BRAMA, September 23, 2010, 9:00 AM ET|
Opposition Blues in Ukraine
By Boris Danik
Introducing a rightwing political party, this time in Ukraine. Earlier in September it has disrupted an important opposition rally in Kyiv. Svoboda All-Ukrainian Union is usually described as a nationalist party. It stands far to the right of democratic Rukh Party which pictures itself as being right-of-center.
Svoboda party may have a problem in distinguishing between orderly assembly and mob rule. Its nationalist image is turning out to be a disservice to rational nationalism, which exists somewhere in a broader spectrum.
In context, nationalism of all shades, from heroic to benign to toxic, is abundant all over the planet. Often blurred with economic existential pressures, it is a common upper for international conflict and internal discord.
But it is also a stimulant for national liberation movements. In the 1930s and 40s, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) that battled for Ukraine's independence gained wide respect and many adherents, and has become an indelible part of Ukraine.
Stepan Bandera, its wartime leader stressed self-reliance as the cornerstone of national liberation front. He openly defied Nazi Germany, and will always tower over that era. Many others will be remembered, including young foot soldiers Vasyl Bilas and Dmytro Danylyshyn, who were executed by Polish regime in 1931.
When independence came in 1991, there seemed to be no longer a need for combative nationalism. One or two minor political parties that emerged with a self-styled nationalist label attracted few voters and acquired some notoriety for corruption (as did other parties). Svoboda Party is of a more recent vintage. Its leader, Oleh Tiahnybok ran for president in the 2010 elections, and drew one-and-one-half percent of overall vote.
Rightwing politics in Ukraine do not resemble any of the rightwing paste in the USA. In America it is saturated with nationalistic pro-war and anti-tax fervor across more than 500 conservative talk shows that are tooled and crafted for the benefit of the moneyed elite, and are specifically targeted at gullible audiences.
The highly paid, biz-subsidized talk show hosts speak like professional actors, converting the silly-putty script into something that sounds clever, witty, and charmingly folksy.
This mélange is packaged the same way as mass entertainment shows. It has become bread and butter of the Republican Party election campaigns since Ronald Reagan's sweep in 1980.
Today's rightwing nationalist currents in Ukraine are of a populist nature. They exist mainly in western regions, and are driven by disappointment with the Orange experience in the last five years, the frailty of the democratic model, and also, more recently by the widely shared resentment against Ukraine's present pro-Russian and increasingly authoritarian government.
This rightwing movement is under the umbrella of Svoboda Party, which so far has been a minor player on the national scene. It is sharply out of tune with mainstream democratic opposition parties, even though it has joined the Committee for Defense of Ukraine a coalition of opposition groups.
Rightwing politics are never successful in most of Ukraine. That's why Svoboda Party's fortunes will remain meager despite some regional gains. Meanwhile, its divisive effect is capable of doing significant damage for the democratic opposition camp.
Arseniy Yatseniuk's "Party for Change" has refused to join the Committee for Defense of Ukraine because of Svoboda Party's presence. Mr. Yatseniuk's wisdom may be questioned, but his hunches have been plausible, considering that Svoboda Party makes its own rules of conduct.
Svoboda Party, a crudely vociferous player, showed its etiquette at a rally on September 7 in Kyiv, called by opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Respected speakers, Borys Tarasiuk and Lev Lukianenko (who spent many years in the Soviet GULAG) were heckled by Svoboda warriors. The party leaders one of them addressed the rally had a full opportunity to distance themselves and their party image from rabble-rousers, by at least verbally restraining them. They did not do it.
Some say that Svoboda Party has been bankrolled and infiltrated by the Regions Party, but there is no hard evidence. Apparently Svoboda Party is ahead in the polls in three oblasts in western Ukraine for October 31 local elections. This shows the extent of the loss of compass "at the grassroots".
That's why when there is talk of new leadership, take a vacation. Ukraine has received much more help from Russians such as the late Russian leader Boris Yeltsin than it can possibly gain from its own fringe actors that are overplaying their hand and apparently are enjoying it. Their show is more damaging than any contrived radio talk show buffoonery.
Svoboda Party has no place in a democratic camp. Arseniy Yatseniuk apparently got it right. And perhaps opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, after the latest disruptive mob scene, hopefully may modify her, thus far, tolerant view of that party.
Dr. Boris Danik
North Caldwell, NJ
September 19, 2010
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