Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 53

While the strength of the communists keeps withering in Ukraine, another enemy of modern democracy–nationalism–is apparently on the rise. Ukrainian nationalists see communists as Russian agents rather than as ideological enemies; at the same time, these two political groups share the same intolerant world perception. Last week, a group of young radicals convincingly demonstrated that nationalism and extremism are prone to go hand in hand. On March 9, an armed group of twelve chased the communists out of their Central Committee headquarters in Kyiv, spread gasoline over the building threatening explosion, and barricaded themselves. Calling themselves the Ukrainian Self-Dependence Group, they made several demands on the government: a ban on the Communist Party and other “non-Ukrainian parties” (which they called “agents of Russia”), Ukraine’s withdrawal from the CIS and linguistic purification of the country. In a significantly symbolic gesture, the radicals hung a poster on the building invoking an old nationalist territorial claim to Russia: “Indivisible and independent Ukraine from the Carpathian mountains to Caucasus!”

They agreed to negotiate only with a delegation of nationalist Rukh lawmakers. The Rukh–including party leader Hennady Udovenko–openly supported the action and reportedly promised that the demands would be met. Afterwards, the extremists, four of whom turned out to be the Rukh members, surrendered to the police. The Rukh, which controls several government posts, demanded in turn that the extremists, who could face prison terms of up to seven years on charges of terrorism, be released. Surprisingly, the chief of President Kuchma’s office, Volodymyr Lytvyn, instead of condemning the group, lamented that the Communists will benefit from the event.

The once strong Communists, now on their knees after Kuchma’s most recent election victory and the subsequent loss of their dominance in parliament, will no doubt grasp the opportunity to play the martyr. Of true concern, however, is that the nationalists in the government are finding it difficult to adjust themselves to democracy and grasp the notion of impartiality of law. In a newspaper interview, Rukh member Ivan Drach–the newly appointed chairman of the State Committee for Information Policy, who is to shape the government relations with mass media–complained that democratic rules accepted worldwide contradict the Ukrainian national idea. Democracy in Ukraine will therefore be a slightly different animal. The nationalists, whose representatives are responsible for humanitarian policies of the Yushchenko government, mistakenly identify communism with Russia, in which Ukrainian nationalism sees its main enemy. Deputy Premier for Humanitarian Issues Mykola Zhulynsky proclaimed a course to linguistic de-russification, ignoring Ukraine’s historically bilingual nature.

There is a danger that this intolerance may awaken the dormant bear of Russian nationalism in Ukraine, which has an 11-million strong Russian minority and where Russian is the language preferred by some 50 percent of the people. Ukraine’s Russian organizations, numerous but small and poorly organized, demonstrated an earlier unseen unity in filing a complaint with the Council of Europe and appealing to Russia against the discrimination of the Russian language in Ukraine. Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko mocked their anxiety, saying that prioritizing Ukrainian “does not mean that we will strangle French, Russian or Hebrew.” Consequences of this short-sighted policy of the nationalists in the government may be detrimental to Ukraine’s independence. Russia, where nationalism is currently also on the rise, will hardly be an impartial bystander (Vechirny Kyiv, February 16, UNIAN, February 21, Ukraina Moloda, February 29, Region, March 4; AP, STB TV, March 9-10; Den, March 10; see the Monitor, February 16).