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On denazification… March 9, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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The claim by Russia that its invasion of Ukraine is part of a denazification process was reiterated again by Putin late this last week. There’s very broad condemnation of that line and parties like the KKE have argued that it is a ‘pretext’ for Russia’s invasion. And there’s pieces, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and many many other places which note the problems with the Putin line – to pick a few from many more.

Perhaps most powerful is the following:

Leading groups representing Holocaust survivors have condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that the “denazification” of Ukraine was one reason he invaded the country.

“The signatories of this appeal denounce the use of the words ‘denazification’ and ‘genocide’ to justify the attack on Ukraine,” reads the statement sent to AFP on Wednesday.

“We cannot accept that these words are tarnished in this way,” it added.

Leading groups representing Holocaust survivors have condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that the “denazification” of Ukraine was one reason he invaded the country.

“The signatories of this appeal denounce the use of the words ‘denazification’ and ‘genocide’ to justify the attack on Ukraine,” reads the statement sent to AFP on Wednesday.

“We cannot accept that these words are tarnished in this way,” it added.

Or perhaps this:

Ukrainian Jews expressed outrage Thursday after Russian troops entered their country on a self-declared mission of “denazification” after claims that Kyiv was actively carrying out war crimes against its own citizens.

And:

Jewish communal leaders were also mystified by Putin’s comments.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” said Kyiv Chief Rabbi Yonatan Markovitch. “I can only say that in terms of antisemitism, we’re very secure here. Incidents are very rare and the government takes care of them. We’re now in a war situation and hear sirens and see smoke from our house, [so] I don’t want to get into the issue of antisemitism. It’s not relevant. We’re in a war and we’re all coming together.”

One might think they would know better than most about this particular issue.

This is not to deny either the existence of neo-Nazi sentiment in Ukraine (less than 2% at the 2019 election and where far-right Deputies lost their seats in the Ukrainian parliament), or the reality that one paramilitary grouping with a distinct neo-Nazi sympathy and orientation was brought into their national guard in the mdi-2010s (the Azov Battallion, albeit Azov functions in the disputed Donbas area).

The integration of a paramilitary group with a reported (substantial) 20% or more of members who hold neo-Nazi views is disgraceful and something that should be pushed back against. That said, it should not be exaggerated.

This phenomenon of adherence to Nazi ideology and/or symbolism is seen time and again, particularly in non-state armies, and organisations such as the US National Guard. But it does not appear to reflect the sentiment of the totality of the Ukraine National Guard, let alone their actual military. The UNG is under the control, as with many such forces internationally, of their Ministry of Internal Affairs rather than the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It is, in essence, a gendarmerie, albeit one which has function on the front line of the disputed area. There are incidents during 2014 and the civil and military upheaval that were without question grim. But it is difficult to fit them into a systemic pattern of violence in the manner in which programmatic violence was pursued by the Nazis in Germany prior to their accession to power or after it.

Further there’s the issue of the first Yatsenyuk government formed after the Ukrainian political events of 2014. This did indeed contain an ultra-nationalist, far-right element in cabinet in the shape of the utterly toxic Svoboda party (The Right Sector, of like mind with Svoboda, gained one seat in 2014. A number of former Svoboda members also gained seats, most notably Andriy Parubiy who became Chair of the parliament, similarly with the Azov’s former Commander, who lost his seat in 2019). Three of their parliamentary representation of six became Ministers, including a Deputy Prime Minister. However, they left government after six months. At the 2019 election they won one seat and just over 2% of the vote.

It is difficult looking at the composition of the subsequent Yatsenyuk government to see it as far-right. Nationalist, without a doubt. But far-right in the sense that it would require ‘denazification’, that seems a huge stretch. And the same is true of other governments subsequently, including the current incumbents. Keep in mind that point about far-right participation in national government.

