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Published in Stream:
Ukraine Live Day 318
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ukrainian Ultrarightist Groups March in Memory of Bandera; Protesters Seize LifeNews Camera
7 years
New Year's Day: Continued Artillery Fire on Ukrainian Towns, 2 Civilians Killed, 2 Wounded

Today, January 1 is the 106th anniversary of the birth of Stepan Bandera, the Ukrainian hero for some who was assassinated by the Soviet KGB in 1959, an act confirmed publicly by KGB General Kryuchkov, who said it was among the "last" acts of violence against undesirable people.

So today, at least 2,500 people turned out to march in Bandera's memory through Kiev, although most of them were too young to have lived through the period of his partisan activities or World War II.

Bandera was the leader of  the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which later split into factions, and he was associated with OUN-B, the movement that favored revolutionary tactics. He cooperated with the Nazi German military for the sake of fighting the Soviets, but like others in a short-lived independent Ukrainian government, he was arrested by the Nazis in 1941 -- but then later let out in 1944 to help the Nazis fight the Soviets (they lost).

The Soviets -- and now Russian leaders -- have always portrayed Bandera and other Ukrainian nationalist leaders of this period as Nazis and always muted the other half of their activity for the sake of which they enlisted Nazi support, which was to fight the communist Soviets. And this continues today, as the Kremlin continues to smear both anti-Moscow and Ukrainian independence activity of any kind as "fascist." It's an image that has stuck for many:

Certainly collaboration with the Nazis even for the sake of opposing communism isn't justifiable but it's an important context, as even Wikipedia tells us:

Historian David Marples summarizes the intermittently close relationship between Bandera, the OUN and Nazi Germany as "ambivalent", tactical and opportunistic, with both sides trying to exploit the other unsuccessfully.

And to be sure, there's nothing liberal or pacifist about the Banderaites -- they killed masses of civilian Poles, Jews and Russians in their warfare for independence. Bandera was in jail while his followers committed some of the worst of these atrocities but there are enough crimes to pin on him.

Not surprisingly, when bands of Ukrainian nationalists pour into the street with lighted torches today, the images strike fear and loathing into the hearts of many with historical memories -- and of course provide a bonanza for Kremlin propagandists, one which they didn't miss.
Translation: the usual witches' gatherings of Ukrainian nationalists in Kiev on the occasion of the 106th anniversary of Bandera.

Translation: Why is the entire world closing its eyes to the fascists' processions in the center of Kiev? Because they remember xenophobia and antisemitism only when it is advantageous.

Translation: March of human rights activists in Kiev in honor of the birthday of Academician Bandera.

These outraged -- and in the last case satirical -- comments got some pushback because people's memories also go back to Lenin and Stalin, both of whom committed mass crimes against humanity; Lenin opened the first concentration camp in Solovki. Some people, even Western journalists, cling to Lenin's memory as positive in fighting the Tsar's atrocities, and are upset when Ukrainians pull down his statues in numerous cities because he is associated not only with Soviet oppression but Russian imperialism.

Translation: And what do you think is better, a torch procession in honor of Bandera or Chekists' Day?

Putin, a former KGB officer, makes a great occasion of the annual day in memory of the "Chekists," which is the name for the secret police in the Soviet period, still used today.

In any event, at best Bandera has passive support in the broader Ukrainian population -- and not enough for enthusiastic supporters of Maidan and other issues like anti-corruption or economic hardship to come out on the streets.

As we can see from an independent report of this march by, police said 2,500 people turned out -- although organizers said there were 5,000. They dispersed by 8:00 pm.

"There were no violations of public order recorded by law-enforcers," said police.

Protesters tore a camera out of the hands of a Russian LifeNews reporter and trampled it, and another reporter allegedly had his mobile telephone taken, said The Russian Foreign Ministry complained that this proved the Ukrainian authorities were "inactive."

That may be, but they're inactive -- or perhaps too active -- in Moscow, too, as police seized the iPhone of an Ekho Moskvy reporter on December 30 during the protest on Manezhnaya right as she was attempting to interview opposition leader Alexey Navalny, as he was arrested. LifeNews didn't report this.

While violence against journalists -- even state propagandists -- is never justified, it's also important to understand why Ukrainian protesters are so angry at LifeNews. They lie constantly about events in Ukraine and incite hatred toward Ukrainians -- and this week, broadcast a huge whopper -- a false claim that the Zaporozhe Nuclear Station was leaking radiation. It was not; a power block was shut down, as local authorities and media reported, as well as Western journalists.

This wild tale got legs, however, not only in the Russia state media, but in the US, where widely-viewed Drudge Report has still not corrected the falsehood:

Are torch-wielding marching ultranationalists a threat to Ukraine's democracy? The ultranationalist parties Svoboda, Right Sector and the Sich Battalion organized the Bandera march.

Yet neither Right Sector nor Svoboda got the minimum of 5% of the votes in the parliamentary election; that means they did not pass the threshold to get their lists into parliament. Through single-mandate votes in some districts, they gained a total of 7 seats between them, 1 for Right Sector and 6 for Svoboda. Even if some disguised supporters are counted in with them, they wouldn't have enough to swing a vote in the 450-member Verkhovna Rada or parliament.

Even so, there is a great deal of concern about "warlordism" as these parties and battalions fighting in southeastern Ukraine against Russian-backed militants get involved in political life -- and are angry when Ukrainian forces lose battles or when President Petro Poroshenko pursues peace talks with Russia and the rebels they back in Ukraine.

Time will tell in 2015 whether people who couldn't get into parliament and can't get more than 2,500 people out on the streets for Bandera are going to prove to be a threat.

Meanwhile, there's been less attention to the same effect in Russia -- although all the commanders of the "People's Republics" such as Col. Igor Strelkov and Maj.-Gen. Igor Bezler were Russians, and are at large in Russia and still active even if withdrawn from the theater of conflict per se. Hundreds of volunteers -- or "involunteers" as they seem to be in some cases of the regular army -- have fought in Ukraine, some from ultrarightist groups in Russia that have used violence.

As for "warlordism" in the parliament -- the entire Russian parliament -- except one man, Ilya Ponomarev, who was forced to flee abroad -- voted for forcible annexation of Crimea through warfare; the commander-in-chief is the main warlord in Russia.

And the ultranationalists in parliament like Yevgeny Fyodorov, a United Russia deputy and leader of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) who thinks Alexey Navalny is a US agent, are able to turn out violent thugs to thwart the peaceful protests of the opposition as well as help militants in Ukraine.

In this video, NOD activists can be seen shouting "Maidan will not pass!" and "Get out of Russia!" and "Navalny should sit in prison!" (9:50), while Navalny supporters shout "Thugs will not pass!" and "Russia is Europe!" and "Navalny should sit in the Kremlin!" in response.

In 2015, we'll see which groups come out ahead.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick