Kolchenko and Sentsov condemned to 30 years

Source: Ukraine solidarity campaign-солідарність України кампанія


The decision on 25th August by a military court in Russia to sentence the Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov to 20 years in prison and socialist and anti-fascist activist Oleksandr Kolchenko to 10 years has sparked an international outcry. They are to be held in a high-security penal colony, Sentsov has been denied the right to even see his children.

Both were arrested by the Federal Security Service (successor to KGB) on 11th May 2014 following the Russian annexation of Crimea, held on trumped up charges of ‘terrorism’. Despite being Ukrainian citizens both were taken from Crimea and the trial held in Russia’s city of Rostov-on-Don under Russian law.

Kolchenko a well-known anti-fascist activist has been absurdly accused of being part of a plot with ‘Right Sector’ the ultra-right nationalist organisation. The whole trial has been denounced by human rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty International describing the trials as being “redolent of a Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents.” Stating that that it was “was fatally flawed and credible allegations of torture and other ill-treatment have been ignored by the court. Both Oleg Sentsov and one of the main witnesses for the prosecution have alleged that they were tortured.” See: Crimean activists sentenced after a fatally flawed military trial.

Human Rights Watch in their dispatches pointed to the political motive of this trial:

“Since the Russian occupation of Crimea, Russian authorities have been quick to silence those who oppose their actions there – be they Crimean Tatars, pro-Ukraine activists, or Moscow-based independent advocates. But this latest case, and the terribly harsh sentences for Sentsov and Kolchenko, is the starkest warning yet to Russia’s critics in Crimea: keep quiet or else.” See: Dispatches: Crimea keep quiet or else!

As the judge read the sentencing Kolchenko and Sentsov were defiant standing arm in arm and singing Ukraine’s national anthem including the lines “We will lay down our body and our soul for our freedom”.

Ken Loach has joined European film directors calling for their release and has informed the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign of his continued support for these prisoners.

Leading left-wing Labour Party MP John McDonnell has joined him in declaring:

“When Amnesty describes a trial as fatally flawed the world needs to sit up and listen. The return of show trials in Russia has to be condemned. I join with the thousands of other upholders of democracy in calling for the release of Sentsov and Kolchenko.”

Mick Antoniw a Labour member of the National Assembly for Wales has called for stepping up the campaign:

“The incarceration of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov for 20 years is a return to the Stalinist show trials of the nineteen thirties. He has taken a stand against Russian imperialism and aggression and is now paying the price for offending Putin. Now is the time for real international solidarity with Sentsov and the stand he has taken to defend democracy, freedom of speech and Ukraine’s national integrity.”

A view echoed by Michael Calderbank, Co-Editor, Red Pepper:

“The show-trial of film-maker Oleg Sentsov and anti-fascist activist Oleksandr Kolchenko in Putin’s Russia recalls the worst aspects of “justice” as administered under Stalin. The charges are plainly preposterous, and the only “evidence” of their guilt was obtained using torture methods. Their only “crime” is that they are Ukrainians, and wish to challenge Russia’s military aggression. Please support the international campaign to demand their release. ”

The Facts of the Show Trial

1. Sentsov and Kolchenko are Ukrainians that were arrested by the Russian FSB in March 2014
Oleh Sentsov was arrested on 11 May 2014 shortly after the Russian occupation of Crimea; Oleksandr Kolchenko was arrested 5 days later on May 16. Since then, they have been tortured and imprisoned for over a year.

Both men were Crimean’s and opposed Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. Sentsov is a film director internationally recognised for his feature Gamer, he was a Euromaidan activist and later involved in taking food to conscripts blockaded in their bases in Crimea. Oleksandr Kolchenko was a student and socialist, ecologist and anti-fascist activist; he had supported Euromaidan and opposed the Russian occupation. Russian authorities initially claimed Kolchenko and Sentsov “automatically” became citizens of Russia after the annexation of Crimea. Both denied applying for Russian citizenship. Sentsov said he was “not a serf to be transferred together with land.”

