by Gordon M. Hahn
The February 2014 Maidan revolution that overthrew democratically elected if gravely corrupt Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich was supposed to usher in an era of liberal democracy and the rule of law. Despite relatively free and fair elections, the democracy deficit, among the Maidan regime’s other deficits, might be the most dangerous deficit of all. Put aside the war crimes Kiev’s army and ultra-nationalist-dominated volunteer battalions committed during the civil war and the ongoing massive corruption that is actually worsening in conditions of state financial collapse and economic dislocation. Even after these issue are removed from the equation and we focus on governance and rights issues, democracy in Ukraine still stands at the edge of an abyss. It is perhaps one no less profound than another just outside Kiev, at Babi Yar, which saw tens of thousands of Jews slaughtered at the hands of German Nazis and Ukrainian collaborators of the Nazi-allied Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) in a matter of a day or two.
The Ukraiian government has adopted numerous draconian, repressive laws since the rise of the Maidan regime. The most authoritarian law was that which declared the ‘anti-terrorist’ operation – a declaration of civil war – after pro-federalization and anti-Maidan groups’ takeovers of government buildings in the Donbass and temporarily elsewhere in the manner of the Maidan’s seizure of power in Kiev. This was done within weeks after the Donbass revolts without any serious effort to negotiate a resolution of the dispute with Donbass demonstrators turned rebels. Democracies rarely emerge after violent revolutions. By contrast, Russia, faced with a far more radical uprising in Chechnya in 1991, waited and negotiated on and off for three years before embarking on its fateful war.
More recently, Ukraine’s parliament, the Supreme Rada, passed a law allowing for the firing of bureaucrats and officials for ill-defined ‘separatism’ or support thereof without a court decision (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/92160-uvolnjat-chinovnikov-za-separatizm-sobirajutsja-bez-reshenija-suda). On April 8th, the Rada passed another new law that, along with banning supposedly fascist as well as communist propaganda and symbols, criminalizes them as well as any displays of “disrespect” for OUN veterans. OUN and its leader, Stepan Bandera, are held up as heroes by Ukraine’s nationalist, ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist parties, whose members comprise a near majority in the Rada.
One part of the country rules over the other with few protections for political minorities. Western Ukrainians hold a monopoly of power in Kiev, and numerous Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists have been appointed to important positions. President Petro Poroshenko appointed Western Ukrainian governors in the central eastern regions of Kharkiv and Dniepropetrovsk, angering pro-Russia majorities there. Of the 19 ministerial positions in the new government, only two were given to eastern Ukrainians.
Representatives of ultra-right forces so popular in the western regions received several high-ranking government posts, including Ihor Tyahnibok’s misnamed Svoboda or Freedom Party, condemned in a European Parliament resolution in 2012 as “xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic.” Svoboda members were appointed to head five ministries in the provisional government of spring and summer 2014: Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych; Ecology and Natural Resources Minister Andrey Mokhnyk; Agriculture Minister Ihor Shvayka; Prosecutor General Oleh Makhitskiy; and Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh. Members of the neo-fascist Social-National Assembly, a radical Nazi party that seeks worldwide Ukrainian rule, were appointed last year to high-ranking police posts in the MVD, including the post of Kiev Oblast’s police chief – appointments that were condemned by democratic activists but not by Western governments. This week the leader of the neo-fascist Right Sector (RS) party, Dmitro Yarosh, was appointed an advisor to the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff. In the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Yanukovich, he was offered but turned down the deputy chairmanship of the country’s powerful Security and Defense Council under the then provisional government.
The formation of Right Sector on the night of November 26-27 was part of this quasi-militarization of the Maidan. Four ultra-right groups joined forces to found Right Sector: Stepan Bandera’s Trident, named after the head of the Ukrainian nationalist leader who allied and carried out massacres of Poles and Jews in league with the Nazis during World War II; the Ukrainian National Assembly; White Hammer; and the ultra-fascist Social National Assembly (SNA). The SNA’s program gives a glimpse of its ideology: “nationocracy.” It proposes banning all political parties, organizations, associations and ideological groups. The elite of the Ukrainian ethnic group or nation will hold full power: “Political power is wholly owned by the Ukrainian nation through its most talented, idealistic and altruistic national representatives who are able to ensure proper development of the nation and its competitiveness.” “Supreme power (executive, legislative and judicial) of the Ukrainian state will be in the hands of the head of state, who is personally responsible to the nation’s own blood and property.” Capitalism is to be “dismantled” and democracy is to be “eliminated.” All actions that fail “to comply with obligations to the nation and the state will entail the restriction of civil rights or deprivation of citizenship … The ultimate goal of Ukrainian foreign policy is world domination” (http://snaua.info/programa/).
Repression is not just being left on paper or limited to potential oppressors sitting in offices of power. For more than a year now, RS activists have been carrying out a more ‘soft’ reign of terror across the country – from war crimes on the Donbass war front to beatings of officials, alleged criminals, drug dealers, and prostitutes to attacks on media organs. RS claimed responsibility on its website for the 2 May 2014 terrorist porgrom in Odessa in which more than 40 pro-federalization, anti-Maidan demonstrators were burned alive, shot and beaten to death. RS was effusive about the Odessa atrocity: “May 2, 2014 is another bright page in our national history.” It noted that “about a hundred members of ‘Right Sector’ and patriotic-minded Odessa residents countered the rebels,” and “Dmitro Yarosh ignored the ‘expedience’ of the election campaign to coordinate the action against the Russian aggression” (Eugene Trofymenko, “ATO Po-narodnomu, Abo chomu ne Vladimir Putin ne vviv viyska,” Pravyi Sektor, 2 May 2014, http://pravyysektor.info/articles/ato-po-narodnomu-abo-chomu-ne-vladimir-putin-ne-vviv-vijska/). The election campaign to which the RS claim of responsibility refers was the presidential election held 23 days after the terrorist pogrom, and Yarosh openly campaigned and won just over 1 percent of the vote. But Yarosh’s game and that of the other ultra-nationalists is politics by anything other than normal democratic means.
