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A dangerous “antifascist” card

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May 19, 2013, 3:42 p.m. | Op-ed — by Halya Coynash

An anti-government protest on May 18 was marked by several scuffles between activist and so-called anti-fascists, who came to disturb the rally.
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Halya Coynash

Halya Coynash is a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Unlike administrative resources, thugs and cynical rhetoric, imagination was lacking among those who thought up the 18 May “antifascist demonstration” in Kyiv. It also lacked credibility. It was difficult not to suspect that the police had received prior instructions when they estimated the number of “antifascists” brought out by the ruling Party of the Regions as 10 times higher than the participants in the opposition “Rise, Ukraine!” rally (44,000 vs. 4,000). Another worrying incident occurred when an “antifascist” lout beat up a female journalist and cameraman.

Even if those in power were not actively trying to provoke trouble in Kyiv – as well as at the recent memorial events in Simferopol to mark the 69th anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars – they showed an irresponsible indifference to people’s safety and an inability to use democratic methods when faced with diverging views. 

The execution was also extremely poor.  

The “antifascist” card has been part of the current administration’s line ever since Yanukovych came to power. But it really took off after the right-wing Svoboda party gained over 10 percent of the votes in the parliamentary elections. The obvious mileage the Party of the Regions has been extracting from that victory, and from Svoboda’s coalition with the opposition Batkivshchyna and UDAR parties, can only fuel suspicions that Svoboda received tacit support. There is a cynical logic to such support since at the very least votes for Svoboda steal votes from other opposition parties, not from those in power. Moreover, with support for the ruling party falling ever lower, Svoboda’s rising popularity at least gives the Party of Regions the chance to cast themselves as the champions of moderate, non-nationalist ideology.

While Svoboda’s ideological consistency does not make its bigoted views any more palatable, the Party of the Regions is still a loser in terms of message. The old Soviet rhetoric being regurgitated was once part of a need to concentrate on the War and “fight against fascism,” because reality had stripped all communist myths of any credibility.

The Party of the Regions does not really have any ideology and even with near total monopoly over the media, the series of “anti-fascist” rallies around the country from May 14 and ending with Saturday’s rally could not convince anybody. The slogan “Into Europe without fascism” was embarrassingly absurd since it is the ruling party’s insistence on politically motivated prosecution of the opposition and assault on other democratic rights that have placed European integration in jeopardy. 

Nor do the words “without fascism” hold up under close scrutiny. The over-use of enforcement bodies and courts seen in the last three years in preventing peaceful assembly, and repressive measures against dissent suggest a very specific understanding of “antifascism.” One of the most vocal “antifascists” – member of parliament Vadim Kolesnychenko – is also the author of a bill prohibiting “promotion of homosexuality.” This latter term is as meaningless as the claptrap about antifascism while not making the initiative any less dangerous.

This danger was stressed in a statement issued by the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine [Vaad] and the Congress of National Communities. They write that the “anti-fascist” demonstrations are aimed exclusively at discrediting the political opposition by pushing associations between historical fascism and the party Svoboda, as well as all parties in opposition to the current regime.”  Their warning is unequivocal: the organizers of the “antifascist” events will bear responsibility for any provocation and escalation in tension..

While there were thankfully few incidents, the authorities can take no credit for this. The above-mentioned assault by thugs on two journalists is highly symbolic. Olha Snitsarchuk from TV Channel 5 and Vladyslav Sodel came under attack when trying to film around 10 burly louts beating up some Svoboda supporters. The police simply looked on despite calls for help. 

The ruling party’s “antifascists,” judging from reports around the country, included a very large number of public sector workers forced to attend for free and people offered money to be present. They also included the sort of thugs who gave fascism its deservedly bad press a long time ago. 

It is perhaps well that the Party of the Regions have shown themselves to be so unconvincing since all such attempts to blur the real meaning of fascism and neo-Nazism for political gain are highly dangerous. Power, however, is in their hands at present, and their total disregard for what – and who – can be placed at risk is immensely disturbing.

Halya Coynash is a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group.

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