Until recently, Svoboda [an All-Ukrainian Union, founded in 1991, eventually listed as one of Ukraine’s five major political parties. – Ed.] has been certainly expected to play a big game in the political field. Now few if any expect this party to make a breakthrough. Worse still, many are afraid of its actions that may turn out to be counterproductive. On the other hand, whether a straightforward, principled approach or a flexible one, designed to meet the interests of the state, is the best in terms of big-time politics remains to be determined. Also, various political parties interpret these interests in their own ways.
As for Svoboda, the worst thing is that this party has changed where it shouldn’t have while making no changes where such changes should be made. For example, Svoboda MPs torpedoed the Verkhovna Rada’s session by displaying a poster reading “Glory to UPA Heroes!” whereupon the communist and Party of Regions members of the Ukrainian parliament walked out. What they did can only be described as provocation, something the opponents of Ukraine’s European integration (in Moscow, in the first place) had been looking for.
Svoboda is accused of working for Moscow, doing so on purpose or allowing itself to be used. Experts, politicians, and voters are showing an ambivalent attitude toward Svoboda’s leader, Oleh Tiahnybok. Here is a recent example. Svoboda MPs refused to vote for the shale gas bill and were tagged as Muscovite agents. Promptly there emerged printed media articles accusing Svoboda of having ties with one of the Ukrainian oligarchs. Once the Svoboda MPs altered course and passed the shale gas bill, they found themselves accused of going through the motions of fighting the existing corrupt regime while actually being part of it – even though there were no media reports with hard evidence of Svoboda’s corruption and being dependent on big business and paid-for publicity.
In many respects, Oleh Tiahnybok’s party has become hostage of its image – as has been the case with almost all parties and politicians from whom the electorate expected too much. The Party of Regions is no exception, of course. Svoboda, however, has been under close public scrutiny from the outset, precisely because of its image and promotion campaign. This political image has been Svoboda’s biggest asset. This, also, leaves one wondering about the electorate’s expectations. Did they expect to watch fist fights in parliament? If so, there have been enough such brawls – otherwise the Svoboda MPs would be branded as cowards and compromisers. Did they expect Svoboda people to take part in all rallies of protest? There are names on record: Yurii Miroshnychenko, Oleh Medunytsia, Andrii Ilienko. These men were among those who defended the Hostynny Dvir, stormed the Kyiv City Council, and fought to topple the Lenin statue.
One could ask the electorate: “Anything else you’d like to have?”
Result: nil – Svoboda could say that all they have is 10 percent votes, that they are constantly being impeded. The opponents should feel happy about the accursed Banderovites being so flexible, so counterproductive. Or maybe Kolesnichenko should tear his T-shirt in the Verkhovna Rada, yelling about regular physical assaults on the part of all those “neo-Nazis”? If so, he is sure to get precisely that kind of treatment.
Svoboda has got carried away fighting the communists, communist symbols, over the languages and UPA issues. In fact, this party is focusing on them. Very likely, the party leadership is receiving more than membership dues. The electorate expected Svoboda to mature – and take radical steps – after getting seats in the Ukrainian parliament. However, maturity and radicalism are incompatible notions. Tiahnybok’s party is exposed to criticism from two opposite points [i.e., communists and the Party of Regions. – Ed.]. Svoboda has to meet these challenges, in terms of alleged ties with business and lobbyism. The party leadership remains silent. Not the best kind of tactic, considering that their opponents will assume that the Svoboda leadership has something to keep secret. On the other hand, should this leadership be accused of having betrayed the basic party principles? This topic is worth being considered in detail.
Svoboda is charged on three political and economic counts: (a) European integration, (b) struggle against the regime in Ukraine, and (c) shale gas production.
Svoboda has maintained an ambivalent attitude toward European integration. This party, being the quintessence of the west of Ukraine, an outpost of anti-communism and opposition to Eurasianism, is actually a classical right-wing force that cares little about the rights of sexual minorities and other “excessive benefits” of liberal democracy. Svoboda leadership’s statements concerning the Jewish issue, using the 1960s-1970s [Soviet] vocabulary, horrify Europeans who want to rid themselves of all those phantoms from the past. Poland is closely following Svoboda, which is understandable from the historical point of view. Likewise, the European leftists hate parties such as Svoboda. In all honesty, this party can hardly fit into the common European home format. It seems as though this party emerged from the 1920s-1930s, considering many aspects of its rhetoric. There are many such parties in Europe and they are topping the list of opponents of tolerance in regard to immigrants, sexual minorities – at times, even to the entire consumer society – for this is the current phase of European progress.
Brussels, Warsaw, and other EU capital cities aren’t far removed from double standard. What is reluctantly accepted as another political reality within the EU is regarded as aggressive atavism in Ukraine. The soccer provocation, using Ukrainian national insignia, succeeded because it was supported by a number of interested parties – among them ranking national soccer bureaucrats, Polish “experts on Nazism” and their Ukrainian leftist consultants (I don’t think I have to explain who is funding the latter) – that had made a deal. After the death of Lech Kaczynski [in a plane crash] there have been increasing anti-Moscow moods in Poland, that the Kremlin is responsible for certain [political] decisions meant to antagonize two historical neighbors [i.e., Poland and Ukraine. – Ed.].
Poland is closely following Svoboda, which is understandable from the historical point of view. Likewise, the European leftists hate parties such as Svoboda. In all honesty, this party can hardly fit into the common European home format. It seems as though this party emerged from the 1920s-1930s, considering many aspects of its rhetoric. There are many such parties in Europe and they are topping the list of opponents of tolerance in regard to immigrants, sexual minorities – at times, even to the entire consumer society – for this is the current phase of European progress.
