Defining the Far Right and Far Right Radicalism in Ukraine

When embarking on an effort to describe and analyze the activities and ideology of Ukrainian far right groups, it is essential to first describe who we actually consider right-wing radicals and why.

Of course, in modern Ukraine, like in many other contexts, there is no clear-cut or universally-accepted answer to the question of which groups should be defined as right-wing radicals.

Indeed, the dynamism and flexibility of the right side of the political spectrum in European countries makes it difficult to define “right-wing radicalism.” A list of characteristics, ranging from nationalism to anti-communism and from collectivism to anti-Americanism, most often determine what can be consider “radical” right-wing. One researcher alone counted 26 modern definitions of right-wing radicalism, which encompass at least 58 unique criteria.M. Minkenberg, Die neue Radikale Rechte im Vergleich: USA, Frankreich, Deutschland (Opalene: Westdoischer Verlag, 1998).

One of the most common definitions of modern right-wing radicalism belongs to the Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde. According to Mudde, the most important characteristics of right-wing radicalism are nationalism, racism, xenophobia, opposition to democratic values and support for a robust and aggressive state apparatus.Cas Mudde, “Right extremism analyzed. Comparative Analysis of Ideology of three alleged right-wing extremist parties (NPD, NPD, CP ' 86)” European Journal of Political Studies 27:2 (February 1995): 203-224.

Ultra-Nationalist Ideas vs. Western-Style Liberal Democracy

In our understanding, right-wing radicalism is a political ideology based on ultra-nationalist ideas that directly contradict Western-style liberal democracy and its values, which mainly consist of: inclusivity, tolerance, freedom, equality, individualism and universalism. Ultra-nationalist ideas revolve around a national identity, such as ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious characteristics. In the same vein, ethno-nationalist and other exclusionary models reject the concept of a civic nation. The essence of right-wing radicalism is a combination of xenophobic ultranationalist attitudes with authoritarian political models.

Theoretically, it is also possible to have right-wing radical models with foundations built not on nationalism or racism, but on religion. However, in the contemporary European political context, there are almost no visible radical movements that are premised exclusively on Christian-fundamentalist ideas. Nationalists have used religious rhetoric, but the religious factor serves them more as a marker of belonging to a national culture and ethnic community, or simply as an additional populist argument against the values of liberal democracy. In the European context broadly, and in the Ukrainian context particularly, religious belief serves as a key motivation for political activity in more moderate-conservative circles, and less so in those associated with the far right.

While a systematic analysis of an organization’s ideological materials is necessary to properly classify it, it is more important to scrutinize the organization’s concrete activities. The Ukrainian far right resorts to a wide range of violent and pro-violence practices, including physical assaults, obstruction of peaceful assemblies, the legitimation and glorification of violence, and public calls to violence.

In academic literature, attitudes toward political violence are generally considered determinative for whether a group or an actor can be classified as extremist. Delphine Michel and Camille Schyns, “EIP Explainer: Understanding radicalisation,” European Institute of Peace, accessed June 30, 2020, http://www.eip.org/en/news-events/eip-explainer-understanding-radicalisation.

Views on the radical restructuring of society can of course be expressed and pursued peacefully through law-abiding participation in democratic political processes. But extremism also implies a failure to recognize the democratic rules of play and the desire to use force to influence society and political processes. Extremism differs from radicalism in its aims not in its means. We are aware that political literature often distinguishes "violent extremism" from non-violent extremism. However, in this context, this distinction seems inappropriate.

We define right-wing extremist groups as those that legitimize violence as a means of political struggle in their propaganda; those that praise or justify historical cases of political violence; those that call for violence; and/or those involved in violent acts against ideological opponents or representatives of minority groups.

Of course, the experience of the 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests and the subsequent military incursion by Russian-backed forces influenced perspectives on the role of violence in Ukraine’s social and political life. In the most dramatic confrontations between protesters and law enforcement from January to February 2014 and in street battles with pro-Russian irredentist groups, many people who do not hold extremist political views nevertheless took to throwing Molotov cocktails. Therefore, adequately assessing groups that are extremist requires contextualization, including a systematic analysis of their ideology and activities, including those undertaken before the Euromaidan protests and during the subsequent Russia-Ukraine war.

The Political Context in Ukraine

The unique features of Ukraine’s political context necessarily influence analytical attempts to determine which political organizations can be reasonably characterized as radical right-wing.

Firstly, in Ukrainian politics, there was never an obvious boundary between the moderate national-democratic camp and radical parties and movements. Secondly, Ukraine’s post-independence politics are characterized by official party manifestos that are either purely formal, or so devoid of meaningful content that it renders the classification of their politics impossible, thus complicating the analysis.

