Yushchenko Finally Gets Tough On Nationalists

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 66

The leader of the All-Ukrainian Party “Liberty,” Oleh Tyahnybok, was expelled from the Our Ukraine parliamentary faction on July 20. Tyahnybok was excluded after giving an anti-Russian, anti-Semitic speech at the gravesite of a commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a guerrilla group that fought the Nazis and Soviets in the 1940s.

Tyahnybok praised how the UPA allegedly fought Moskali (an offensive term for Russians), Germans, and Jews who wanted to take away our “Ukrainian state” (Ukrayinska pravda, July 21). “There is a need for Ukraine to be finally returned to Ukrainians” from the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia that runs Ukraine today,” he declared. His comments were widely circulated on the three TV channels controlled by the head of the Presidential Administration, Viktor Medvedchuk: State Channel 1, 1+1 and Inter (July 22).

Tyahnybok was obviously naive not to grasp that the authorities would publicize his offensive remarks to discredit the presidential candidate (Viktor Yushchenko) that he purportedly supports. Tyahnybok’s statement, “My speech is not the position of the Our Ukraine faction and especially its leader,” would not undo the damage (obkom.net.ua, July 21).

The State Committee on Nationalities and Migration appealed to the Prosecutor General to render a legal opinion about Tyahnybok’s comments. These “xenophobic” remarks, the Committee appeal states, are insulting to the 22% of Ukraine’s population who are members of national minorities.

Tyahnybok’s expulsion was the second since May 2002, when deputies linked to the Liberal Party were expelled because they voted for Volodymyr Lytvyn as Parliamentary Speaker, contrary to Our Ukraine’s preferences. Yushchenko has therefore had to radically clip both the Liberal and nationalist wings of his bloc.

Calling a group “nationalist” has long been an effective way to attack political groups in Ukraine. Rukh, for example, has always been branded as “nationalist” by its opponents. Any such label is disastrous in Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine. Two spin offs from Rukh, led by former Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk and Yuriy Kostenko, are in fact less “nationalist” than the center-right Liberal Conservatives. The Tarasiuk and Kostenko wings of Rukh are members of Our Ukraine. The third spin off of Rukh, Rukh for Unity, led by presidential candidate Bohdan Boyko is unequivocally nationalist. At the same time, it is irrevocably hostile to Our Ukraine and is reportedly funded by pro-presidential forces. A leading member of Rukh for Unity, Dmytro Ponomarchuk, was caught recording a telephone conversation between Yushchenko and Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko in late 2002. Ponomarchuk also admitted to funding a newly published anti-Yushchenko book by Oleksiy Lan entitled History of an Illness, which was deliberately released on the same day that Yushchenko announced his intent to run.

Three other extreme-right nationalist groups also support the pro-Kuchma camp: the Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA), Brotherhood, and OUN in Ukraine. OUN in Ukraine members are to be found within the Social Democratic United Party’s Social Justice faction in the Lviv oblast Council.

Now that Tyahnybok is now longer with Our Ukraine, the only other nationalist group backing the party is the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN). KUN was originally established in 1992 as the overt arm of the diaspora Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists — Stepan Bandera wing (commonly known as OUN revolutionaries or OUNr). KUN currently has seven members within Our Ukraine.

Yushchenko’s mistake was to allow nationalist groups, such as the All-Ukrainian Party of Liberty (formerly the SNPU) and KUN to run on the Our Ukraine ticket. Since 2002 opponents of Yushchenko and Our Ukraine have used this political association to brand both as “anti-Semitic” and “nationalistic” forces who are following in the footsteps of World War II-era nationalists who allegedly collaborated with the Nazis (temnik.com.ua, July 20).

Such Soviet-style accusations and counter-propaganda continue to resonate in Russophone areas of eastern Ukraine, where they will reduce voter support for Yushchenko. Such comments also work against enticing members of the left, particularly communists, into backing Yushchenko against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in round two of the elections. A statement on behalf of “real patriots” by the Communists, which condemned Tyahnybok’s anti-Semitic remarks, was eagerly cited by Medvedchuk’s anti-Yushchenko website (temnik.com.ua, July 22).

The publicity surrounding Tyahnybok’s comments and his expulsion should be placed in context. Four nationalist groups (Rukh for Unity, UNA, Brotherhood, and OUN in Ukraine) back, or are funded by, the pro-Kuchma camp. The UNA officially declares its support for Yushchenko, but this is part of a strategy to create negative publicity to blacken his reputation. In comparison, only one nationalist group (KUN) continues to exist inside the opposition Our Ukraine bloc after Tyahnybok (and therefore his All Ukrainian Party of Liberty [formerly SNPU] was expelled).

Members of both the authorities and the opposition have been known to utter anti-Semitic statements. However, only the opposition faces an “information war” against them, in which these derogatory statements can be used against them or their allies (Ukrayinska pravda, July 22).