“Azov” – What’s the problem?

azov

 

2014/09/12 • Featured, Politics

By Halya Coynash

It had seemed hard to imagine a better gift for Russian propaganda than a Ukrainian volunteer battalion formed by men with pronounced neo-Nazi views and a penchant for flaunting the wolf’s hook and other such symbols.   Even more fodder for Russia’s propaganda machine could soon be provided if one of the Azov battalion’s leaders is not kept well away from the coming parliamentary elections.

Type in ‘neo-Nazi’ and ‘Ukraine’ on Google, and you’ll find plenty of Russian propaganda and also a number of articles about Azov.  There continues to be worryingly little about the well-researched direct ties between many leaders of the Kremlin-backed militants in eastern Ukraine and Russian fascist or neo-Nazi parties, such as Dugin’s Eurasian Youth Union and the Russian National Unity Party.  There are also a large number of members of these parties among those fighting with the militants.

That was one of the reasons why many people, the author included, who are revolted by the neo-Nazi views of Azov’s Andriy Biletsky or Ihor Mosiychuk said little publicly about their concerns.  There is, of course, another reason.  These battalions were formed when Ukraine’s army was still floundering against militants trained and heavily armed by Russia to fight the latter’s dirty war.  The volunteers were risking their lives and many have been killed defending their country.  What are you supposed to say?  We hate your views, go home?  Where, incidentally, do we draw the line as to ‘acceptable views’?

The same questions were raised during EuroMaidan when Russian and western media endlessly discussed the likely dangers of the extreme nationalist Right Sector, as well as of the far right VO Svoboda.  Russian propaganda is continuing to demonize both parties despite the presidential elections in which the two candidates together scarcely scraped 2% of the vote.

Ukraine is facing the gravest threat to its sovereignty and independence and is facing it alone despite the self-evident danger to all neighbouring states if Russia’s aggression goes unchecked.

It is inevitable in these circumstances that men or women who have placed their lives on the line in defence of their country will be regarded as heroes by a large part of the population.  Their views will not gain support as a consequence, but it would be naïve to underestimate the number of people whose vote will be determined by a person’s role in the war, not their political programme.

It is quite certain that seasoned politicians will not forget this for a second.  This danger was highlighted at the beginning of September by Viacheslav Likhachev who has monitored xenophobia, the far-right and anti-Semitism for over 10 years.

He writes that a specific feature of the present time is that “nobody is interested in the political programmes of parties seeking to take part in the electoral race.” Many Ukrainians, he says, see the political leadership as indecisive, if not guilty of treachery, and are tired of all the anxiety from the military action.  They’re “ready to support any party which will use the image of brave unshaven men from the trenches in their electioneering.

He points to the overt attempts which the leader of the Radical party, Oleh Lyashko is taking to gain mileage out of this situation  Whether Lyashko’s contribution to the  activities of the volunteer battalions is as great as he implies can be questioned, but it is clear, Likhachev writes, that his campaign will be based on carefully chosen photos of himself with weapons surrounded by volunteer soldiers.

As of September 10, however, there is another danger and it is serious.  The congress was held on Wednesday of a new “People’s Front” created by  the current Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Turchynov. It is known that the Front’s parliamentary candidates will include journalist and civic activist Tetyana Chornovol and Dmytry Tymchuk who has been chronicling Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine from the first days.

Members of a ‘military council’ were elected, with these including Andriy Biletsky commander of the Azov Battalion.

It is not clear as yet whether Biletsky could run for parliament in October, however any role for a man who in peacetime was (and remains) leader of the Social-Nationalist Assembly [SNA] and ‘Patriot of Ukraine’ is entirely inappropriate.  According to Anton Shekhovtsov, researcher on far-right movements, “the SNA is a neo-Nazi movement, which has always been too extreme for the Right Sector. According to its official documents, its ’nationalism is racial, social, great-power imperialist, anti-systemic (anti-democratic and anti-capitalist), self-sufficient, militant and uncompromising’. Its ideology ’builds on maximalist attitudes, national and racial egoism,’ while glorifying the Ukrainian nation as part of the ’White Race.’