2. They were accused of “plotting acts of terrorism” and being part of a “Right sector terrorist group”
The prisoners are accused of committing acts of terror and of being part of a “Right Sector terror group” supposedly led by Oleh Sentsov. These accusations are based entirely on testimonies of Henadiy Afanasiev and Oleksiy Chirniy, who were also arrested and charged with participation in the same group. After holding Sentsov without charges for three weeks a statement by Russia’s FSB accused the four Ukrainians of being “part of a terrorist community, to carry out explosions with home-made devices on 9 May 2014 near the Eternal Flame memorial and Lenin monument in Simferopol and to set on fire to the offices of the Russian Community of Crimea public organization and the United Russia party branch in Simferopol on 14 April and 18 April 2014.”

3. The accusations are based on testimonies given under torture
The accusations against Sentsov and Kolchenko are based entirely on testimonies of Afanasiev and Oleksiy, who were also arrested and charged with participation in the same “terrorist group.” Both Afanasiev and Chirniy have stated they were tortured by FSB.

On 31 July 2015 Afanasyev retracted his testimony as given under duress. After that he was beaten again in prison. Sentsov and Kolchenko have stated repeatedly that they were tortured and beaten, and there is nothing to assume that the same didn’t happen to Chirniy.

4. A return of Stalinist show trials in Russia
The “Right sector” accusations made by FSB are ridiculous. Right sector is a Ukrainian far-right movement, while Kolchenko is a Ukrainian left-wing anti-fascist activist. There’s no evidence to link the prisoners to Right Sector, which is Russian propaganda’s favourite bogeyman. This forced prosecutors to change their accusations to claiming the group just “took on the ideology.” Memorial, a Russian human rights organization, assumed “that Right Sector is being foisted on the indictment in order to create a primitive media image of a nationalist threat in Crimea.”

5. The crimes which they are accused of are never classified as “terrorism” in Russia
One thing that united Kolchenko and Sentsov was their opposition to Russia’s annexation of their homeland, of which Putin’s ruling United Russia party was an active player. Kolchenko, Chirniy, and Afanasiev admit to planning to vandalise the United Russia offices, but in all cases the acts carried no significant damage.

There are numerous cases of such acts at United Russia party offices and administration buildings across Russia. These are never charged as acts of terror, the perpetrators instead being convicted for hooliganism and getting as little as two years in prison.

6. Free these political prisoners
Sentsov and Kolchenko are political prisoners and human right groups in Russia, Ukraine and internationally also recognise them as such. The campaign to free the Ukrainian socialist Kolchenko and film-director Sentsov must be stepped up.The trial being entirely based on forced testimonies, the alleged plot and connection to Right Sector speak of a return of Stalinist show trials in Russia, according to human rights groups.

“The spectre” of communism or Mozgovoi as Che Guevara for tolkienists

Source: Nihilist.li
Translated by Yuliya Yurchenko

A few hours after Mozgovoy’s death I promised to write a column under a title ‘Mozgovoy is no Che Guevara but a never-to-be Kadyrov’. But I didn’t write it in the end. Because I doubted the premise. One cannot juxtapose Che Guevara and Kadyrov. Well, indeed, if we are to consider the real historical Che Guevara, then the only two things he and Mozgovoy have in common is that they both carried arms and they both disliked USA.

But who cares for real historical figures?

Che Guevara is first and foremost a widely advertised commercial image that has little to do with the real Commandante. And we all are obliged to love that image; except for raging anti-communists who go rabid at the sight of anything red. On 18th February 2014 when the first clashes in Kyiv began, I met a man near the already smoking Party of Regions office. The man was holding a Cuban flag with Che’s portrait on it in his hand.

Those symbols suddenly stood out in the general blue-and-yellow and occasionally red-and-black background so I asked the ‘Cuban’ why he chose them. The answer was simple yet ingenious: ‘I chose this flag because I protest. Because I am a patriot of Ukraine!’ And then some year later in one of Kyiv’s hostels the Cuban flag and Che’s portrait was peacefully side by side with symbols of the Right Sector. The latter too is thoughtlessly used by people who have no idea of the real ideology of that organisation. That hostel by the way housed displaced people from Donbas.

