct and the war in Eastern Ukraine will start again, we are continuing our analysis of the actors, focusing now on the “far-right” in Ukraine. We do not deal here with the “pro-Russian/Slavic ultra-nationalist”, to use Shekhovtsov (2013) categorization. Having addressed with the previous article the content of Ukrainian nationalism and ultra-nationalism, we shall now turn to the representative power those groups hold, or not, as demonstrated through the 26 October 2014 parliamentary election. We shall also point out a novel, potentially escalating fact: the integration of armed volunteer battalions in political parties. The last and next post of the series on the far-right will deal with the remaining far-right groups, be they directly represented within regime institutions or not.
Understanding the power of nationalist and ultra-nationalist parties in Ukraine, as well as the content of their nationalism, is crucial because both contribute to determine the answers that are given by the Ukrainian political authorities to various events, from the way they deal with the separatists in the Donbass to their relationships with other international actors. The more powerful the groups and the more extreme the type of nationalism, the more likely escalation, of a multi-dimensional type. On the contrary, the less powerful the groups and the milder the nationalism, the more likely stabilization through diplomacy and negotiations.
We shall first present the elections and their stakes, focusing not only on the Ukrainian 26 October election, but also on the 2 November elections in the Donbass. We shall then turn to the main winning nationalist party for the 26 October Parliamentary elections, estimating its positioning on the ultra-nationalist spectrum, notably thanks to its programme. Using this analysis, we shall finally estimate if we are facing a demise or a metamorphosis of ultra-nationalism and the far-right in Ukraine, and assess potential impacts on war and crisis in the country.
A tale of two elections
Over the last weeks, two elections took place in Ukraine. On 26 October 2014, in most of Ukraine, citizens voted to elect their deputies to the Verkhona Rada, the legislative power, in Kiev (Nordsieck, Parties and Elections in Europ database, 2014). On 2 November 2014, citizens in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) voted to elect their respective prime ministers and parliamentary representatives (Ria Novosti, 11 October 2014).
All actors recognised the first election, many hailing it as a triumph of democracy (e.g AFP, 27 Oct 2014, DW.de). Ukraine, the EU and its member states, the US and the UN denounced the second as being contrary to and imperiling the Minsk Protocol and its Memorandum (see here and here respectively for a translation), signed by the warring parties and outlining the road to peace between Ukraine, the DPR and the LPR (e.g RFE/RL, 3 Nov 2014). On the contrary, Russia declared it respected the 2 November elections and that taking it into account was crucial to pursue the Minsk Protocol (Tass, 3 November 2014).
The stakes for the legislative elections in Kiev were notably support to President Poroshenko and the pro-EU stance, the fate of those that used to support or be part of the Party of Region (see State of Play – The Oligarchic System (1) and (2)), which backed ousted President Yanukovich, and the influence of the far-right.
The main stakes for the second elections were war and international tension: shall we see a break down of the Minsk protocol and war again, while tension heightens between Russia on the one hand, the EU, European member states, the U.S. and NATO, on the other? Some even fear that Russia’s validation of the 2 November elections are the first steps towards a Crimean scenario or even a full-scale invasion by Russia, to the least towards Russian aggressive military actions, as suggested by a White House spokesman, according to a WSJ article (Sonne; 2 November 2014) or in a EuroMaidan Press article (Vitalii Usenko and Dmytro Usenko, 1 November 2014).
Much depends upon the way the new power in Kiev, now fully representative and taking into account all the changes that took place since the beginning of the crisis in November 2013, handles the difficult situation. Indeed, the 2 November elections show a firm willingness by the DPR and the LPR to act independently, even if they now offer to enter into relationship with Ukraine, however on a basis of equal footing (Tass, “Donetsk, Luhansk ready to restore relations with Ukrainian regions“, 4 Nov 2014).