But there’s a question that struck me. If Russia was concerned about this to the point of war, did Russia in any venue whatsoever attempt to bring sanctions against Ukraine for this prior to this year?

For a start Russia has participated in sanctions against states itself (both at UN level and in the 2000s against Georgia and other post-Soviet states in order to undermine pro-western sentiment, and again in the 2010s against Ukraine, the EU and others). So one might expect that at a minimum there would be sanctions levied, not just on a unilateral level by Russia against Ukraine but through international bodies. No effort that I can discover was made to do so due to the supposed Nazi character of its political leadership, military or structures in concert with the EU, or at UN level. Nor was this complaint raised officially by Russia in any similar fora in such a way as to either sanction or even note the issue publicly and formally.

Of the broader orthodox communist movement there was in 2014 a flurry of pieces echoing Moscow’s rhetoric that there were fascist elements in government in Ukraine, and subsequently complaints about the then banning of the Ukraine CP. This is a far from unreasonable complaint, albeit the historical context and the closeness of that party to Russian nationalism would make one understand, if not share, the sentiment behind it, and certainly this would not be acceptable as a long-term prospect. But nothing that stated that Ukraine was a neo-Nazi or a fascist state in such stark terms as those offered by Putin.

This seems particularly odd, if only because if Ukraine was indeed a Nazi state the very least that might be expected would be an international campaign to do something about it across the last eight years.

For example, pressure upon the US, the EU, NATO or other international bodies, to bring their influence to bear. Contact with organisations fighting against anti-semitism. And that’s the very least. One might actually expect were this a second Nazi Germany, or Fascist Italy, or even Francoist Spain or Pinochet’s Chile that at some official level Russia would be building coalitions of international partners to bring what pressures were possible to bear well in advance of military action.

But then one looks at organisations such as the OCSE, which Russia has been a full member of, and the issue wasn’t raised there as far as can be ascertained – a recent opportunity to do so was the OCSE report on the 2019 election in Ukraine.

But what of others who might be exercised by this potential prospect of a neo-Nazi state?

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch (the latter an organisation which, while it has been deeply criticised by Israel for its reports into that state, has also been clear in cataloguing anti-semitic and fascist/nazi activities across the years) have not had any commentary or reports that Ukraine is indeed in need of denazification.

Further, the state of Israel, which might be expected to have a very particular view of such matters, has never raised the issue of neo-Nazi activity in Ukraine as an issue of such magnitude that there would be a significant or structural problem. It is possible that the fact Ukraine had a Prime Minister who happened to be of Jewish origin from 2016 to 2019 and currently an incumbent President who also happens to be of Jewish origin might have something to do with that. Perhaps.

What is all this getting at? That were Ukraine a neo-Nazi state perhaps we’d have heard more about it internationally over the past few years, that Russia itself one would hope, and likely many other states, would be involved in publicising this supposed fact and making as much noise about it as was possible. If indeed there was a neo-Nazi state in Europe then we’d all know about it. We’d have to. The dangers of an anti-democratic, antisemitic, anti-left and liberal, white-supremacist, eugenic supporting regime would be a clear and present danger.

But then one example of further contradiction.

In 2000, when the Freedom Party (founded lest we forget by a member of the SS and former Nazi Minister of Agriculture) entered coalition in Austria, the EU imposed sanctions against that state. Later when it returned there’s this:

“FPÖ coalition in 2017
Under Strache, the FPÖ nevertheless won 26% of the vote in the 2017 parliamentary elections, coming in third behind the ÖVP and the center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ). With 31% of the vote, Kurz agreed to form a government coalition with the FPÖ.

Unlike in 2000, the EU did not sanction Austria over the FPÖ’s entry into government amid strong populist sentiment across the continent and right-wing parties in power in Hungary and Poland.

Shortly after the coalition government was formed, there were armed police raids on the domestic intelligence services. Material relating to the agency’s infiltration of right wing and neo-Nazi organizations was seized, according to the Financial Times, which also said the FPÖ has control of all three Austrian intelligence services.

