Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 114

National Ukrainian radicals have used the death of a Ukrainian folk composer to promote their political agenda in Lviv, the largest city of western Ukraine and the region’s cultural capital. Some 100,000 people, many of them carrying anti-Russian banners, took to Lviv streets May 30, the day of the funeral of Ihor Bilozir. Bilozir died in a hospital several weeks after being severely beaten near a cafe on the night of May 9. The investigation is not yet closed, but several media and right-wing parties hurried to indiscriminately accuse Russians of Bilozir’s death: He had been assaulted, they explained, by “Ukrainophobes” for singing a Ukrainian song in the cafe. The far-right Social National Party openly called for “blood for blood,” which ignited a riot. Vendors of Russian books and music cassettes fled downtown Lviv, a mob broke windows in the cafe where Bilozir had been attacked, and a large group of radicals raided the local cafes demanding to turn off Russian music. The local authorities did not interfere, but the incident did not develop into any large-scale violence.

The popularity of nationalists in Ukraine has slipped over the past decade. Their showing in the latest parliamentary elections in 1998 was especially poor, when only the moderate nationalist Rukh won representation in the Verkhovna Rada as a party. It looks as if a significant portion of Ukraine’s right-wing parties believe that cultivation of xenophobic feelings in western Ukraine–their traditional stronghold, where interethnic peace has always been rather fragile–may bring them back to the limelight. The far right Ukrainian National Assembly, Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO), announced that they do not have any faith in the official investigation of Bilozir’s death and threatened to proceed with their own investigation, find Bilozir’s murderers and sentence them according to their party’s law. UNA-UNSO were publicly backed by the veteran national radical Stepan Khmara, who warned that the murderers would be found by UNSO even if they are hiding abroad. Khmara is a front-runner from a constituency in Lviv for by-elections to the Rada, scheduled for June 25. The son of the late Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil, Taras, runs in the same constituency. The Lviv chapter of the Rukh (People’s Movement of Ukraine) released a statement in connection with Bilozir’s death, instigating anti-Russian sentiment. The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry on June 7 sent a note to the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, protesting the instigation of xenophobic sentiment in Lviv. Meanwhile, the city’s authorities set up a special commission to check the use of Russian in trade, public catering and advertising, instructed the tax authorities to check newspaper outlets, and banned broadcasts of the Russian-language Nashe radio FM station (Studio 1+1 TV, May 29; New Channel TV, May 30; UNIAN, May 31; Ukraina moloda, June 1; Fakty I kommentarii, Segodnya, Chas, June 2; STB TV, June 5; Kievskie vedomosti, June 7).

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