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Next days and weeks in Ukraine will be telling

Press conference of Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych

By Theo Kyriacou

IT WASN’T supposed to turn out like this when representatives from Germany, France and Poland, along with opposition politicians signed an accord last Friday that envisaged, among other things, the creation of a government of national unity, the withdrawal of armed protesters and armed police from the streets of Kiev and other cities and the holding of elections after September but no later than December.

Many people thought that it was the beginning of a more stable and prosperous Ukraine, attuned to the intricacies of political compromise. The fact that the agreement did not completely please everybody probably meant it was balanced and fair and offered a workable solution given the circumstances.

Then things took a radically different turn: Yanukovich fled from his extravagant residence, the armed militias took control of Ukraine’s parliament and a well orchestrated political takeover ensued. Since then numerous laws have been steamrollered through with few opposition deputies offering or in a position to offer much resistance.

Plans are afoot to ban political parties, and minority languages including Russian, Romanian and Hungarian-Ukraine is made up of many minorities with their own languages and traditions-have had their official status revoked; a move condemned by the OSCE. In the capital and in several other cities some people who have dissented to these measures have been attacked or at the very least shouted down.

This should not come as much of a surprise. Amongst the groups that have played a pivotal, central role in the Maydan occupation have been the Right Sector and Trident-groups that are on the fringes of ultra-right politics. They are anti-semitic, anti-left and anti-democratic, generally against anybody who actively disagrees with their nationalist race-centred ideology. They are descendents of the war time Nazi collaborator, Stephan Bandera, and would do almost anything to achieve their aims.

But what is worrying is the decision of the more mainstream centre-right in Ukraine to work with them.
Take Svoboda or Freedom, one of the three main Maydan (now in power) parties. It is affiliated to the Alliance of European National Movements, an extreme right-wing political grouping within the European parliament. Other affiliated parties include the neo-fascist Greek Dawn, the ultra right Hungarian Jobbik Party and the British National Party. The BNP has been ignored by all of the UK’s mainstream parties for being racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant.

On the BBC’s flagship Question Time programme, the views of its leader, Nick Griffin, were rounded on and discredited by the panellists, including a then Conservative Party minister. Yet Udar or Punch (led by the former boxer, Klitscko) and Fatherland (led by the former Prime-minister, Tymoshenko) are in close alliance.

A view amongst certain sections of Ukrainian society might be that forging alliances with the extreme right is necessary in the circumstances of today, and in any case those links can be severed further down the road.

‘We are all nationalists’ is the often used rallying call. In reality it is an ill-conceived strategy because it creates the conditions in which racist and reactionary forces are given a veneer of respectability, enabling them to establish a firmer foothold in society.

Of course this does not absolve the previous government of responsibilities and crimes for maintaining the ancient regime of corruption and patronage, though the practice had not been confined to one faction alone.

A number of politicians of different political persuasions within the country’s parliament have been far from clean in their political and financial dealings over the years. And it might also be argued that what is happening now is merely the transfer of power away from eastern based Ukrainian oligarchs who look to the Russian market to make their vast fortunes towards western orientated business groups, based in the western half of the country.

A seasoned Kiev watcher recently said that what is needed to save Ukraine is a strong man (being sexist, he didn’t mention a woman) who knows what he’s doing. In fact what is needed is a national unity government which is more comfortable with consensus rather than confrontation, and which (unlike the current one) properly represents the different segments of Ukraine’s body politic.

Only a few days ago there was an attack against a synagogue in Dniporpetrovsk and the offices of a local communist party were firebombed. Armed men have also taken control of the parliament and airports in the once Russian controlled Crimea. Could this be a prelude to a foreign invasion?

For Cypriot historians it all sounds tragically familiar. The next few days and weeks in Ukraine will certainly be telling.

Theo Kyriacou has a Masters degree in Peace Studies and has worked in Ukraine in the past as a teacher

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