Radical youth leader beats war drum

March 20, 2003, 7:06 p.m. |
While thousands of Ukrainians have taken to the street to protest the prospect of a U.S.-led war against Iraq, members of a self-styled Orthodox religious organization have been demonstrating under pro-war slogans the Islamic world.

As a series of protests against a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq have been held in cities across the country in recent months, a group of young people describing themselves as the Orthodox religious organization Brotherhood is holding counter-demonstrations in support of the war.

While around 300 demonstrators held a one-hour anti-war rally on Kyiv’s Independence Square on March 15, 15 representatives of the Brotherhood gathered for an alternative meeting.

Ukrainian News reported that a minor scuffle broke out between the two groups when a participant in the anti-war rally tore down one of the Brotherhood’s pro-war banners, after which the police escorted the Brotherhood representatives from the scene.

The Brotherhood appears to be the latest political vehicle of Dmytro Korchynsky, the former leader of the ultra-nationalist UNA-UNSO party. Under his leadership, the organization took part in several armed conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union, including Transdniester, Abkhazia and Chechnya.

After quitting UNA-UNSO in 1997, Korchynsky launched a new career as a self-styled “man of letters,” media pundit and political analyst.

Korchynsky founded the Brotherhood last year. Today he says the organization has several hundreds members in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa and Chernihiv.

Korchynsky said that his stance on the war against Iraq was based on both moral principles and Ukraine’s national interest.

“This war is a crusade against the Islamic threat,” Korchynsky explained. “And we think that it is wrong that the Arab countries control the price of oil.”

To date, the Brotherhood has held three pro-war rallies in downtown Kyiv, which have drawn 20-25 people.

During their first rally Feb. 15, 20 members of the Brotherhood were briefly detained by police as they marched up Andriyivsky Uzviz towards Independence Square, where an anti-war rally was taking place. The police alleged that the demonstration was unauthorized.

The detainees were reported to be carrying short sticks with their ends painted red, which they claimed were symbolic representations of candles.

While the Brotherhood approves of the war, Korchynsky insists that it does not support U.S. foreign policy in general.

“We were opposed to the military campaign against Yugoslavia,” he said. “But if there’s no war today, that will mean that the Arab regimes are victorious, and we should not allow that.”

Korchynsky said that the ideal scenario for such an anti-Moslem crusade would include the European Union as the war’s initiator and Ukraine as participant. He said that it would be better if United States was not involved.

The headquarters of Korchynsky’s “horde,” as the Brotherhood’s members refer to themselves, is on Kontraktova Square, next door to the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, where many of them study.

Even though the Brotherhood describes itself as an Orthodox organization, it is not affiliated with any of the three Orthodox churches operating in Ukraine.

The organization publishes a 4-page newspaper, which it claims has a circulation of 10,000 copies. One copy included articles with titles like: “The Brotherhood are Orthodox Taliban” and “Christ Akbar!”

Korchynsky’s articles also appear regularly in the weekly magazine Polityka i Kultura (Politics and Culture). The articles are mostly devoted to the theory of war and revolution, and have little to say about Christian belief.

However, Korchynsky said that his members are all church-goers. He said they are members of the three Orthodox churches and the Greek Catholic Church.

On March 18, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, Volodymyr (Sabodan), issued a statement calling on the United States and its allies to refrain from using force to resolve the Iraq conflict.

“Recognizing war as an evil, the church permits it only to defend one’s homeland or a neighbor,” the statement read.

Korchynsky is dismissive of attempts by the church to influence international affairs.

“Priests should wave censers in church and stay out of politics,” he said. “War is a matter for laymen.”

Political analysts have been scornful of Korchynsky’s pro-war campaign, however, dismissing it as a publicity stunt.

“Korchynsky’s actions are nothing but an attempt to gain publicity,” said Kost Bondarenko, director of the Kyiv-based Expert Center for Social Research. “While everyone else is against the war, Korchynsky is for it.”

Bondarenko said that since Korchynsky has only a tiny group of followers, the only way for him to gain attention is by expressing extreme ideas.