This willingness of independence, as well as the irreconcilability of the Ukrainian and DPR/LPR perspectives has been obvious since at least 17 September. Then, Alexandr Zaharchenko, now newly elected Prime Minister of DPR (Tass, 3 Nov 2014), stated that the DPR authorities would be the only ones organizing elections on their territory (Novorossia News Agency, 17 September 2014). On the contrary, President Poroshenko stressed that no one would recognized such elections (Interfax Ukraine, 25 September 2014).
We are now faced with this reality and the actions it will trigger.
Already, President Poroshenko declared that he would ask for “the abolishment of the law on specifity of the local government in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, that emerged from the Minsk Protocol, because the 2 November elections showed the ill-will of the DPR and LPR signatories (President Poroshenko’s website, “Address 3 November 2014“). However, stressed he was still committed to the Minsk Protocol and work towards a new law. He “will be willing to approve the new law if all the parties return to fulfillment of the Minsk protocol, namely ceasefire, creation of a buffer zone, border control and militants’ clear actions that imply the reverse in the so-called elections of November 2.” Considering the unwavering position of the now elected authorities in the DPR and LPR, seeing them accepting to reverse the elections is unlikely.
The Ukrainian answers to the dynamics that is now starting will notably be constrained by the necessity to form a government, as is clear from Poroshenko’s 3 November address (ibid.). Because voting did not allow for a clear majority, this means that a coalition has to be formed. The Ukrainian responses that can be given will thus be infused with the will and programs of the various parties and groups in power, according to the forthcoming coalition and related negotiations, as well as by nationalism or ultra-nationalism, according to the existing level of tension (see previous article, Ultra-nationalism in Ukraine), notably if nationalist and far-right groups were reinforced by the elections.
However, Svoboda, which, so far, was perceived as the main far-right party (Ibid.), only managed to see six deputies elected in 2014 (in single member constituencies*) compared with 37 deputies in 2012. Thus, is the question of nationalism, ultra-nationalism and far-right groups still relevant for Ukraine?
Are we rather in a new political configuration in Ukraine, where moderate democratic forces for change, wishing to join the democratic and liberal EU, are at the forefront?
Congratulations to the people of #Ukraine! Victory of democracy and European reforms' agenda.
— José Manuel Barroso (@JMDBarroso) October 27, 2014
This would most probably let us expect a continuation of the Minsk Protocol and of the efforts, however chaotic and difficult, towards peace, diplomacy and political negotiations being foremost. In that case, what is the potential for turmoil, if any, of the remaining far-right groups? Alternatively, could the situation be more complex, as may suggest the good results of the nationalist right-wing populist (Nordsieck, 2014) Radical Party led by Oleg Lyashko (see next post), which now gathers 22 deputies, compared with one in 2012, and become as a result the fifth political party of Ukraine?
The People’s Front: a new ultra-nationalist party?
The winning party for the elections is the newly created Narodnyj Front (NF) or People’s Front, headed by interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who thus abandoned the declining All-Ukrainian Union Fatherland of Yulia Tymoshenko (see map of the parties in Ukraine prior to the November 2013 events).
According to the People’s Front website, the party’s overarching and foremost aim is to protect Ukraine from external aggression, notably Russian under the “Putin regime”. Only afterwards, will it work, “in the future, after our victory” to bring about “dramatic changes in society, leading to the creation of an independent and free, not corrupt, economically strong country that eventually will become a worthy member of the European community”.
The People’s Front certainly promotes a European Ukraine, as it is indeed its vision. However,
“The most important task of the Party is the restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, its release from terrorists, foreign troops and mercenaries and the establishment of proper control over the state border as well as ensuring its integrity” (Programme).
Meanwhile, “the formation of a common policy of national identity,” is seen as necessary to fight against “devastating hostile influences”.
Geographical decentralization, as supported by the Minsk Protocol, is not part of the plan. On the contrary, with a heavy reliance on international support for reconstruction, which runs throughout the whole People’s Front programme because Ukraine is being perceived as aggressed and thus needs a “Marshall Plan for Ukraine”, the People’s Front hopes to see the Donbass becoming “a new growth area in Ukraine”.
