In the 1990s, when I was a graduate student at Columbia University, a fellow graduate student who was also a Ukrainian Jew told me that when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s Ukrainian nationalists fire bombed Jewish homes, including his own family’s home, as a way to express both their nationalism and their hatred of communism. Thus I have known for many years that Ukrainian nationalism is both far right wing and anti-Semitic.
The link between Ukrainian nationalism and antisemitism goes far back in Ukrainian history. More recently, when Germany invaded Poland in September, 1939, the Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera, head of the “Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists,” (OUN) was released from a Polish prison (presumably by the Germans) where he immediately went to Krakow, the center of the German occupation government, to collaborate with the Nazi occupation forces. Indeed, during World War II Ukrainian “nationalists” collaborated with Germany to round up Ukrainian Jews for their eventual executions, including the infamous slaughter of over 31,000 Jews at Babi Yar, outside of Kiev, Ukraine. In 2010, outgoing Ukrainian nationalist president Viktor Yushchenko declared this same Stepan Bandera “Hero of Ukraine,” an honor quickly denounced by the European Union as well as by Russian, Polish, and Jewish organizations. Today, the “Svoboda” (Freedom) party, a Ukrainian far-right anti-Semitic political party, is one of the key groups aligned with the new Ukrainian nationalist government that just seized power in Kiev.
The February, 2014 spark that ignited the current crisis between Ukraine and Russia began when nationalist Ukrainians in Kiev engaged in street battles to protest then-president Viktor Yanukovich’s decision not to join the EU (the economic cartel know as the “European Union”). Thus right wing nationalist Ukrainians demanded that Ukraine join an organization that has already bankrupted a number of its member states, including Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. A recent poll showed that less than ten percent of these protestors were workers, the unemployed, or farmers. In other words, the demonstrators are overwhelmingly either pro-business elites that want to join in an organization that has a proven track record of exploiting working class people, and students, those that hope one day to be part of the Ukrainian ruling class.
Unfortunately, ousted president Yanukovich and his government are little better since they initially supported Ukraine’s entry into the EU and have since backed brutal police and military repression which has killed over 100 up to now. Nonetheless, the ouster of Yanukovich was not legal according to international law, and, more to the point, the removal of Yanukovich was followed by the ascension of an even more right-wing and anti-Semitic power grouping in the form of Ukrainian nationalists that include the neo-Nazi Svoboda Party. It is this far-right wing, anti-Semitic element in Ukraine that the US government supports!
Few would know this based on the coverage in the US media. Online headlines scream “World Scrambles as Russia Tightens Grip on Crimea,” while both Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeline Albright, two old cold war soldiers, are trotted out on the Sunday morning news shows to blather about Russian aggression and the valiant fight for Ukrainian freedom. It should not be ignored that both of these Red Scare stalwarts have much blood on their hands. It was Brzezinski that initiated support for the Islamic Mujaheddin in Afghanistan when he was National Security Adviser to then president Jimmy Carter. The result of this policy was that well over one million Afghans perished at the hands of US funded and trained Islamic militants. When Brzezinski was confronted with this reality he blandly responded that one million dead Afghans was a small price to pay to defeat the communism. In an interview with Leslie Stahl in 1996, President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright defended the US attacks and sanctions that resulted in the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children. “I think this is a very hard choice,” Albright said, “but we think the price is worth it.”
It is clear that these two cold warriors are not motivated by humanitarian concerns in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Once again, the US is on the wrong side of history. In the 1980s our government supported Islamic fundamentalists against pro-Soviet (and secular) leaders in Afghanistan and the result was the ascension of the Islamic fundamentalist Mujaheddin and later the Taliban. In arming and training the fundamentalists in Afghanistan the US created an Islamic fundamentalist monster that has since launched attacks from Algeria to Indonesia and from the Philippines to Chechnya. In Ukraine the US is siding with a movement that is deeply religious, far right wing and anti-Semitic. Outside the xenophobic rhetoric, these Ukrainian nationalists advocate entry into the EU, an organization that has so devastated the lives of millions of working and middle class people that are part of that union. Working and middle class Americans should oppose the Obama administrations support for the Ukrainian nationalists and demand that our government back off from a conflict that could well culminate in the US attacking the Russian military. Are we not embroiled in enough conflicts around the world?