The first lines about Mozgovoy as a new Che were written by Boris Kagarlitsky. Boris Yuliyevitch is rather clever especially if one is to consider that for many years now for the left he managed to be the mouthpiece of Kremlin and that he still was not caught red-handed, neither were there attempts to beat him up. Thence we shall certainly lend him an ear. Leeching off the trust of the left, including the Western, Kagarlitsky knows perfectly well their psychological makeup as well as knowing prefectly what makes a good ‘Che’.

“People’s” hero

Mozgovoy was a unique phenomenon among field commanders of “Novorossiya”. That is why he and not Batman, for example, was appointed as a Che. It is unclear to which extent it was his own or his image-makers’ achievement. One thing is certain and that is that the latter were professionals. Collectively created image of a rebel did not only appeal to all supporters of separatism without exception but also even to some of its opponents.

Mozgovoy was in charge of all sorts of people. For example, there was a notorious Nazi Milchakov in the ‘Prizrak’ who was an internet dog killer celebrity in his youth and now practices his sadistic inclinations by finishing off Ukrainian soldiers. There were a lot of those who identified as ‘communists’ in the ‘Prizrak’, including ex-members of Borotba. There were Nazis, and monarchists, and ‘left’ supporters of Novorossiya project and all considered Mozgovoy as their leader and valued his ‘people-ness’.

There were people sympathetic with the late field commander on Ukraine’s territory too. His contacts with Tetyana Montyan too were widely discussed. Mozgovoy made proclamations of his intentions to hold negotiations with the Ukrainian military. His was often viewed as a compromise leader of ‘rebels’ in case of further reconciliation and re-integration of ‘people’s republics’ [into Ukraine –trans.] occurs.

The secret of his popularity is simple – Mozgovoy told each audience what they wanted to hear. He could simultaneously campaign for unity with Ukraine and for the Russian Empire. He said that there were no fascists in Ukraine and explained his actions as a ‘antifascist’ struggle. He greeted forums of European leftists drunk on rebellious romanticism while stressing his own Orthodox Christiandom, appointed Borotba members as political leaders and at the same time wore a white guard uniform…

He was not like Igor Girkin who is too obviously a monarchist and Orthodox Christian fundamentalist fixated on his own prejudices. Neither was he like the obvious thugs Givi and Motorolla who boasted in public about humiliating captives and openly engaged in looting. Mozgovoy was a commander ‘with a human face’ [Reference to Dubcek’s ‘socialism with a human face’- trans]. Much of what he said in his interviews and video addresses could easily fit a parliamentary address given by any MP from any faction. Let us take a brief look at his rhetoric.

The art of populism

1. Hatred of oligarchs – the cornerstone of Mozgovoy’s reputation as someone almost leftist. Everybody talks about opposing oligarchs these days. All of them – Leshchenko and Nayem and Yarosh, Kyiv Trotskyists who are building a new toy party and president Poroshenko. No-one likes oligarchs and thus telling them off is a winning game.
2. Criticism of a fratricidal war. It is quite bizarre to hear anti-war propaganda from someone who made all possible to incite that war since early spring of 2014. Mozgovoy however managed to do it in rather convincingly for those less in the know. Brethren are fighting brethren and everyone hears in that phrase what they wish to hear i.e. Ukrainians are fighting Ukrainians, Russians are fighting Russians, Slavs are fighting Slavs. And of course they are forced to do so by some evil external forces.
3. One more important point – conspiracy theories. There are some secret forces that ignite the war and benefit from it. Considering that Mozgovoy is no recluse spreading peaceful propaganda but a field commander who recently marched on Debaltseve the forces in question in his view are on the other side of the frontline. But of course they are not ‘the Ukrainian brethren’ but rather something immeasurably terrifying and dark. The right will instantly see here the good old Jewish masonry conspiracy but for the ‘communists’ it will be the western imperialists. The latter differs little in form or structure from the Jewish masonry conspiracy at the end of the day.
4. Social agenda. All and always talk about the social agenda. Poroshenko for example depending on the mood portrays himself as anything, even an almost social-democrat while at the same time talking of the necessity of radical market reform. But then again, when was the last time our politicians followed any logic? BYuT [Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc ] too talks about it, sold out KPU does too and so does the Right Sector and Svoboda. Ukraine’s mass electorate is poor or balancing on the verge of poverty and that means that any force willing to win must make populist promises even if those go against the grain of its politics.
5. Power to the people. Universal meaningless phrase that can be easily interpreted as the left and right alike. In ‘power to the people’ one can see ‘direct democracy’ of anarchism or ‘organic democracy’ that Mussolini was implementing as part of the fascist project. ‘Power to the people’ existed in Gaddafi’s Libya according to the Green Book apologists. Maidan too was called an example of the ‘power to the people’. Terms such as ‘people’ are usually missing from serious political discussion but it fits slogans perfectly. Mozgovoy spoke exactly in slogans and he did it with professional touch.