More can be said, however the above is surely sufficient to understand why Biletsky’s involvement in the People’s Front, let alone his election to the Verkhovna Rada, would be disastrous for Ukraine and a slap in the face for those who upheld Ukraine’s right to European integration through the long months of EuroMaidan.

Those who have fought, and those who died in defending their country deserve our gratitude. Political support, however, must be earned in different ways. One is for the leaders of all political parties to spurn populist moves and distance themselves from members of volunteer battalions whose unquestioned bravery and commitment cannot justify views which have no place in the democratic European country Ukrainians have demonstrated their will to build.

Originally published on khpg.org, republished with permission

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  • Dario Quintavalle

    Fascism in Italy started with veterans from WWI. They came back from war and created fascism. Now, what will happen in Ukraine when those who are at the front and are ALREADY fascists, will come back home? It is no use to say they have little political and democratic support: fascism indeed is about gaining power being a minority. If they cared about elections, they would not be fascists. So stop worrying about the blow to the reputation of Ukraine (gigantic indeed), and the service those people are doing to the russian propaganda, and start worrying about what will happen of your country after the war. Nobody there seems to have a clear vision on that, while you go from a disaster to another.

    • Randall Cook

      Um, bollocks–the time to worry about ‘after the war’, is After The War. Right now Ukraine needs ‘rough men, ready to do rough things’, to ensure Victory. Putin-Huilo.

      • jimhenley

        rough men doing rough things will lead to a rough future for Ukraine
        these rough men doing rough things will continue to be rough and do rough long after the Russians are gone…..

        • C Monk

          That is not historically true Jim.

          • jimhenley

            Hey C, I am a history teacher who was born in Munich in 1947 occupied Germany. My father in the US military, my mom a citizen of Belgium. My comment to which you refer was just a play on the words to Randall Cook’s post. My father was a rough man who did rough things…but he believed in freedom and democracy and respected all citizens regardless of race, religion or creed. If a small group of people gain experience in war time and they oppose the values mentioned above…they will use their war experience against Ukraine. They will not come home after the war and become productive citizens. Currently we have young men fighting in Iraq and Syria against dictators….and when they return home, they will create terror.

          • Michel Cloarec

            In Ukrainia there is a war going on, to stop the invaders a country must use all the volunteers who are ready to fight.
            As far as I can see, they are shooting in the right direction.
            After the WW2, the French Foreign Legion recruited Germans
            to go to Indokina to fight against communism. France did not care about their tatoos or what they did before. Those who came back (not many) have never been a threat to democracy. The main purpose is to stop those who are a threat to Ukrainia !

    • http://euromaidanpress.com Mat

      the thing is, these fascists are what, 200 people? and their beliefs are unpopular? what good will that do?

    • Nikolai Ivachtchenko

      Why are you not worrying about fascism sitting in Kremlin ? Or you are part of them?

      • jimhenley

        I worry about fascism in the Kremlin and KBG in the Kremlin and I worry about the future of Ukraine. I am an American who hopes for a free and independent Ukraine.

        • Michel Cloarec

          That is where the threat is coming from, and it must be stopped by all means ! Even if it does´nt seem to be ethical at the moment !

  • jimhenley

    This is an important message for the people of Ukraine. Do not allow the hatred of the Russians to cause you to embrace the fascists.No matter how they fight and die, they have there own agenda which leads Ukraine down a dead end street.

    • Milton Devonair

      A lot of countries/people fought ALONG SIDE of the germans in WWII to fight AGAINST the bolshevik russia. They didn’t buy into germany’s ideologies, but had a common enemy.

      russia is the common enemy of humans.
      russia is ebola.

  • nysq1

    They MUST be purged. International image depends on that. Merkel going to be extremely unhappy. WHO the hell gave them the right to Wear masks and carry flags other than Ukrainian? They should also obey orders and not trash the military. Also be told to not talk to press.

    • http://euromaidanpress.com Mat

      Why don’t they have the right to wear masks? All volunteers and many military wear masks to protect their identities and families from Russian terrorists.

      I agree about the flags though, they should be apolitical if they are going to receive any support from the government.

      • sandy miller

        The flags should be Ukrainian..no other. I thought I saw them with a trident flag…the one is this picture doesn’t look like it. What the hell tell those 200 hundred men to get it together and act like Ukrainians not newo-nazi’s . This kind of crap makes me crazy. If they ruly loved Ukraine they would not be hurting her in this way by falling right into Russias propaganda and then you wonder why your’ not getting support from the world? Just such damn stupidity.