One of the common indicators of right-wing radicalism is xenophobia, which follows logically from typical “exclusivist” exclusionary ideas about the nation.Elisabeth Carter, “Right-wing extremism/radicalism: reconstructing the concept,” Journal of Political Ideologies, 23:2, (2018): 164.

Most Ukrainian right-wing radicals utilize rhetoric directed against representatives of certain ethnic or religious groups, the LGBT+ community and others. The challenge of classification, however, is that representatives of political parties that are formally adherent to a moderate or even left-wing ideology also make xenophobic and homophobic statements. Indeed, the flexible or vacuous ideologies of many of Ukraine’s political forces have allowed radical ideas to find a home in more moderate parties.

For example, Levko Lukianenko, a former dissident and author of the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine, has repeatedly made anti-Semitic and racist statements,See, for example: Staff Plus 24, 276 (June 2008): 24-30. but that has not prevented constituents from electing him to represent the moderate Tymoshenko Bloc twice.

The outspoken radical, Oleh Tiahnybok, was elected to the Ukrainian parliament in 2002 with the support of Viktor Yushchenko’s bloc, Our Ukraine, and entered its parliamentary faction despite also representing the Social-National Party of Ukraine. It is true, however, that when Tiahnybok made anti-Semitic proclamations in a July 2004 speech,Daynarecords, "Тягныбок (фашисты бандеровцы). Украина 2004" [Tiahnybok (fascist Bandera). Ukraine 2004], Youtube video, 0:39, May 24, 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i4gvF15BRI. he was expelled from the bloc. His expulsion following the anti-Semitic statements was unique for Ukrainian politics, though it seems that it came only because of the widespread attention his comments received during the 2004 election campaign. Moreover, his exclusion from the faction did not prevent him from playing a significant role in the Orange Revolution.

In any case, Lukianenko’s and Tiahnybok’s xenophobic statements alone are not sufficient to label the Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine radical right-wing political parties. And if the presence of anti-Semitic beliefs, though marginal and rare in Ukrainian political rhetoric, does not necessarily signify the depth of an entire movement’s right-wing radicalism, the significance of more widespread forms of xenophobia may be even less clear. Further, homophobia is common among political leaders and parties across the spectrum from Viktor Medvedchuk to Oleksandr Turchynov, but the presence of such beliefs among a party’s representatives and supporters does not mean that we should consider the entire movement radical far right.

An analysis of the context, as well as the degree to which xenophobia is rooted in the rhetoric and ideology of a political organization, is necessary to better assess its significance as a defining marker.

Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia as Defining Characteristics

In some cases, anti-Semitism and xenophobia are common not only in the rhetoric of a party’s members but are also central to its ideology and propaganda. Such parties, such as Svoboda, can easily be characterized as radical right wing according to an expert on radical and extremist groups.V. Likhachev, "A Place of Anti-Semitism in Ideology and Propaganda 'Freedom'," Forum for New History and Culture of East-Revensky, No. 1 (2013): 111-134, https://www1.ku.de/ZIMOS/forum/docs/forumruss19/05Likhachev.pdf. Svoboda’s anti-Semitism neatly falls within the party’s understanding of the nation"A Place of Anti-Semitism in Ideology and Propaganda 'Freedom'," 2013. as a “blood-spiritual community.”"Історія ВО 'Свобода'" [The history of  the political party ‘Svoboda’], “Svoboda” Official website, September 23, 2011, https://svoboda.org.ua/news/articles/istoriya-vo-svoboda/89749. “The concept of nation should include its ethnic makeup: a nation is a blood community,” said party leader Oleh Tiahnybok in 2009.Roman Skrypin, "«Я люблю українців. Я – український націоналіст»" ["I love Ukrainians. I am a Ukrainian Nationalist”], Radio Svoboda, April 26, 2009, https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/1616359.html. “The nation is a bloodline, and a spiritual community,” reiterates the Svoboda party’s manifesto, A Short Ideological Training Course for Right Sector Activists and Fighters.“Короткий ідеологічно-виховний курс для активістів і бійців ‘Правого сектора’” [A short ideological training course for Right Sector activists and fighters].  National Revolutionary Right Sector Movement. Official website, June 8, 2018, https://pravyysektor.info/oriyentyry-oficiyno/korotkyy-ideologichno-vyhovnyy-kurs-dlya-aktyvistiv-i-biyciv-pravogo-sektora. The organization officially believes that, in the “state-designated entity that is now called Ukraine,” which is in fact “not Ukrainian," “internal occupiers” have seized the government.According to “A short ideological training course for Right Sector activists and fighters.” Also noted in "РЕЖИМ ВНУТРІШНЬОЇ ОКУПАЦІЇ або кланово-олігархічна система держави Україна" [Internal occupation or clan-oligarch system of the Ukrainian State], The National Right Sector Revolutionary Movement. Official Site, May 25, 2017, https://pravyysektor.info/oriyentyry/rezhym-vnutrishnoyi-okupaciyi-abo-klanovo-oligarhichna-systema-derzhavy-ukrayina. Also noted in Ukrainian News, "Правый сектор пообещал, что Украина будет принадлежать украинцам, а не 'жидам'" [Right Sector promised that Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, not yids], Youtube video, May 3, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jcVdMqWAYU. These ideas are regularly supported by the party’s officials. For example, when the leader of Right Sector’s Odesa branch said at a rally that Ukrainians should control positions of authority in Ukraine, “not Jews,”“Right Sector promised that Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, not yids,” 2018. the movement's leadership shared its support."Відповідь 'Правого сектору' скептикам та фантазерам" [Right Sector reaction to skeptics and fans], National Revolutionary Right Sector Movement. Official website, May 3, 2018, https://pravyysektor.info/novyny-poglyad/vidpovid-pravogo-sektoru-skeptykam-ta-fantazeram.

