The following article appeared in the progressive British newspaper Morning Star. It is based on discussions by the author with Ukrainian activists who cannot currently be named for reasons of safety and security.
Last week, the United Nations overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism and practices encouraging racism and intolerance. The UN was established on the back of the defeat of Nazism. As World War II drew to a close, a declaration of war on the “axis powers” of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperial Japan was a precondition of joining the fledgling UN.
The vision of its founders – that co-operation rather than competition between countries could work, and that disputes need not be resolved by violent confrontation – was an emphatic rejection of the fascist creed, where the strongest dominate and the weak are exterminated. So for members of the UN to back that resolution was a no-brainer.
Just three countries saw fit to vote against it: the United States, Ukraine, and the tiny Pacific archipelago of Palau. Washington cast its vote in order to shield its Ukrainian ally. Over 40 countries – mostly EU members and Britian – abstained, again because they saw the resolution as an attack on Ukraine.
But why? An account of events in Ukraine since 2014’s Western-backed coup is chilling. The “Maidan” protests that brought down the Viktor Yanukovych government were portrayed in Britain, the U.S., and much of Europe as a popular uprising against a corrupt regime.
The truth is rather more complicated. Yanukovych, while corrupt, was elected, and the street movement that forced him from power was dominated by fascist and neo-Nazi gangs. Many people, however, went to protest at Maidan because they were sick of corruption, wanted higher wages and living conditions, and thought things could change.
But even then, support was almost entirely from the western parts of the country. Ukraine – never an independent country before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – has been sharply divided between east and west ever since.
As explained in The Empire and Ukraine by Andrew Murray, governments have changed hands through elections, but the victor has always been either a western or eastern oligarch, and the vote almost always split down the middle geographically.
Yanukovych was an oligarch whose Party of Regions had its power base in the east. His predecessor, Viktor Yuschenko, was backed by the west. And Yanukovych’s downfall was perceived across Ukraine as a reversal of the electoral victory of the Russophile east and a reassertion of the dominance of the more EU-inclined west.
Many in western Ukraine supported the EU association agreement pursued by the coup government – but Ukraine’s communists say the results have been disastrous. Since signing the agreement, Ukraine’s economy has been in freefall. When Yanukovych fell, there were eight Ukrainian hryvnia to the U.S. dollar; now there are 27.
Prices have soared and agriculture and industry have suffered as the country struggles to accord with EU and IMF prescriptions. Seven million are now unemployed; half the population can no longer afford to pay their rent.
The country’s communists denounce the “social genocide” ushered in by the new rulers. If Maidan brought economic disaster to Ukraine, its political consequences have been even more sinister. Paramilitary battalions unleashed by the government to crush resistance in the east openly use Nazi symbols and call for war on “Russians, communists, and Jews” in a manner instantly recognizable from Third Reich propaganda.
These shock troops of the Ukrainian right have been guilty of war crimes, including the torture and murder of civilians, in eastern Ukraine, as documented by charities including Amnesty International. Yet they have received training and money from the militaries of NATO states.
But they have also taken up key posts in the state security apparatus, most recently when the former deputy commander of the fascist Azov Battalion Vadim Troyan became head of the national police force this month. Collaborators with Hitler are now hailed as fighters for independence. Streets are being renamed after ultra-nationalists.
These are not fringe elements of the new Ukraine. They are key to the rewriting of history now underway which aims to shore up an invented national identity in the image of the right. This warped narrative slipped out when former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk claimed the Soviet Union had invaded Nazi Germany in the second world war.
Ukraine’s lurch to the far right has included a drive to outlaw the Communist Party. A “de-communisation” law has banned the use of communist symbols and criminalized any positive reference to the Soviet Union. Monuments to Red Army veterans who fought the Nazi invaders and Soviet-era statues have been torn down across the country.
The Communist Party of Ukraine is not an insignificant force: it was the country’s third-largest party before Maidan, winning 13 per cent of the electorate and nearly three million votes in 2012. Ukraine’s new masters are not prepared to risk taking it on democratically – it is now barred from participating in elections by decree of the minister of justice. The party is not yet illegal; a government lawsuit banning it was approved by Kiev courts, but it remains active pending an appeal.
Still, it operates under serious restrictions. Its voice is excluded from the media. When mentioned, communists are portrayed as separatists and Russian stooges. The inability to use communist imagery, distribute communist literature, or say anything positive about Ukraine’s socialist and communist traditions is crippling. And state harassment and persecution has been relentless. Criminal prosecutions have been opened up against more than 400 communists.
Members of the party can be disappeared, without any semblance of due process. One member vanished for over a year before the party was able to discover what had happened to him. Only an exhaustive scouring of the lists of prison inmates around the country yielded his location.
Kharkiv party leader Alla Alexandrovskaya, a 67-year-old woman in poor health, was detained without trial for months. Premises have been looted, property destroyed. And in the public narrative, the communists are already banned.
Communists are not the only victims of the new Ukraine. Politicians linked to Yanukovych’s old party have died in suspicious circumstances: the list includes Oleg Kalashnikov, Oles Bunya, Mikhail Chechetov, Stanislav Melnik and many more.
The government shows no interest in pursuing justice for the victims of far-right violence and murder, whether those are civilians in the eastern war zones or the 48 people burned to death by far-right arsonists in Odessa’s House of Trade Unions on May 2, 2014.
But the communists have received the most consistent, determined, and targeted repression by the Ukrainian regime. Partly this is because the Party of Regions dissolved itself; the next biggest party opposed to the coup was the Communist Party.
But more than that, the communists represent a class politics which the ultra-right forces dominating Ukraine must crush if their goal of attaching the country to U.S. imperialism via the EU and NATO is to succeed. Communists have fought against the militarization of eastern Europe and oppose the current build-up of NATO troops in Ukraine. They also campaign for peace in eastern Ukraine, where the far-right government’s war on the local population has killed thousands and displaced two million, on the basis of the Minsk II agreements.
Ukraine’s future looks bleak unless the Communist Party can succeed in its push for truly free elections in which the left is able to organize and participate. Ukraine’s communists need solidarity and the support of the labor movement everywhere against the tide of state repression engulfing their country.