Right Sector’s increasing problems with credibility
The extreme nationalist group Right Sector [Pravy Sector] will never be the same again, though what exactly it was and who was behind at least some of the events of the last week remain unclear. Since the still largely unreformed police have whitewashed their officers over the violent death in a police raid of one scandalous member, Oleksandr Muzychko, and have detained a number of others, it seems worth articulating the questions, if answers are still thin on the ground.
Right Sector, a loose organization including some members of far-right and / or neo-Nazi formations, was undoubtedly a huge propaganda weapon both for the Yanukovych regime and for Russia. It became widely known when the first main demonstration following the adoption of gravely repressive laws on Jan 16 turned violent. That circumstance is crucial. The draconian laws made it a question of days before mass arrests and long terms of imprisonment crushed any protest. It was then that large numbers of Maidan protesters, while remaining committed in principle to non-violent protest, found it impossible to condemn those who chose active resistance.
The Maidan protests remained democratically orientated and untainted by xenophobia, anti-Semitism or “fascist ideology”. This should have been too obvious to need stating. The anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, for example, always manned its non-stop pickets and similar from a core of Trotskyite activists, without others automatically being attributed the same political views. Not so in Ukraine thanks mainly to Russian efforts which have been especially stepped up the latter’s annexation of the Crimea.
Maidan ended, the Russian military aggression began, and Right Sector “fighters” dressed in black remained in Kyiv, while others, such as Oleksandr Muzychko, addressed a defiant – and insulting – challenge to the police by rejecting any suggestion that they hand in all weapons. On the other hand, Dmytro Yarosh, the movement’s leader, and now presidential candidate, consistently stressed commitment to democratic values, rejection of anti-Semitism and xenophobia. The Kremlin’s campaign against him, and criminal proceedings brought, are over what certainly appears a primitive fake.
It is worth noting the assessment given by one of the main researchers of far-right movements in Ukraine, Anton Shekhovtsov.
He first heard of Right Sector in November 2013 when they set up a tent on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square]. Interestingly, his concerns at the time were concentrated on paramilitary groups within the right-wing VO Svoboda party. He warned that events like the neo-Nazi march in Lviv on Nov 23 could be used to discredit EuroMaidan.
Shekhovtsov sees the high profile given Right Sector due both to its successful propaganda in which it presented itself as the most radical group of EuroMaidan, and to the work of the Russian media foisting the idea of a “fascist coup” in Kyiv.
In January Right Sector informed him that they had around 300 fighters. Following the events in February, the number rose and various estimates suggest around two and a half thousand members. “With respect to ideology, - he says - Right Sector is a broad movement. If you take Tryzub [Trident], led by Dmytro Yarosh, that’s the least radical group. I’d call its ideology national conservatism, not right-wing radicalism. They’re hard to compare with western parties, but if you leave out economic issues, I’d liken them to the Tea Party in the USA. At the same time, UNA-UNSO [Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defence] is a far-right organization.
On the fringe of PS were groups like “Bely Molot” [White Hammer], Patriot of Ukraine and the Social-National Assembly [SNA]. Patriot of Ukraine is a Kharkiv outfit, while SNA was created on its basis in Kyiv. They have one leader – Andriy Biletsky. These are neo-Nazi groups. It’s interesting that they collaborated with the Kharkiv city authorities. Patriot of Ukraine was basically involved in a protection racket. As for SNA, it’s based in Vasylkiv in the Kyiv oblast. They collaborated with the regime of president Viktor Yanukovych and blocked observers and journalists covering the elections. As a result, the elections were falsified.”
Asked about the alleged attempt to storm parliament following the death of Muzychko, Shekhovtsov says that he saw who came up to parliament, including members of Patriot of Ukraine. “These are people who worked for the previous regime. It was provocation. I’m inclined to think that Yarosh is not in control of the situation”.
Shekhovtsov notes that Pravy Sector has little electoral support and that most people understand that “it discredits Ukraine in the eyes of the civilized world. They had a high level of trust after the events in Kyiv, but lost it.” He believes the movement is likely to collapse, with “key figures, provocateurs from Patriot of Ukraine” being arrested.
VO Svoboda’s popularity has also plummeted to around 5 percent, with its ideology increasingly understood to not be democratic. Shekhovtsov suggests that VO Svoboda was deliberately pushed by Yanukovych and notes that the party began getting huge amounts of broadcasting time after Yanukovych became president. He believes that Yanukovych was hoping to get the VO Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnibok into the second round of presidential elections in 2015. The calculation would have been correct, since many people, even if not prepared to vote for Yanukovych would not have voted for VO Svoboda.
The last opinion poll which gave Oleh Tyahnibok 1.7% of the vote in the presidential elections now scheduled of May 25 this year, and Dmytro Yarosh just 0.9% came just before a series of events and scandals which will almost certainly not have improved the level of support.
The first remains the most disturbing, this being the death on March 24 in a police shoot-out of Oleksandr Muzychko, known as Sashko Bily. Details about Muzychko’s extremely chequered background can be found here. The results of the investigation into Muzychko’s death was not in any way unexpected: Muzychko accidentally killed himself and the police did everything correctly. The fact that Muzychko had publicly stated very recently that he expected the authorities to kill him or get him handed over to Russia – a mere detail.
If the disturbances outside parliament following the death of Muzychko could still be called protest, other incidents were simply squalid. There have been embarrassing scandals which suggest that Right Sector members effectively looted some of the sumptuous residences that were revealed to the public after Yanukovych and others fled in late February. A Right Sector member has just been remanded in custody over an incident on March 31 when an argument with a Maidan Self-Defence activist led to shooting in which three people were injured. This prompted a vote in parliament the very next day ordering all organizations to hand in their weapons. It has also led to a flurry of articles with insinuations as to who Right Sector has been in contact with and who therefore is behind their successes.
The latest is based on a “fact, without any conclusions” noted by head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, Oleksandr Chernenko. He points out that Tetyana Lukash, member of the Central Election Commission and sister of the former Justice Minister, Olena Lukash who has also fled the country, was the main lobbyist for Yarosh’s registration as presidential candidate. Espreso.tv goes further and quotes its sources within the Party of the Regions as saying that the party has informally decided “to support “Right Sector” as an organization which discredits the new authorities and allows itself to be used in a PR campaign”.
The events of the last week have certainly discredited Right Sector. On the other hand, the police have also proved spectacularly successful over the last four years at destroying any public trust. Whoever is behind any right-wing group or party in Ukraine, investigations and police measures which don’t bear scrutiny are not the way to regain it.