Strache’s appointment as vice chancellor, who often used anti-Semitic and racist slurs, made many people uneasy.”

Curiously of all this, not a whisper from Russia. And yet here was a party of the far-right in government in Europe. No complaints at the UN, OCSE, or made to the EU. Certainly no threats of armed intervention.

Indeed what did the Russians do? Well, remarkably, United Russia, Putin’s party, signed agreements with the FPO in 2016. Even more interestingly:

…just days before elections to the European Parliament in May, Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine and Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper published reports on a secret video recording that reportedly showed Strache offering an alleged Russian investor favors in exchange for electoral help. The video was taken without Strache’s knowledge on the Spanish island of Ibiza in early 2017.
Strache, and fellow FPÖ politician Johann Gudenus, who appeared in the video translating Russian into German for Strache, resigned. Kurz then announced snap elections.

So, in a case where we had a party with clear historical links to fascist sentiment in the EU, a party regarded as far-right, one which had been sanctioned by the EU only short years before (and by the by this is the sort of thing that does not inspire confidence – from one support “You cannot ignore the people. You are not a Nazi just because you vote for the FPO”) not merely were there no actions by the Russian government. Instead they actually retained and further extended links with that party. And many others of the far-right.

And just one other point re Austria and the far-right experience. Jorg Haider, former leader of the FPO went on to found the BZO (ironically these days it’s somewhat less extreme than the FPO – tellingly as far as can be seen no agreements with it from United Russia).

Due to Haider’s perceived contacts to Holocaust deniers, the Israeli Foreign Ministry on 29 September 2008 declared it was heavily concerned about the 2008 Austrian elections;[50] a spokesman of the ministry said that Israeli officials were “very worried about the rise to power of people who promote hatred, Holocaust denial, and befriend Neo-Nazis. We see it as a disturbing development and are following the matter very closely.”[51]

Yet, once again nothing at all from Israel about Ukraine in the last eight or so years – certainly nothing that would suggest it regarded Ukraine as a neo-Nazi state. In fact in 2015 there was this:

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko paid a state visit to Israel on 22 December 2015, where he met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and addressed the Knesset.[22] Rivlin visited Ukraine in September 2016.[5]

And last year this.

In 2021, Israeli President Isaac Herzog paid a state visit to Ukraine. During the visit, Herzog, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attended the inauguration of a memorial to victims of Babyn Yar on the 80th anniversary of the Nazi massacre of 33,000 Jews in a ravine near Kiev in September 1941.[23]

Comments»

1. Brian Hanley - March 9, 2022

I agree with all the above, I just wish at least some of the mainstream commentary would take into the very messy, tragic and bloody history of the entire region with regard to this issue. There are very deep memories of local involvement in Nazi activities, including in the Holocaust, right across eastern and central Europe, and not a lot of clean hands. Despite the justice of the basic Ukrainian position the widespread labelling of Putin as ‘Hitler’ or the Russians as Nazis is also simply just wrong. It’s maybe of niche interest while a war is raging, but I cringe when I see Cold War explanations for Russian domination wheeled out without any consideration of the history involved.

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WorldbyStorm - March 9, 2022

Oh yeah, Putins not a Hitler and Russias not Nazi. And the invasion isn’t fascist as such. I’ve been trying to work out what it is exactly and it’s difficult. It has numerous strands. Empire building but also misunderstandings I think on Putins part whether deliberate or not as to the nature of Ukrainian identity and even how that has changed in both the last three decades but also within the last decade. Also without question the history of Eastern Europe say with relation to anti-Semitism was often terrible and aspects of that persist to this day and within the EU too. The new Cold War stuff is particularly depressing – it’s like the old playbook dragged up with no consideration.

