From ‘Echoes of Hitler’ in The Global Post
Meet Svoboda, an up-and-coming party in Ukraine. It’s nationalist, pro-Nazi, and poised for the parliament.
L’VIV, Ukraine — In this great city of western Ukraine, the worst of the European experience is creeping back into democratic politics.
In L’viv, it comes under the guise of Svoboda, a party calling for a Ukraine that is “one race, one nation, one Fatherland.” Originally known as the Social-National Party, it is rooted in Nazi collaboration.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. In 2004, following a disputed national election, the Orange Revolution, a peaceful campaign of protest, swept a coalition of moderate nationalist politicians into power. They quickly fell out among themselves. A blizzard of allegations of corruption swirled around them. One of the original leaders of the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, is in prison, convicted of “abuse of office,” although rights groups say her incarceration is politically motivated.
Young people are drawn to the nationalist rhetoric, and older supporters are more used to life under the kind of authoritarian views it holds.
Svoboda is now the largest party on L’viv city council and in the regional council. It has taken power in other major urban centers of western Ukraine, like Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk. Come this October, when the country holds elections, Svoboda is expected to make the jump to the next level and win seats in the Verkhovna Rada, the national parliament, for the first time.
Besides disappointment with the main democratic parties and endemic corruption around the country, Svoboda’s rise underscores a swell of anti-Semitism in a part of the world where the Holocaust was at its fiercest and there are virtually no Jews left. It is a symptom of an ultra-nationalism all along the eastern borders of Europe. This extreme form of racially based nationalism links Soviet Communism and Jewishness together. The patriotic fight against the former leads to Nazi-glorification and an excusing of local fighters roles in helping to murder Jews during the Holocaust.
Svoboda’s success so far has been built on a skilled public-relations campaign, complete with videos re-enacting Nazi propaganda tropes like torchlight parades and speeches that echo Hitler. Svoboda also honors Ukraine veterans who fought with the Nazis in a unit known as the Waffen SS-Galicia against the Soviet Army and the threat of what they refer to as “Jew Communism.”
They deal in gesture politics, changing the name of Peace Street, in an outlying district of L’viv to Nachtigall Street, in honor of a Ukrainian group that was implicated in a massacre of the city’s Jews after the Nazis arrived in June and July 1941. Svoboda’s reason: “Peace Street is a holdover from Soviet stereotypes.” Their political demonstrations frequently turn violent. Last September in Uman, Hasidic Jews on annual pilgrimage were confronted by Svoboda activists. The two groups were separated by police. The Svoboda contingent then attacked the cops. Dozens were arrested.
By Michael Goldfard
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