A never-to-be Kadyrov

He could have made a great ‘Donbas Kadyrov’ if the Kyiv government managed to find a common language with him. Home-grown leader of ‘LNR-DNR’ and not some oligarch or imposed by the ‘junta’ ‘Moskal’. Mozgovoy could have harshly and war-like brand the sly US and Russian instigators of the war. Russia too could have been pronounced a US marionette – the people’s leader knows not impossibilities. He could do the dirty job of purging the unfortunate territories for Kyiv too.

Mozgovoy could have become part of political Beaumont turning from the instigator of war into the man who brought peace to Donbas. It is important to understand that there could be no relationship of vassal fidelity between Poroshenko and Mozgovoy like there is between Putin and Kadyrov. Most likely he would have ended up in the ‘constructive opposition’ to the regime while serving as a shield for the old Party of Regions folk who are not so interested in separatism but in a Ukrainian Donbas although on their terms.

His membership could make a great ‘Party of Peace and Reconciliation’ with some serious electoral prospects. Its list could have been topped by some Ukrainian patriot from the west of Ukraine who ‘has heard Donbas’, some politician from Kyiv with a trending Facebook account, and of course Mozgovoy himself who would have embodied the autonomy of Donbas on the one hand and the fact that Donbas remains a part of Ukraine on the other.

Many of the people who seem lost for Ukrainian politics today could be among the members of this hypothetical party; those who are forced to play the game of forming ‘political emigrant committees’ in Russia and Crimea.

Mozgovoy could have become a leader of an ‘independent Novorossiya’ with the same ease. He did not look like a thug but he was no smarty pants [intelligentishka] either. Being neither Russian, nor Ukrainian he could be ‘their own’ for either. He was orthodox Christian and it was not a charade. He liked Lenin and he did not like oligarchs although he was in no rush to lead people into the last and decisive battle. That allowed the hardnosed people who financed that circus to not worry. Power did not go to his head, he did not marry schoolgirls, neither did he gift them trophy cars. This sort of a leader could really have been loved if local population were to be brainwashed accordingly – they loved worse before.

Mozgovoy potentially was handy for Russia and Ukraine alike. At the same time he presented a danger for both as neither side wanted such convenient political resource to be used by their opponent. But most danger Mozgovoy presented to the acting ‘LNR’ authorities as regardless of who he would serve at the end those authorities would get in the way in his role as a the saviour of Donbas, whatever one would mean by ‘saving’.

Che Guevara for Tolkienists

But now Mozgovoy has died. According to the official version of events he was killed by Ukrainian spies. The version suits Ukraine who can now say that they are die-hards and can eradicate enemy commanders. It suits Russia with LNR well too as it removes the necessity to ask them a whole array of uncomfortable questions.

And now Mozgovoy is doomed to become an object of a cult. Maybe the cult won’t even last a decade as most now have flash consciousness and ‘heroes’ appear and disappear in course of months. However Russian propaganda is interested in making a new Che out of him to attract those who still hesitate in the west and not only lefties.

Mozgovoy has it all to become a legend: a beard, a few phrases against oligarchs. The latter in combination with the beard looks very lefty, even Yarosh could appear lefty with that. In addition there is participation in the ‘anti-fascist forum’ which was held soon before his death. One impressionable Argentine lady wrote about the cadaver ‘if he was not a communist, he really looked like a real communist’. This is an exemplary comment. As for people who perceive politics via slogans and images it does not matter at all what those are in reality. What matters is what they look like.

