Ukrainian court orders TV Hromadske to retract correct description of C14 as ‘neo-Nazi’
The Kyiv Court of Appeal has upheld the ruling in a defamation suit against TV Hromadske which was widely condemned by both Ukrainian and international human rights organizations. The court on 7 November rejected Hromadske’s appeal against the Kyiv Commercial Court’s 6 August ruling which found that Hromadske had defamed ‘C14’ by referring to it as a “neo-Nazi organization”. Unless overturned by the Supreme Court, this ruling could force journalists and civic activists to censor themselves or face similar defamation suits for stating what they have every reason to believe is the truth.
‘C14’ is a Ukrainian far-right group which is considered by most experts to be neo-Nazi, and the term is in wide use, including on this site. For reasons best known to itself, C14’s leadership chose to find the term defamatory in a Hromadske International tweet from 4 May 2018. This identified the young men who had seized Rafael Lusvarghi, the Brazilian Donbas fighter found in a monastery outside Kyiv and very roughly dragged him to the SBU [Ukrainian Security Service] buildings as from the “neo-Nazi group C14’.
On 6 August, Judge Yulia Kartavtseva from the Kyiv Commercial Court agreed that the term ‘neo-Nazi’ used by Hromadske damaged C14’s reputation and ordered Hromadske to delete the tweet, publish a denial, via publication of the court ruling, and to pay C14’s court duty (3,5 thousand UAH).
C14 had provided an opinion from the Kuras Institute of Political and Ethnonational Research on the terms ‘nationalism’; ‘Nazism’ and ‘neo-Nazism’. This did, in fact, note that neo-Nazism promotes such aspects of Nazi ideology as anti-Semitism, homophobia and radical nationalism’, however the study does not appear to have focused on whether the term ‘neo-Nazi’ was legitimate with respect to C14.
There was also a linguistic expert assessment from the Kyiv Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expertise. This asserts that “Neo-Nazism is Nazism reborn as an ideological and political movement and adapted to modern political conditions, the essence of which (Nazism) consists of carrying out a policy of state terror, numerous human rights violations in the form of individual and mass murders, executions, deaths, torture; the use of forced labour and other forms of mass physical terror; racial and ethnic persecution; violations of freedom of conscience, thought, freedom of expression; press freedom and lack of political pluralism”. It is clear, the linguistic experts state, that this can be viewed as negative information about C14. The experts also assert that there are no other meanings, although this can surely be disputed.
In a text written on the eve of the ruling, Matthew Schaaf, Director of Freedom House in Ukraine called the Commercial Court’s ruling a blow to media freedom and independent journalism in Ukraine. He believes that the ruling “could seriously damage media coverage of important events in Ukraine in conditions where many media and journalists already apply self-censorship”.
It is not enough that the term ‘neo-Nazi’ is offensive. It must also be false, and this is where the courts have been bafflingly uninterested in hearing the testimony of experts monitoring far-right movements.
C14 has gained notoriety over recent years for violent attacks on Roma settlements, on LGBT events or remembrance gatherings for slain victims of neo-Nazi killers. Such activities do not, in themselves, prove any link with neo-Nazism, however well-known specialists on far-right movements in Ukraine, such as Vyacheslav Likhachev; Anton Shekhovtsov and Andreas Umland are all in agreement that C14 should be considered a neo-Nazi organization.
Why are Ukrainian courts taking into account claims by C14 themselves that they are “building civil society in Ukraine” and linguistic analyses based on dictionary or encyclopaedia definitions of neo-Nazism, rather than the substantiated assessment of professionals?
In her earlier ruling, Judge Kartavtseva asserted that C14 had made well-founded demands and that Hromadske had given “knowingly false information”. Her ruling appeared based largely on what C14 said, and it is frustrating that the Court of Appeal has now followed suit against all evidence.
This absurd situation in which experts with knowledge of the subject are now in conflict with Ukrainian court rulings poses a real danger to us all, and an extremely dangerous precedent.
C14 was formed by activists who broke away from the far-right VO Svoboda party as being too moderate for them. Its activists have long denied that the organization is neo-Nazi. They reject attempts to see the ‘14’ in their name as the typical code for a foul white supremacist slogan (containing 14 words) by the US Nazi David Lane. They assert that the name when written looks like Sich from the Zaporizhyan Sich, the Cossack political entity from the fifteenth to eighteenth century. 14, in turn, they link with 14 October, the day traditionally linked with the beginning of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army [UPA] in 1943.
Likhachev, among others, is dismissive of C14’s attempts to deny both neo-Nazi associations in their name and other neo-Nazi links. He earlier pointed out that the C14 activists who occupied the Kyiv City Administration building covered it with neo-Nazi banners and graffiti.
It is certainly true that since Russia’s military aggression began in 2014, C14 activists have tried to present themselves as fighting ‘separatists’ and defending Ukraine, however the claim that they have been “building a positive reputation” must be disputed.
An advertisement on their Facebook, in which they offered to potential ‘donors’ services in making trouble for their enemies was removed only after it was reported in the media and here (see the screenshot).
On 19 January 2018, C14 activists prevented the traditional remembrance gathering for Sevastopol journalist Anastasia Baburova and Russian lawyer Stanislav Markelov, murdered in Moscow in 2009 by neo-Nazi Russian nationalists. The claim that those honouring the two slain anti-fascists were ‘separatists’ was deeply offensive, and the methods used to stop the event – thuggish.
C14 activists’ claim that they are defending Ukraine must also be viewed with scepticism when they are notorious for anti-Roma and homophobic attacks, and when they show extreme intolerance to people whose behaviour they don’t like.
C14 activists were certainly involved in a vicious attack on a Roma settlement on Lysa Hora in Kyiv on 20-21 April 2018. The police only reacted more or less adequately after a harrowing video was posted showing the thugs chasing terrified families.
Another raid on Roma citizens was carried out in October 2018, with C14 activists, together with the ‘Kyiv Municipal Watch’ civic organization which is led by C14 activist Serhiy Bondar, appearing to have the cooperation of the police.
In March 2018, C14 activists were among the far-right thugs who attacked a Kyiv Docudays Film Festival event on human rights issues. They destroyed posters promoting tolerance and diversity and tried to prevent people from attending a panel discussion on far-right movements. Numerous LGBT events around the country have faced harassment or been positively prevented by far-right thugs, with C14 very often involved.
It should be said that, even where C14 appears to be defending a position that many other civic activists would endorse – on judicial reform, on demands for action where civic activists have been attacked, etc., their methods are often of extremely questionable legality, and sometimes overtly terrorize the courts..
All of the above and more prompted serious concern in June 2018, when it transpired that groups linked with C14 had received Ministry of Youth and Sport grants in a competition for ‘national-patriotic education projects’.