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Pravy Sector: The Radical Force of Ukrainian Maidan

(Photo: Sasha Maksymenko / Flickr)

The massive, violent, anti-government protests resumed in Ukraine on February 18, 2014, the day Verokhovna Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament) was set to ratify changes to the Constitution. These changes (returning to the Parliamentary-presidential form of government) were among the demands of the opposition. That day, aggressive groups of people tried to seize the building of Verkhovna Rada. Radicals burst into the buildings in downtown Kiev, burned tires and cars, threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police and burned the office of the Party of the Regions, where two employees were killed. For the first time during the lasting uprising, protesters used firearms against the police. As a result, nearly 100 people are dead, almost 40 of them are policemen, and thousands injured.

The European Union and the United States blame the Ukrainian government for the situation. That is only partially justified – indeed there was some excessive use of force by police. But it is also fair to assert that during the protests, Ukrainian government and police showed more restraint when compared with the international practice and experience of protest suppression. Even after the seizure of administrative buildings and assaults on the police, President Viktor Yanukovych did not initiate a state of emergency, and the “peaceful protesters” lived in the seized buildings, paralyzing the work of the Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice as well as Kiev City Hall. The president did not initiate it when protesters seized the buildings of the local state administrations in Lvov, Rovno, Ternopyl, Ivano-Frankovsk, Chernovtsi, Khmelnytsk and Vinnitsa. Just imagine for a moment how an American government would react if a group of radicals had seized the local legislatures in 29 percent of the states and tried to seize the Capitol in Washington.

The next day, Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleh Tyahnybok and Yanukovych called the truce, which meant that the special forces of Ukrainian police would not disperse the protesters from the streets, and protesters would stop their assaults, so the negotiations between the opposition and the government could continue. And on February 21, Yanukovych had satisfied all demands of the opposition in order to stop the crisis: Ukraine is returning to the Parliamental-presidential form of government, Verkhovna Rada is in the process of appointing the new members of the Cabinet, Yulia Timoshenko is freed, all Special Forces of the police are withdrawn from Maidan, and Verkhovna Rada voted to hold an early presidential election in May, and also early Parliamental elections. The next day, the president resigned.

But assaults from radical groups headed by Pravy Sector have not stopped, and they continue to break the law. Their leader Dmytro Yarosh is not satisfied with the results: “We incline to see in it another lie” – he wrote on his Facebook page – “the national revolution continues. It will end with the complete elimination of the inner occupation and with the establishment of the Ukrainian national sovereign state.”

There is not much information in US media regarding those radicals, so it is important to understand who is really controlling the violent protesters now that it is obvious that the radical Pravy Sector is a force that turned peaceful demonstrations into violent riots.

Who’s Who at Pravy Sector

Pravy Sector is an extremist right-wing group that consists of the Ukrainian nationalist organizations “Ukrainian Patriot,” “Tryzub” (Trident), UNA-UNSO and White Hammer. Their ideology is Ukrainian nationalism that employs neo-Fascist and neo-Nazi beliefs. For example, Pravy Sector and UNA-UNSO web sites provide direct links to the works of radical Ukrainian ideologist Dmyrto Dontsov, who believed in racial theory. For example, he suggested that the right of superior races should be exercised by way of “creative violence by a minority showing initiative,” which must subjugate its own people to itself and force it to undertake aggression against others.

Among the historical figures praised by Pravy Sector are leaders of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and particularly Stepan Bandera, whose portrait was decorating the entrance of the seized Kiev City Hall. Bandera, among others, is considered to be a historical chief of the movement. It is interesting to know that Bandera was a head of the wing of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists that collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II. During the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, OUN played an essential part in the holocaust and ethnic massacres of Western Ukraine’s Polish population, establishing “Ukraine for Ukrainians.”

Pravy Sector and European Integration

The massive anti-government protests started in Kiev and other cities of Ukraine in late November 2013 as a reaction to the failure of Yanukovych to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. Tired of government corruption and of Yanukovych’s “La Familia” of poverty and of social injustice, people hoped to influence the president in a peaceful way, as they did during the Orange revolution in 2004. A majority of Ukrainians wants to establish closer ties with the EU in the hope that that would bring more economic and political freedom and prosperity to the country. But does Pravy Sector believe in the European values of political democracy, human rights, free markets and social tolerance? The answer is – no, it does not. On Pravy Sector’s web site, Yarosh expresses his views on European values in the spirit of his ideological predecessor Dontsov: He denies the ideals of humanism, socialism, liberal democracy, atheism, cosmopolitism and globalization, because they form a “slave type of consciousness” and turn an individual into a part of a “cosmopolitan herd” that lives in a “global concentration camp.”

The peaceful anti-government demonstrations started by liberal politicians were supported widely by moderate Ukrainians. Pravy Sector, in turn, saw an opportunity to start a destruction of the “state skeleton,” as Yarosh said, and to build a fundamentally new state. What kind of state that would be? Well, read Dontsov.

Pravy Sector and the Moderate Opposition

At the beginning of the protests, Pravy Sector had served as a force of defense: Its members guarded the peaceful protesters from the possible suppression by the police, and they took part in all fights with the police. But very soon the differences between the radicals and mainstream opposition became more evident. In December, after the failure to seize the governmental offices in downtown Kiev, for which Pravy Sector had officially taken a responsibility, three leaders of opposition called Pravy Sector “provocateurs” supported by the government and by Russian intelligence. In response, Pravy Sector activists started a campaign of “resistance to the provocateurs-pacifists”: “All those who at this point would try to tame the revolutionary energy of the masses should be proclaimed traitors and punished in the most severe way. The time of peaceful singing and dancing at Maidan is over. This is a waste of time. There can be no negotiations, no compromise with the ruling gang. We will carry high the fire of national revolution.”

Let us hope that the new government will find ways to pacify Pravy Sector and restrain its revolutionary energy. After all, the whole social system will incline to protect itself from destructive forces. Ukrainians are known for their peaceful and moderate nature and would not follow the aggressor. But the blood has been spilled, and we will hope that the new government, which actually consists of the famous politicians who were tied with the oligarchic groups in previous governments, could realize the complex of political and economic reforms people crave. If not, the sad fate of Yanukovych would await them too.