        • http://euromaidanpress.com Mat

          I agree. From what I see Azov flies 3 flags: the SNA nazi flag, their “black corps” promo flag, and an inverted Ukrainian flag

          IMO all 3 are unacceptable

      • nysq1

        The photos I have looked at I have liked looking at Ukrainians open honest faces, not masks as it conveys radicalism and militia like feel. They just have to go. Already multiple articles about them. Swedish people who held Ukrainian flags in some school were forced to defend it as people had heard about neo-nazis. I also saw a photo of one azov member who abused a russian soldier exactly the way we decry. Ukrainians have to be better than russians.

    • Milton Devonair

      They wear masks because of the russian apes kidnapping them, their friends, family, etc. As for flags, most units of the militaries world wide have their own flag, along with the flags of the branches themselves.

      • jimhenley

        Most military units do not fly flags that under mind the nation they are defending.

        • Milton Devonair

          Your cheap opinion that they undermine their nation by fighting for its independence.

          • jimhenley

            Your cheap comment..they fight not for their country, but for their ideology……listen to them say Ukraine for Ukrainians….they oppose joining EU..too many “different” kind of people in EU.

          • Milton Devonair

            “Ukraine for Ukrainians”
            You may have to help me here. And just how is that some sort of embarrassment to Ukraine?
            I think every country should put their own country first. Once they have their own country, then they can take it from there as to where they want to go.

          • jimhenley

            Milton.there is nothing wrong with the statement itself. It is what some members of Azov mean by that. They oppose the goals of of revolution….joining the EU. The reason they oppose the EU, because they do not want different races of people polluting Ukraine. This idea by anyone that their race is superior to others comes from 1939 ……not good for the future of Ukraine.

          • Milton Devonair

            If one can distill all the protests in Ukraine over the last 15 years, it would have to be Ukraine being a fair, free and just Ukraine. That was the goal of the revolution if there was one. yanukovich reneging on his promise to european integration was just the last one of many instances that got Ukrainians out on the streets.

            Out of 46 million Ukrainians, a hundred people having racists beliefs is nothing. As long as they put their nation first, that’s all that counts. They can settle it out later, amongst themselves.

            Racial and cultural differences and differential values have been around for as long as there have been different races and cultures, not just when Germany and russia invaded Poland.

          • jimhenley

            Hell Milton, you make some valid observations….we disagree when you minimize the problem of Azov. Russia uses the pictures of the Azov to confirm to Russians that Nazis have taken over Ukraine….these pictures of Azov hurt support for Ukraine in the West. It is a real problem for Ukraine today.

  • toioioio

    It is high time for these Neo Nazi’s,to completely deny their ideology.
    Besides,one’s country,should be above all.

  • tpa

    Apart from negative propaganda effect is there a real danger? The Ukrainians already expressed their opinion once giving minimal support in elections for candidates with extreme agendas. Perhaps the company of moderates will temper the extreme views. Nevertheless it would be better if Azov removed the controversial elements from their insignia.

    • http://euromaidanpress.com Mat

      I don’t think they are a real danger in any way. 200 guys, big deal. What can they do versus the army, or even another battalion? They may stir up shit, but not do any real lasting damage.

      • sandy miller

        Mat the problem is the image they are portraying of Ukraine as Neo-nazi’s. Don’t you understand how important propaganda is in this war…so Ukraine is allowing 200 men to portray the image of all of Ukraine to the world as neo-nazi’s. It a huge problem…

        • http://euromaidanpress.com Mat

          I never dismissed the propaganda aspect. In fact, I’m writing an article on this topic right now.

        • Anna Palagina

          Sandy, propaganda can not use this stuff effectively. Why? Because just any other European country has a MUCH BIGGER representation of far right, fascist and nazi parties in its politics. So, if you pit Azov+all other groups against the Europe as whole, Azov looks like a grain of sand against a pyramid. Neo-nazis are an ugly, but currently harmless by-product of the freedom of speech.

      • jimhenley

        They have already done lasting damage as Putin refers to them as if they represented Ukraine. If the international community sees this a a battle between Fascism and Communism…..they will hope that both sides lose.