The nationalist fierceness of the People’s Front is most obvious when comparing its programme with the one of the Petro Poroshenko’s bloc, as presented on its website. The latter also stresses the importance of freedom and safety, but underlines that freedom, if it demands to fight against external aggression, stems from changing the political system, and from a balanced decentralisation within a unitary and unified Ukraine, where the rights of minorities are recognised. Safety, which comes last in the programme and not first while all other goals are suspended as for the People’s Front, demands the return of Crimea and the territorial integrity of Ukraine but underlines political and diplomatic solutions, while strengthening defence and not abiding to pacifism. Nowhere is Russia singled out as The Enemy.
What we have with the People’s Front, is a party for national emergency and war times. It responds to the duress of the situation and the shock that were the loss of Crimea and the refusal by the Donbass inhabitants of the new order that was emerging from Maidan. Duress and shock were made even more intense and unbearable by the specific nationalist Ukrainian lenses (see previous post), which become, by the same token, nationalism in its most extreme form. The People’s Front is obviously fiercely nationalist and strongly anti-Russian, which again underlines it abides by the rules of Ukrainian nationalism in its most extreme version.
The theme of preserving the integrity of Ukraine is also found in Petro Poroshenko Bloc’s programme, or in the Samopomich (Self-Help) Union‘s one – see slide 11 – (the third winner of the elections with 11% of votes and 33 deputies), because civil war and loss of territory are not light matters for any nation-state and its population. The difference between the People’s Front, on the one hand, and the other two parties, on the other, is a question of degree, intensity and radicalization.
Another interesting difference lies in the People’s Front’s willingness to project all evils on Russia, while external actors are actively requested to provide solutions, when the other two parties stress self-change and self-help. Note that, as far as the demands of the People’s Front for international support are concerned, if ever things were not to turn as expected in terms of restoring the integrity of Ukraine, reconstruction, economic development etc., then it would become easy to again blame an “other”, external to Ukraine, which is one of the component of extreme Ukrainian nationalism, as previously identified.
The ultra-nationalist People’s Front party now holds 82 seats in Parliament and represents the first political force in Ukraine with 22.2% of votes, before Poroshenko’s bloc, which gets 21.8%, but 132 deputies.
Besides political figures coming from the interim government such as interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Aleksandr Turchinov (ex-President by interim and speaker of the Parliament) and Arsen Avakov (interim Ministry of the Interior), we find Andriy Parubiy among the People’s front leaders, his role during the Maidan then as Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) of Ukraine between June and early August 2014 being emphasised (see website). According to Parubyi’s website, in 1991, Parubyi co-founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine with Oleh Tyahnybok (which became Svoboda in 2004) (see also Shekovstov, 2011: 213-214, 221; 2013: 253-255). In 1996, he became also head of the paramilitary far-right group “Patriot of Ukraine” (Shekovstov, 2013: 253, 255-256). In 2004 Parubiy left Svoboda and Patriot of Ukraine to join Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc, then in 2012 Tymoshenko’s Fatherland (Ibid.: 255; Shekovstov, 2011: 221; Katchanovski, 2014a).
Together we will defeat the Russian aggressor. Slava Ukrayini. Glory to Ukraine.
— Андрій Парубій (@AndriyParubiy) August 7, 2014
Yet his nationalist leaning have not changed. The articles Parubyi publishes on his website leave little doubt regarding his commitment to the nation as ideal unit to “strengthen Ukrainian statehood” and as best ordering principle (Parubyi, “National Society, the national elite“, Landmarks). He also stresses his belief in what students of nationalism identify as an organic, cultural or “objective” type of nationalism, by opposition to the civic, political, republican or “subjective” form of nationalism (Smith, 1998: 40, 170, 193-194, Hobsbawm, 1992: 20-22; Nairn, 1997: 103-104). As a result for Parubyi, Ukrainians are perceived as different from what he calls “the people of Ukraine”, i.e. “Crimean-Tatars… Russians, Hungarians, Romanians”, who, according to him, naturally love their real nation first before Ukraine (Parubyi, “I believe in Ukrainians“).
