The Extremism and Xenophobia of Ukraine's Svoboda (Freedom) Party

by Leonid Stonov, International Director August 2013

More than half a year has passed since the nationalist, right-wing, extremist party "Svoboda" (“Freedom”) became one of the main Ukrainian parties that crossed the parliamentary barrier and had a representative in a high position – vice-speaker of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament). What has happened to Ukraine? Why has a party that uses Neo-Nazi symbols and political violence become so powerful?

We need to remember that Svoboda ’s party leader, Oleg Tyagnybok, was elected to the former Rada in 2002. During the election campaign, he joined the Coalition around “Our Ukraine” Party (Yushenko Party). He was a member of the “Our Ukraine” faction, but in 2004 he was expelled from it because of his aggressive, anti-Semitic and chauvinistic rhetoric.  The “Svoboda” party inherited many ideological views from the Neo-Nazi Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU) – especially anti-Semitism and Russophobia. This party insists on restoring the ethnic origin information in Ukrainian passports and supports the principle of ethnic-proportional representation in the structures of authority.

The interpretation of history plays a serious role in the party’s aims. They broke up events dedicated to covering the role of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA, Ukrainian abbreviation UPA) in the extermination of Polish people in the Volyn region in 1943. Recently “Freedom” Party broke up lectures of German historian Gzhegosh Rossolinsky-Liebe, who named OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) ideology’s Fascist. As a populist party, “Svoboda” exploits slogans of social security and equitable re-distribution from oligarchs to Ukraine.

In recent times, many Party speakers claim that Jews organized the 1932-1933 Famine and they name their political opponents “kike’s mercenaries.” Besides Tyagnimok, another ideologist Yuri Mikhalchishin from Lviv is both an anti-Semite and a Nazi. He translated and published articles of Hitler regime “classics” such as Hobbles and Rem. Mikjalchishin named the Holocaust as a “bright period” in European history. In 2011, “Svoboda” took an active part in the anti-Semitic campaign against a Chassid, who made a pilgrimage to Uman (Cherkassy region) to the grave of the great tsadic Rabbi Nakhman from Bratslav. In 2012 and 2013, the party and its youth organization “Skolt” (“Falcon”) members organized many rallies and provocations in Uman. Many Jews were wounded and robbed. The Party also speaks out against homosexuals and immigrants.

Since 2009, the “Freedom” Party has been successful in local elections and was able to elect a number of deputies (for example, in Lviv Regional Council 41 deputies  of 116 seats; in Ivano-Frankovsk – 17 of 114; some deputies in Councils in the regions Volyn, Rovno, Chernovtsy, Kiyv and Khmelnitsky regions). In the 2012 Parliamentarian election, “Svoboda” received 10.44% votes (37 seats in Verkhovna Rada) and many seats in local councils. Such success can be explained not by its strategy but by political context – the crisis occurring across the national-democratic spectrum in the post-Orange Revolution period. People were discouraged by Victor Yushenko, and later Victor Yanukovich’s, policies.

The “Svoboda” Party has an image of radical opposition and many new supporters of this Party are sure that it will transition into a moderate, national-democratic party.  But even Rada deputies produce terrible anti-Semitic propaganda. For example, Igor Miroshnichenko, a Rada Deputy and member of the Party’s leadership, and Alexander Oronetz, Deputy Assistant and Party press-secretary, publicly spoke about “ethnic questions” in general and about Jews, particularly. They insisted that Kikes (they call Jews only Kikes) by birth hated Ukrainians, and that Kikes were grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the “Red Commissars” who killed Ukrainians.  Jews were identified with Soviet (or Russian) Communism. German Nazis used the same ideological ideas in their preparation for exterminating all Jews. After the election, leaders of the “Svoboda” Party publicly, and in a very xenophobic style, expressed Antisemitic, Anti-Hungarian, Russophobic and Homophobic views. Party members and supporters participated in different attacks and violence toward their political opponents and human rights activists. This party continues to be radical and extremist with many Nazi symbols and ideological similarities. We need to continue the monitoring of this and other radical parties and groups in order to prevent public life in Ukraine from becoming completely fascist.

We can see a serious increase of hate crimes, but no objective statistics have been published. The authorities are not using Article 161 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code (which criminalizes incitement to hatred, insults or discrimination based on nationality, race, or religion) in response to the “Svoboda” Party’s actions.

Vyacheslav Likhachev, chief UCSJ monitor in Kiev, helped with this report.