National Corps party leader Andrii Biletskyi called “race” a “fundamental principle” that clearly distinguishes “social-nationalism” (the ideology with which Biletskyi associates himself and his political projects) from other right-wing movements.Andrii Biletskyi, “Ukrainian racial social nationalism/Ukrainian social nationalism. – Kharkiv,” Patriots of Ukraine, (2007): 3-5. (In the web archive of the official website of the SBR "Patriot of Ukraine": https://web.archive.org/web/20080409023834/http://www.patriotukr.org.ua/index.php?rub=stat&id=267). This is one of many such statements made by Biletskyi on the topic. For our purposes, it is sufficient to note that there are many more than just a few examples of xenophobic statements in the discourse of political parties such as Svoboda, Right Sector and those affiliated with Andrii Biletskyi. These ethnocentric and ultra-nationalist ideological beliefs, which are an integral part of the parties’ ideology and propaganda, allow us to characterize these parties as radical right-wing.

Conclusion

Based on the above criteria and analysis, we consider the main radical right-wing Ukrainian political organizations, including Svoboda, Right Sector and National Corps, to be extremist. Analysis of the activities of these organizations and groups, before the revolution. To draw such a conclusion, see: V. Likhachev against the Right Sector and others, and A. Verkhovsky (ed.) The Russian Federation is not Ukraine: Contemporary emphasis of Nationalism (Center Sova, 2014): 230-275. See also “«Правый сектор» и другие: национал-радикалы и украинский политический кризис конца 2013 – начала 2014 года" ["Right Sector” and others: radical nationalists and the Ukrainian political crisis at the end of 2013 – beginning of 2014], Polit.ru, September 6, 2014, https://polit.ru/article/2014/09/06/radical_nationalism. In other words, in the current Ukrainian context, the terms “radical right,” “right extremist” and “ultra-nationalist” are largely synonymous and interchangeable. The groups themselves, of course, do deny that they are "radicals" or "extremists," but, an objective analysis of their ideology and activities, according to the criteria outlined by European researchers, clearly shows that these objections are unsupported.    

There is also a large contingency of right-wing extremist groups without clearly articulated memberships and leaderships, consisting of several dozen to several hundred members as well as more amorphous subcultures that do not participate in elections but are nonetheless notoriously aggressive in their propaganda or illegal activity.It is worth remembering that during the Maidan Revolution (2014) and at the beginning of the war there were notable pro-Russian radical groups, an ideology based on Russian imperial nationalism, or pan-Slavism. There were also branches of Russian organizations in Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, they either folded or moved into the occupied territories. Today, the pro-Russian far-right is not a prominent political force in Ukraine. These include Brotherhood (Братство), OUN Volunteer Movement (ОУН), C14/Sich (С14/ Січ), Tradition and Order (Традиція і порядок), Social-National Assembly (Соціал-Національна Асамблея), UNA-UNSO Party (Українська Національна Асамблея-Українська Народна Самооборона), Carpathian Sich (Карпатська Січ), Nemesis (Немезида), Order (Орден), and others.

This project is dedicated to documenting the ideology and activities of these groups.