        • LorCanada

          A Canadian CBC woman journalist a few months ago was able to tour Crimea and give a report on conditions. She said along the roadway was a billboard with two images: on the left was a map of Crimea with a swastika stamped over it, and on the right was the Russian flag. The heading was “You must choose”. This is the kind of “disinformation” that people are exposed to with nothing to counter it.
          She did suggest a renewal of something similar to Radio Free Europe which broadcasted 24/7 and projected the views of the West without distortion.

        • Anna Palagina

          They have nothing to do with Putin’s representation. If they did not exist, putin would have simply invented them, same as Soviet propaganda invented the enemies of the people.

          • jimhenley

            Yes, Putin is a liar. Every time he opens his mouth he lies. A picture is worth a thousand words and the pictures of Azov hurt the Ukraine. The idea of accommodating fascism to defeat Putin is a mistake. When Ukraine is under attack it is natural to cling to any ally……it takes courage to call them out and tell them to get rid of their flags and fly the flag of Ukraine.

          • Anna Palagina

            I am not saying we should “coddle” them or suppress the evidence. We should openly discuss it, and how their actions affect Ukraine in general. In this case there is a chance that they will tune it down or abandon it all together.

          • jimhenley

            Anna, we can hope!

      • Dave Ralph

        You and others are too quick to dismiss the real danger that the Azovs will try to achieve with their guns what they cannot achieve at the ballot box. Tolerant and open-minded Ukrainian citizens will be the first victims of such dictatorial fantasies. Remember that the Bolsheviks also had negligible political support, but that did not stop them from setting up a dictatorship that lasted 70 years.

        • Anna Palagina

          Bolsheviks did that in Russia, a country of confused slaves.

          • theUg

            Curiously, Ukrainians were part of that country so they must have been slaves with the same level of confusion. Likewise, Hitler never got a majority vote in open elections, thus the Germans are also confused slaves, amirite?

    • nysq1

      Havent you heard they already promise to come back from the front and threaten the President and democracy in general. In an interview one claimed Putin was a jew and what Ukraine needs is a dictator. Western journalists are genuinely disturbed as am I, A Danish supporter who admire your country and civil society.

      • Anna Palagina

        Yes, they did say it. However, let us make a distinction between declarations and possibilities. Take an extreme picture: suppose they a) are really out of touch with reality & b) did come to Kyiv, made a military coup there and installed themselves a nazi-style dictatorship. How long do you think it would have lasted?

      • LES1

        Why even mention a “supposed” interview of ONE ??

  • http://euromaidanpress.com Mat

    Just to clarify, the “military council” is made up for 6 battalion commanders and theyy are not members of the Party itself. Basically just advisors / there to give the party military credit.

  • Dave Ralph

    The Azovs are almost as big a threat to Ukrainian democracy as Putin himself. The Azovs’ threat to stage a coup against Ukraine’s democratically elected government should be taken seriously, as these are heavily armed, highly motivated fighting units, and Ukraine’s security services are still of dubious loyalty in the event of an internal crisis.

    • Nikolai Ivachtchenko

      The big treat to Ukraine are writers like you

  • Dirk Smith

    Wow, the Stalinist propaganda is working wonders it appears. The “Nazi” fixation gives people like Lavrov great satisfaction. Both sides have far-right volunteers; as does any other military organization in any country. If it motivates your organization in a time of war, who cares. Unless the world economy collapses, neo-Nazi groups have no chance for power of any regard. Focus on the issue at hand, which is to remove the muscovite cancer out of Ukraine once and for all!

    • jimhenley

      I am a strong supporter of removing the muscovite cancer out of Ukraine once and for all and I oppose any group who would give aid and comfort to the enemy by flying a nazi flag.

  • Dis

    We tend to employ wordly associations, instead of basing our opinions on the factual experience. So far the SNA’s exaggerated wrongdoings are limited to politically incorrent statements.

    • jimhenley

      and a politically incorrect symbol that gives aid and comfort to the enemies of Ukraine.

  • Arctic_Slicer

    Hayla Coynash is right on with this piece. Respectable people such as Yatsenyuk and Tymchuk should not be associating with the likes of Andriy Biletsky.