Actually for a genuinely disturbing read check out the comments section of the IT about no fly zones on certain articles. There’s utter delusion as to likely Russian responses yet the only thing one has to ask is what if Poland did send those planes and the Russian Air Force jnstated a no fly zone over Poland – what would the response of NATO or the US be (and I’m not going to go into rights and wrongs here just how round that go).

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Colm B - March 9, 2022

I think Dave Renton:s characterisation of Putin, Trump, Modi, Orban etc as right wing authoritarians is accurate but of course the line from centre right conservative to fascist is a continuum, not a set of discrete boxes.

I guess when you are sitting in Kharkiv (or Kashmir for that matter) the classification of the bastard who’s ordered hellfire to rain down on you doesn’t matter an awful lot right now.

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WorldbyStorm - March 9, 2022

I was thinking about this today, it’s sort of a hybrid really isn’t it? There’s on paper some pluralism. The authoritarianism is clever because it does allow considerably more space for dissenting voices even if those are ever more circumscribed. There’s aspects that would make me think a little of Francoist Spain towards the end, after the Opus Dei technocrats came into the picture – the continuing emphasis on religion as a glue, but of course United Russia isn’t FET y de las JONS. Perhaps Pinochet’s Chile towards the latter part of it? Or maybe just it’s closer to Erdogan’s Turkey? But there’s a singular aspect in terms of the focus on and isolation of Putin. Some analysts have noted that for all the obvious problems from Kruschev on the Politburo functioned more rather than less collectively in the USSR so there were some checks on craziness. Doesn’t seem like that’s an aspect of the situation there, and in a way it reminds of a sort of untrammeled monarchical set up, even 19th century in some ways. The utter misery that’s being inflicted does make this sort of parsing it out seem a bit tasteless but got to say I think it’s no harm to look at phenomenon like this in great detail because this isn’t quite like other regimes and therefore that provides a warning about how things may go elsewhere. Oddly it does show up the pretensions and nonsense from Orban in particular. The awkward squad in the EU has gone awful quiet in the last fortnight, all things considered. But Modi, et al, yeah, that’s kind of along the same lines. Modern authoritarians.

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terrymdunne - March 10, 2022

India is very different from what Russia seems to be like though – an atomised post-Soviet space, coming from a legacy of state control, compared to a place with a rich tradition of collective action, associational life & indeed elections which are, it seems, contested. See recent farm & citizenship law protests. The BJP are attacking Indian secularism, which is, undoubtedly, very bad, but I would wonder if they are more authoritarian than Congress, who after all stole an election & then suspended democrary when found out & launched a pogrom in mid-80s. I was there a couple of years ago and I managed to miss seeing a women’s demo that had more participants than the population of Ireland, which would be unlikely in Russia, admittedly this was in an unusually left part of the country.

In any case I dunno if we need to be focused on Putin. In the twentieth century, before Putin was born, Moscow had already crushed bids for Ukrainian statehood twice. Much as “we” were in Iraq before any of the political leaderships of 2003 were alive. States have long-term sets of intetests.

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Colm B - March 9, 2022

On Brian’s point re history, there’s also the history of Stalin’s forced collectivisation and the Holodomor man-made famine that resulted in of the deaths of 3-4 million Ukrainian peasants in the 1930s.
Yes Ukraine had the Banderite collaborators but every occupied nation produced Nazi collaborators including Russia.

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2. Klassenkampf Treehugger - March 9, 2022

I don’t think Putin cares what ‘the West’ thinks. The Nazi nonsense is for a domestic audience. The one thing guaranteed to stir many Russians is an echo of the Great Patriotic War, as it is known.

So getting worked up about it is a bit irrelevant. There is an information and propaganda war on.

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3. The Irish Cedar Lounge Blog Offers a Great Service to the Anti-War Left – Political Gibberish About the “Nazification” of Ukraine is Forensically Demolished | Tomás Ó Flatharta - March 10, 2022

[…] On denazification… […]

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4. tomasoflatharta - March 11, 2022

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