Svoboda’s deliberately minor voice in the European integration choir, performing in the current Ukrainian political theater, should not surprise anyone. History develops in spirals and the emergence of right-wing nationalists, with their nation-state ideology, fits perfectly into the current European development project, considering its [i.e., EU’s. – Ed.] critical condition, as well as its obvious longing for the good old no-migration times. The EU’s approach to right-wing radicalism – especially that of the centrist proponents of European integration, along with their determination to act in keeping with EU ideology – is another matter. Svoboda is not openly opposed to European integration while declaring its firm stand in the matter of building a nation-state as part of the common European home. This stand is absolutely understandable, except that the ways and means of building it appear to be following a scenario, often an out-of-date one.
Svoboda’s determination to teach the Europeans a lesson they’ll never forget and show the electorate this party’s principled stand in defending the main [Ukrainian nationalist] insignia may prove disastrous for the whole European integration project. It is hard to tell whether provocations – if and when endeavored by Svoboda – will add to that party’s ratings. Its membership would tangibly diminish, let alone its influence on the capital city and the central regions of Ukraine. A number of Svoboda allies overseas would turn away from this party. Our mottoes these days are about European integration and getting away from Moscow, but when European integration turns out to be impeded not by communists or Medvedchuk, but by nationalist extremists, many will wish those [Svoboda] guys were anywhere outside Ukraine, even if for a while, lest all those sensitive people in Brussels get really nervous. Well, these guys are here, marching, waving their red-and-black flags.
As for Svoboda’s strategic changes while having seats in the Verkhovna Rada, there is a paradoxical trend. On the one hand, Svoboda men are fighting to tear down the monuments to Lenin, staging marches, campaigning to uproot the communist ideology and leave all [Soviet] names out of place names. Apparently something Svoboda’s electorate is expecting from this party. Svoboda’s initiatives sound good, like perpetuating the memory of those who took part in the Kengir GULAG camp uprising (1954). However, no Svoboda people attended the Den-organized public hearings commemorating the Norilsk uprising. What is the difference between the GULAG prison camp revolts in Kengir and Norilsk? Perhaps because in the former case the initiative did not come from Svoboda top functionaries – or so they may have assumed.
Also, skating on the thin ice of WW II themes, now that Ukraine is struggling to embark on the road leading to the European Union, doesn’t seem to be a good Svoboda strategy. The big question is whether the party needs this kind of strategy; it could have held it back, lest any of its actions scare away the proverbial West. If and when Svoboda stops fighting the phantom of communism, what will be left of the previous only hope of the nation, Ukraine’s only number one anticommunist force?
Svoboda found itself trapped by the shale gas bill – a trap worse than the European integration one, considering that the environmental and economic issues are uppermost on the electorate mind. This party is declaring its active support of Ukraine’s energy independence while opposing the shale gas bill. Svoboda opponents are known to have alleged that the party members of parliament accepted a huge bribe. There is no evidence, of course. In the end, Tiahnybok and his Parteigenossen concurred with legally set guarantees of safe shale gas development and output. In fact, they received all kinds of guarantees of Ukraine’s happier shale gas future from multinational corporations across the world. I might as well assume that there will be fewer Svoboda supporters in the basic industries after passing the shale gas bill. For all I know, Tiahnybok isn’t pressed any charges in that domain.
European integration is not questioned in the west of Ukraine; Tiahnybok’s Svoboda or not, the populace is resolutely European-minded. No traces of communist insignia left. Instead, UPA flags are seen everywhere, as a matter of course.
Raising the living standard and improving the environment remain the key issues on Svoboda’s agenda as the long-time ruling party in the western regions of Ukraine. Local party functionaries should figure out the consequences of their administrative decisions. If and when Chevron damages some areas in Galicia (Halychyna), offering no better living standard options, for the benefit of multinational corporations, Svoboda will be blamed.
While fighting communist phantoms, Svoboda is a step back from current economic and largely political events in Ukraine. I wonder how Tiahnybok and his party, with their nation-state slogans, can fit into the European course which appears to be supported by the existing regime, along with a large part of the opposition. Does this mean that Svoboda will end up being isolated from big-time politics after Ukraine signs the Association Agreement?
After Ukraine is admitted to the EU, it is safe to assume that Svoboda will alter its standards the European way, that this party will eventually stop scaring Brussels with its radicalism – otherwise Svoboda will be swept off on the path leading to a united Europe, and its electorate will be brainwashed by another moderate national democratic party.
If and when the Association Agreement fails (thanks to Svoboda’s ill-conceived efforts and those of other opponents on record), the right-wing forces will be in for even more exciting experiences. They [i.e., Svoboda. – Ed.] will end up on the good old battlefield with Moscow. This will keep them ticking, justifying their radical stand, including acts of violence against opposition members (something explicitly discouraged by the EU). On the other hand, Svoboda membership may decrease, rather than increase, because under the circumstances all party members will be blamed for failing to make the Association Agreement.
Very likely, the next Verkhovna Rada will have seats for Svoboda MPs – fewer than previously, to be sure. Svoboda isn’t likely to disappear from the political field in the predictable future; there is no other political force to replace it in the west of Ukraine, and this country must have a strong right-wing opposition, considering that the east of Ukraine may well come up with a project entitled something like “With Russia Forever.”
In other words, Ukraine needs a political party such as Svoboda, as a trend-setter, not as a mythical panacea cure-all. This party is made up of living beings, not of angels and demons. The trouble is, Svoboda appears to be unable – or unwilling – to reform. This party seems to be frozen on a teenage level, gaping at Europe’s version of the Pearly Gates. This kind of human beings is not admitted, but Svoboda men would make perfect guerillas behind the rear lines of Putin’s Project Eurasian Empire. Svoboda probably needs these guerrillas who will blast their way to this kind of empire.