Media Overblowing Extreme Right's Role in Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests

Euromaidan protesters sing songs as they warm by the fire barrels near the barricades on Hrushevskoho Street in Kiev, Ukraine on 2 February, 2014. Copyright Demotix

Euromaidan protesters sing songs as they warm by the fire barrels near the barricades on Hrushevskoho Street in Kiev, Ukraine on 2 February, 2014. Copyright Demotix

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

A group of domestic and international scholars of Ukrainian nationalism have warned that an increasing number of media reports are misrepresenting the role of Ukraine's far right within the anti-government protest movement Euromaidan. 

Ukraine has been rocked by the massive demonstrations for more than two months now, with thousands of Ukrainians from all over the country maintaining a camp in the capital Kyiv and many others joining on weeknights and weekends. The movement began as peaceful, but the short-lived passage of laws limiting the right to protest sparked violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

The movement is highly diverse, with Euromaidan protesters representing a wide range of ages, income, education and abilities

The scholars’ assessment was part of a collective statement released on titled “On the role of far-right groups in Ukraine's protest movement, and a warning about the Russian imperialism-serving effects of some supposedly anti-fascist media reports from Kyiv”. To counter these misconceptions of protesters’ political affiliations, they stated:

Both the violent and non-violent resistance in Kyiv includes representatives from all political camps as well as non-ideological persons who may have problems locating themselves politically. Not only the peaceful protesters, but also those using sticks, stones and even Molotov Cocktails, in their physical confrontation with police special units and government-directed thugs, constitute a broad movement that is not centralized. Most protesters only turned violent in response to increasing police ferocity and the radicalization of Yanukovych’s regime. The demonstrators include liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, nationalists and cosmopolitans, Christians, non-Christians and atheists.

Anton Shekhovtsov, a blogger and a researcher of far-right movements in Europe, published an extensive investigation into what he alleges is an organized effort to defame Ukrainian Euromaidan protests in the West. He wrote:

Every single mass political mobilisation in Ukraine has been accompanied by the attempts to compromise the popular uprisings by associating them with the extreme right. And not only uprisings or protests, but big events too. For example, a few weeks before the start of the Euro-2012 football championship, British media hysterically accused Ukrainians of racism and xenophobia, and warned that any non-White person going to see football matches in Ukraine would definitely and immediately be killed. After the championship was over, no British media outlet apologised to the Ukrainian people when it turned out that not one racist incident involving Ukraine fans had been reported during the tournament.

The current campaign to defame the Euromaidan protests is so far the strongest attack on the Ukrainian civil society and democratic politics. Similar attacks took place in the past too [ru], although their intensity never reached today's level. During the “Orange revolution“, the Ukrainian semi-authoritarian regime under President Leonid Kuchma was also trying to defile democratic presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko by associating him with the extreme right.

According to the author, the ongoing defamation campaign involves a number of individuals and groups that form a wide network aimed at promoting anti-Western, pro-Russian and pro-Eurasianist ideas in the EU, Canada and the US. He noticed that several individuals involved in the effort are regular commentators of Kremlin-sponsored Russia Today and Voice of Russia.

Shekhovtsov concluded by demonstrating how the tone of the Euromaidan defamation effort aligns with the official rhetoric of the Russian government:

The large network consisting of pro-Russian authors and institutions is a hard/extreme right breeding-ground of all kinds of conspiracy theories, Euroscepticism, racism and anti-democratic theories. Today, this is also one of the main sources of the articles, op-eds and statements that are one way or another trying to discredit the Euromaidan protests by associating them either with neo-Nazism or with the alleged US expansionism. The rhetoric of these authors fully conforms to the remarks made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who has recently slammed Western support for Euromaidan and declared: “What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy? Why don’t we hear condemnations of those who seize and hold government buildings, burn, torch the police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?”.

The Ukrainian government has also persistently referred to protesters as “extremists” and “radicals” [ru]. However, many Internet users are skeptical about such assessments and have humored them with messages like this [ru]:

At Ukrainskyi Dim [an expo center seized by the protesters] extremists have attacked the floor – with mops. Minister of Interior is concerned. #euromaidan #євромайдан

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.


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