During the Maidan revolution, Parubyi was the Maidan Self-Defence Commander. The Self-Defence groups also incorporated paramilitary groups of the far-right, some of them being involved, according to Katchanovski (2014b) latest research, in “The “Sniper’s Massacre on the Maidan in Ukraine“.
A political party with a military council… and branch?
Most interestingly, the People’s Front established its own military council regrouping the commanders of the following territorial volunteer battalions, which fought against the DPR and LPR during the ATO (see full list of members here):
- Dnepr-1 – Yury Bereza;
- Myrotvorets – Andrew Teteruk;
- Kyiv-1 – Eugene Dade (FB);
- Artmivsk – Konstantin Mateychenko;
- Chernihiv – Roman Pytskiv;
- 2d Company “West” (Aidar Battalion) – Igor Lapin (aka Ash);
- Kyyivska Rus (25th) – Michael Hawryluk;
- Zoloti Vorota Battalion – Nicholas Shvalya.
Integrating leaders of the volunteers battalions gave the party a legitimacy in terms of national security that is necessary considering its programme.
Positively, it could be seen as facilitating the progressive and peaceful integration within the state apparatus of the myriad of volunteers battalions that were created to fight against the separatists to supplement the lack of means of a state hollowed out by twenty years of oligarchic system (see The Oligarchic System). That proliferation, as we count 44 battalions originating from the whole territory (Wikipedia), is a serious danger to peace in Ukraine because the state legitimate monopoly of violence has further broken down with their creation. Failure to integrate and control them could lead at best to a surge in criminality, at worst to various types of civil wars, including renewed fighting in the Donbass.
Negatively, including commanders of armed groups and thus, considering devotion to leaders and chain of command those very groups, potentially makes the People’s Front an armed actor on the Ukrainian chessboard, which a political party should definitely not be in a classical democratic regime, i.e. with a fully existing and “strong-enough” state (in the domestic political understanding of the term). Imagine that, for the Presidential or mid-term elections in the U.S., the Democrats and the Republicans each have their own private battalions, or that each candidate and their party in Germany, the U.K. or any other European state also has armed groups at its disposal. Again, as has been so many times shown (e.g. Ohlson and Söderberg, 2003; Rotberg, 2003), this underlines the danger existing when elections take place while the state is weak, fragile or failed.
Metamorphosis and potential impact
Thus, we are not at all in a situation where a demise of ultra-nationalism and related groups is being witnessed. On the contrary, ultra-nationalism has so much permeated the Ukrainian political arena and society that it now constitutes a new norm, to the point that it allowed for the creation of a new ultra-nationalist party that became the first political party of Ukraine with 22.2% of votes and 82 deputies. If we add the 22 seats for the Radical Party, the six seats obtained by Svoboda and the single seat for the Pravvy Sektor, the ultra-nationalist side in parliament will count 111 seats. As, furthermore, the elections and the winners are internationally hailed then, we are in a case of metamorphosis, when what would have been previously pointed out as dangerous and extreme is now regarded as positive, and progressive.
We are also in a very new situation, with the potential apparition of a new type of actor, an ultra-nationalist party that is, in the same time, for integration within a large entity, Europe. Is it enough to fundamentally differentiate the People’s Front from other far-right parties and to create a new category? Considering the absence of data as the party is so new, it is impossible to judge. However, it is definitely necessary to monitor what will happen.
Furthermore, two facts may temper the ultra-nationalist feature of the People’s Front: the creation of the governmental coalition and reality.
According to President Poroshenko’s 3 November address, “the future faction of the party “Block of Petro Poroshenko” has already supported my [President Poroshenko] initiative to appoint Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the Head of the new Government”, then it means that a coalition with the People’s Front is highly likely to emerge. According to the negotiations that will take place and to their result, the coalition will integrate a more or less large part of the ultra-nationalist character of the People’s Front, all the more so that, as President and politician, Poroshenko cannot ignore existing feelings within the population. The Ukrainian President has probably even less space to maneuver that the inclusion of armed battalion in political parties could very well make them a direct threat to the state, were their beliefs and aims not considered. At best, the negotiations leading to the final formation of the coalition may temper the most extreme part of the People’s Front outlook.