  • Nikolai Ivachtchenko

    To make it clear, you can fight for Ukraine but to live in Ukraine you have no right whatsoever. Only ” respected ” people , including Medvedchyk , Shufrich ,etc. can live and participate in political life. Results of their “participation ” are clearly visible now. Article smells by Kremlin , this is disgusting .

    • Anna Palagina

      It is not Kremlin, and wearing stuff with swatika’s does hurt the public image of Ukraine. However, before passing judgements of who allowed and who is not allowed into ukraine, european powers must pass judjements on themselves and dela with their far-more-numerous far-right first. Ukraine is fighting a war alone and it must take all the help it can get. do not like Azov? Give us the NATO troops to replace them.

  • Jacob Schønberg

    Everybody has a right to have a view , even a wrong view! As long as you follow the law. They are even welcome to try to get 1 of their heroes elected. In a democracy debate is needed! Azov Battalion are strongly nationalistic, they love their country and fight to defend it. There are many Batallions and they should all be organized inside the military.

  • Lilianna Juhasz

    Everyone is in such an uproar about the so called ‘wolf’s hook’ symbol of this insignificant political party, Yes, I too cringe somewhat when I see it. But, take a look at the company logo for Nationwide Insurance. The only real difference is that one has a bar and the other has a feather. And in a nation of 46 million, why the panic over 200 people. There are more neo-Nazi’s in a cornfield in Iowa than there are in Ukraine. Normal aversions to extremist viewpoints will limit the influence of anyone representing this political group, especially in a country tired of years of ethnic discrimination under the Soviets. ‘Skinheads’, white supremacists, neo-Nazi’s and assorted other fringe groups have been common place in the US and so far, their major achievements have been an occasional blurb on the evening news when they hold a rally and are picketed by 10 times their number in protest. Does anyone think that the US military is free from people with this mentality? Or any Army, for that matter? It is only when a significant majority of an Army or a significant majority of a population has a radical mindset that such an uproar is justified. That being said, there is sufficient justification to cause an even greater concern about the neo-Nazi’s waving the St. George banner and proselytizing the supremacy and ‘purity’ of their race, conveniently forgetting that they are the progeny of generations of invaders of countless colors and races. In the meantime, anyone willing and able to stand and defend against a merciless foreign aggressor should not be a made a target of concern about their future political motives. This is the time to make sure that there will be a future and not the time to debate the shape of the future.

    • jimhenley

      Lilianna, this small group is being used by Putin for propaganda in Russia and the international community to discredit the Ukraine government and the revolution; Pictures of Azov reinforce Putin’s support in Russia and reduce support for Ukraine in the US and Europe. I have had to convince Jews in the US that Nazis have not taken over Ukraine. This small group is damaging the cause of defeating Russia today.

  • fkebede

    “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then maybe it is a duck”. This are just disillusioned kids who grow up with Nazi fantasies and violent fetish for Nazi and skinhead paraphernalia, this exist all over Europe even in Russia, but it is only in Ukraine that this mindless fantasists play a major role in national politics. This is the arrogance that created this Ukraine tragedy.

    It is in a way very surprising to see Nazis in Eastern European Slavic nations, and claim to be patriots for their nation, it makes one wonder that “don’t they know what Hitler’s and Nazism’s opinion of the Slavic people was??”, it is like Blacks in the US joining the Ku Klux Klan or Christians in the Middle east joining Al Qaida and ISIS.

    • LorCanada

      I only know that Poroshenko won the election on May 25/2014 with 54% of the vote, and the Nazis got 1% of the vote. To me that says it all.

    • Anna Palagina

      “it is only in Ukraine that this mindless fantasists play a major role in national politics”
      firstly, they do not “play a role” in national politics. Secondly, you might want to reconsider what you said “only in ukraine they are allowed to play a role”, since it simply untrue. Take a look at Hungary, a member of EU, for example. Neonazi party Jobbik holds between 16 and 20 percent of parliamentary seats since 2010. Greece, member of EU – almost 7% of the parliament are neo-nazi party members, Golden dawn. And odn’t get me started on FPO and Le Pen, who have owherwhelming and growing support in Austria and France.

  • Conan Edogawa SCL

    Stop Fascist RuSSian propaganda.