After first denying its members had anything to do with attacking and spraying teargas on peaceful demonstrators at a gay rights rally on Dec. 8, the party swiftly flipped and proudly declared that it had broken up a rally of “perverts.”
But even more worrying than the abhorrent attack is the lack of loud and sustained public or news media condemnation of Svoboda Party, especially by Ukraine’s public officials of all political stripes. The two main minority opposition parties in parliament – Vitali Klitschko’s Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms and Arseniy Yatseniuk’s United Opposition-Batkivshchyna – bear the greater responsibility to distance themselves from Svoboda. President Viktor Yanukovch and his allies should also roundly condemn Svoboda, but they are more likely relishing the opportunity to discredit the entire opposition because of its tolerance of Svoboda’s extremism.
During the recent election campaign, the party presented itself as a moderate collection of patriots – nationalists who would put Ukraine’s interests first. Svoboda leader Oleh Tiahnybok took great pains to distance himself from his anti-Semitic stances in the past. Party members with neo-Nazi views, such as Svoboda member of parliament Ihor Miroshnichenko, were portrayed as fringe members. Racist comments about Gaitana, the black Ukrainian singer who represented the nation at Eurovision, were swept under the rug.