The Dilemma of Ukraine’s Extreme Right
By Dr. Serhiy Kudelia, assistant professor of political science, National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”
Viktor Yanukovych has become a blessing in disguise for Ukraine’s extreme right, particularly for the political fortunes of its leading flag-bearer party “Svoboda.” During his first year as president Yanukovych reversed most of the nationalist policies inherited from Yushchenko and moved much closer to Moscow then even Kuchma ever dared to. At the same time, his actions radicalized the nationalist core in the Western Ukraine giving “Svoboda” most seats in all of the region’s following the recent local election. The only way the party can sustain its current popularity, however, is by further radicalizing its rhetoric and challenging the national authorities directly.
Tyahnybok’s party has long been a prominent, albeit marginal actor on the Western Ukrainian political scene. His purist, some say racist, appeals to defend the interests of Ukrainians against migrants and oligarchs lacked any resonance even in the impoverished areas of the region. His rallies in Lviv just a few years ago attracted an aging poorly educated crowd from the rural areas.
Now, however, the tables have turned. Moderate nationalism of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko became synonymous even in some intelligentsia circles with a defeatist appeasement given the aggressive push from the Donetsk clan. More in tune with the local sentiments is one of Svoboda’s leaders Iryna Farion, who insisted during the recent rally in Lviv that Ukrainians should “forget such swear words as compromise and tolerance.” Rather, she called on Ukrainians to become “aggressive and egocentric” in order to defeat Yanukovych’s “horde”. Even more straightforward has been the party’s former candidate for Lviv’s mayor Yuriy Myhalchyshyn. He promised that “Bandera’s army would soon cross Dnieper, enter Donetsk and kick out that gang, which usurped power in Ukraine.”
Svoboda’s extreme rhetoric in the midst of what many perceive as a frontal attack on Ukrainian statehood helped the party to position itself as the last remaining barrier to the expansion of pro-Russian forces westward. This allowed Svoboda to take two thirds of majoritarian seats in Lviv city council and made Tyahnybok a front-runner in the presidential poll in Lviv surpassing Tymoshenko consistently for the last two months. The party’s political gains, however, are still tactical and limited mainly to the Western Ukraine. In the long-run “Svoboda” will inevitably face a strategic dilemma. If it continues its radical sloganeering without achieving any substantive policy reversals on the part of the authorities it will quickly lose political credibility among its voters. If, however, it follows on its radical promises with similar actions it risks being outlawed and prevented from running in the next parliamentary election in 2012. Ukraine’s political dynamics this year will to a large extent depend on how and whether “Svoboda” resolves this dilemma.
Meanwhile, with the current dominance of the Regions Party in the East-Central Ukraine and the increasing dominance of extreme right “Svoboda” in the West, pro-democracy forces have been clearly squeezed out of the political scene. The country’s political pendulum has now been moving swiftly it into a more repressive and illiberal direction. With Belarus and Russia across the border, it’s still hard to envision Ukraine coming full circle from the region’s democratic role model to the object of envy among the world’s autocrats. Nevertheless, given that the most out-spoken opponents of political repressions now are themselves the self-proclaimed enemies of liberal policies (despite the reference to freedom in the name of the party), increasing political confrontation this year will no longer be a promising sign for Ukraine’s democratic prospects.