The offer by President Poroshenko to restart the Geneva negotiations at Foreign Ministers level (President Poroshenko’s website, “President of Ukraine had a phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry“, 5 November 2014), where DPR and LPR representatives are not represented (see 17 April declaration, Europa), may be seen as a way to prepare himself for all possibilities: a tempered government or an ultra-nationalist one. In the second case, a Geneva format without the DPR and LPR might be a way to show Ukraine’s willingness for peace, yet to prepare for war as the DPR and LPR will not abide by negotiations to which they did not take part. The readiness for war, however in a defensive way, was also stressed by Poroshenko during the NSDC meeting on 4 November.
We are capable of defending our country. pic.twitter.com/66cYoiEhlY
— Петро Порошенко (@poroshenko) November 4, 2014
Reality may also temper the actions of the People’s Front, compared with their beliefs as expressed in their programme, as they will also have to deal with hard facts. For example, confronted with winter and the need to find coal, mainly produced in the Donbass, current Ukrainian Energy Minister Zyukov stated he planned to buy coal from the mines located in self-proclaimed DPR and LPR territory, as this will be cheaper than imported coal (Pressorg.com, 3 Nov 2014), to which the DPR and LPR authorities replied they were ready to conclude an agreement (Ria Novosti, 3 Nov 2013).
Yet, Zyukov is part of the interim government. Will he still be there once the coalition government is formed? Will the coalition government choose the path of trade, or try obtaining the same with force? Considering the cold winter, on the one hand, the fact that Ukraine was militarily losing (see the excellent series of maps by Slavyangrad.org) just before the Minsk Protocol was signed on the other hand, the new government, if it includes the People’s Front, as is most likely, may not have other choice than accept to trade with the self-proclaimed Republic, whatever their desire to do otherwise.
As a result, the likelihood to see war starting again in Eastern Ukraine, while denouncing Russian aggression, be it real, potential or imagined, has increased. Indeed Lysenko’s declaration on 7 November 2014 that Russia had entered Ukraine with “a column of 32 tanks, 16 howitzer artillery systems and 30 trucks loaded with ammunition and fighters crossed into eastern Ukraine”, which “has been not independently verified”, is a case in point (Hether Saul, The Independent, 7 November 2014). This false information was again relayed by EuromaidanPR on its twitter feed on 10 November, when the Pentagon and the OSCE had both made clear that we were not faced with a “Russian invasion” (Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby; transcript, 7 November 2014; OSCE SMM Spot reports, 8 Nov). EuroMaidanPR utilises to spread its ultra-nationalist propaganda the inability of people to properly use sources and to make correct analyses. The movements observed by the OSCE (SMM Spot reports, 8 Nov and 9 Nov 2014) are most probably internal to the DPR, considering Kiev’s declarations, as they get ready should war start again. The multiplication of such declarations by Ukraine, besides troops movements, in itself, would increase the likelihood to see war starting again, as they will in turn increasingly provoke both the DPR and the LPR to get ready for war.
Reality, however, with winter, Ukraine’s previous very precarious military situation, the global threats that are the Islamic State and the Ebola epidemic outbreak would tend to play a stabilizing role, for now. On the contrary, the ultra-nationalist lenses according to which only Russia is responsible for everything and which, thus, probably makes a proper military assessment of the previous precarious position impossible would tend to be escalating. The negotiations for the governmental coalition in Ukraine are thus crucial and should be under watch, while the persistence of the other stabilizing factors needs to be monitored.
*Under the law, 50 percent of deputies are elected by party lists and 50 percent in single-mandate constituencies.
Featured image: Maryinka, Donetsk region, 12 August 2014, 14:56:42, By Ліонкінг (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.
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Katchanovski, Ivan, “Interview with Reuters re Svoboda, the OUN-B, and other Far Right Organizations in Ukraine “(March 4, 2014a) – full text.
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