Independent, ‘insufficiently patriotic’ media are under constant threat from the authorities and its allied ultra-nationalist thugs. Leading maidan revolutionaries call for the closure of television stations (http://vesti-ukr.com/politika/83684-turchinov-potreboval-zapretit-vewanie-telekanalu-inter and http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/83767-v-rade-predlozhili-nakazat-1-1-za-unizhenie-bandery). In recent months, the SBU has blocked more than 10,000 websites and recently searched the offices and seized the servers against two major domain registration companies (http://business.vesti-ukr.com/95702-sbu-zablokirovala-bolee-10-tysjach-sajtov).
More traditional media’s freedom and independence are also under threat. Television programs have been closed or threatened with closure for allowing ‘Kremlin agents’ to participate. An Information Ministry with the power to pressure and shut down media was established in autumn. Major media are owned in full or in part by sitting government officials, including President Poroshenko (Channel 5) and Ihor Kolomoiskii, who owns Channel 1+1 but was fired from his position as Denpropetrovsk Oblast’s governor a week ago.
Meanwhile, the independent Vesti (News) newspaper and radio channel, stalwarts of actual democracy and the freedoms of speech and information in Ukraine, have been under constant threat of closure and attack since the Maidan seizure of power. In a July 2014 attack, the media company’s offices were rampaged by ultra-nationalists organized by one of the Fatherland party’s then deputies in the Kiev city Rada, Ihor Lutsenko, who now sits in the federal parliament (http://vesti.ua/kiev/59814-otvetstvennost-za-razgrom-vestej-vzjali-na-sebja-nacionalisty-vo-glave-s-rasistom-vahniem and http://vesti.ua/kiev/59757-obrawenie-vestej-k-pervym-licam-ukrainy-kasatelno-razgroma-nashej-redakcii).
Just a few days ago and one day after Yarosh’s appointment to the General Staff, RS thugs attacked a Vesti newspaper delivery truck, stealing the papers and beating the truck’s driver (http://pravyysektor.info/news/v-chystyj-chetver-kyyany-ochystyly-stolytsyu-vid-informatsijnoho-smittya/ and http://video.vesti-ukr.com/kiev/3571-zakazchiki-napadenija-na-vesti-mogut-byt-iz-organov). Vesti brought to the attention of President Poroshenko, the leaders of the siloviki, and “first of all the Security Service of Ukraine” (SBU) the “criminal chaos in the center of Kiev”, adding: “We demand the cessation of terror against the mass media as well as against business and regualr citizens, which is being implemented by representatives of various political and criminal groups. We are sure that the state organs’ reaction to this disorder in the capitol will be a clear indicator as to whether the attack on the newspaper was an independent initative of criminality or an act planned on the order and under the cover of the authorites” (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/95772-vesti-trebujut-ot-pravoohranitelej-prekratit-napadenija-na-rasprostranitelej-gazety). The next day a bomb scare threatened Vesti’s offices (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/96015-v-pomewenii-radio-vesti-iwut-vzyvchatku).
Moreover, some nine members of the Opposition Bloc and/or the pre-Maidan party of Yanukovich, the Party of Regions, have ‘committed suicide’ over the last few months (http://www.rferl.org/content/suicide-homicide-ukraine-officials/26888375.html). More recently, the governor of Zaporozhe Oblast was found dead (http://vesti-ukr.com/pridneprove/92178-jeks-glava-zaporozhskoj-oga-najden-mertvym). The leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) is under constant investigation and threat of arrest. Deputies and members of the opposition parties, the Opposition Bloc and the CPU are often harassed by RS and other activists.
Finally, the SBU is more often and in increasingly large numbers making arrests on charges of sabotage and terrorism, without providing proof of their charges. On April 9th, for example, some 25 alleged terrorists were arrested in a single operation in Odessa on charges of planning terrorist attacks. Odessa was the scene of the abovementioned RS terrorist pogrom on May 2nd continues to include many pro-autonomy and pro-Russian elements.
Now the poisonous atmosphere of the revolution’s ultra-nationalism threatens to eat its own. The most recent attack on Vesti came a day after the news agency reported on the now nearly universal ritual of condemning anyone with views slightly at odds with the reining ultra-nationalist atmosphere or its guardians in corridors of power as “Kremlin agents.” Such charges were leveled against Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Yulia Tymoshenko’s Ftaherland party, the ultra-nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, and former head of the State Financial Inspectorate Nikolay Gordienko, who has charged Yatsenyuk and his government with massive corruption now being investigated, as I noted in a previous article. Vesti noted sarcastically that “Kremlin agents were multiplying in the Rada day by day” and that “(s)oon no one will be left in the Supreme Rada, except ‘Kremlin spies’ and ‘Yanukovich agents’” (http://vesti-ukr.com/politika/95705-rjady-agentov-kremlja-v-rade-mnozhatsja-den-oto-dnja).
In sum, the struggle between democrats and nationalists, between the different nationalist groups, between the oligarchs, and eventually even between more ultra-nationalist western Ukraine and less nationalist and more Russianized central Ukraine – not to mention the unfinished, latent civil war between Donbass and much of the rest of Ukraine – make a democratic outcome of the violent Maidan revolution problematic. The utter failure of Western governments and media, especially here in the U.S., to point out and criticize Ukraine’s democracy deficit and nationalist surplus, as I have here and elsewhere, makes a democratic outcome even less likely.
Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.