If Ukrainian patriots are seriously ready to see Ukrainian nationalist symbols and UPA flags in blue-and-yellow and red-and-black flags in Chile, then some foreign Stalinist will see a reborn Che in any bearded man who curses oligarchs in an incomprehensible language. The main thing is that he looks ‘like a communist’ and the legend will follow. Below is an exemplary photograph from an Italian demo commemorating Mozgovoy.

Its participants commemorate the ‘left’ commander and at the same time demand that Vlad Voytsekhovskiy of Borotba is allegedly ‘falsely accused’ of separatism is freed from the claws of the ‘junta’. It would all be great if only the ‘falsely accused’ of Borotba was not freed last winter already as part of an exchange [of captives with LNR – trans] and went to LNR to fight in Mozgovoy’s brigade.

The picture speaks volumes. For example it tells us that foreign fans of ‘Novorossiya’ do not care in the slightest about what is happening in reality even with those who they supposedly support. They care about feeding their illusions, about imagining that they are back in the times of the Second World War and are supporting the struggle against the ‘absolute evil’.

This war has started mainly thanks to the white guard historical reenactor Strelkov. Communist reenactors are now trying to break even. Not even like the reenactors who as a rule try to re-enact the past with accuracy but as reenactors of fantasy role-play also knows in laymen’s terms as Tolkinists. A stick held in one’s hand and called a sword usually suffices. Mozgovoy is a perfect Che for that kind of Tolkienists of the left.

Ukraine’s left: between a swamp and a hard place

Source: Open Democracy, Nihilist
Author: Danys Gorbach

The events of the past two years—the mass protests that led to the deposing of President Viktor Yanukovych, the subsequent annexation of Crimea, and Russian aggression in the east—have changed much in Ukrainian society.

These events have split the global left, dividing the so-called ‘anti-imperialists’ (who support Putin’s aggression) and those who condemn it. Meanwhile, inside Ukraine, left-wing activists are currently re-grouping in response to the events of the past 15 months. Indeed, the changes taking place inside the radical left community began in 2011-2012; the events that followed served as a catalyst.

From the ground up
When Ukraine became an independent state in 1991, the left movement was in the process of being built from the ground up.

Traditions of left-wing protest had long been eradicated, and talk of a continuous tradition of an organised left, stretching back to Nestor Makhno or the Trotskyists, was preposterous.

In the late twentieth century, the language of democratic protest against Soviet power, leftist at its core, was liberal conservative.

Indeed, in the late 1980s, the Soviet press used to call conservatives, who supported a more authoritarian regime and an end to the democratic process of perestroika, ‘right wing’ (although formally speaking, they were communists), and the opposition (including conservative liberals like Boris Yeltsin)—‘left wing’.

Later, in independent Ukraine during the 1990s, the term ‘leftists’ became popular when referring to the Stalinist and post-Stalinist parties, which, having taken root in the debris of the recently dissolved Communist Party, went on to exploit people’s nostalgia for the Soviet Union.

These parties included the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU), which drifted away from Stalinism to social democracy; the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), self-declared successor to the old Soviet Communist Party of Ukraine; the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, which broke off from the SPU and quickly took up a nationally-oriented ‘socialist’ position, with an ‘anti-globalisation’ bent grounded in religion; and, last but not least, the Peasant Party of Ukraine, rocked by a series of scandals in the past 15 years.

Throughout the 1990s, these political forces made up the majority in the Verkhovna Rada, and acted as the opposition to President Leonid Kuchma. It was precisely these parties, emerging from the Stalinist tradition (indeed, the majority of them never left it), which came to embody left-wing principles for ordinary people in Ukraine.

Thanks to their efforts, socialism and communism are still closely tied to ideas such as Slavic nationalism, a pro-Russian geopolitical orientation, the police state, the death penalty, social conservatism, the defence of ‘canonical Orthodoxy’, and the wholehearted approval of the Soviet experience.

Gradual regression
In the past 15 years, however, these parties have lost their political influence. This slow defeat has come about not just as a result of demographic processes (the inevitable ageing and diminishing of their supporters), but also due to their own miscalculations.

During the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, the once powerful SPU squandered its political capital, as it entered unscrupulous coalitions, made bad political deals, and was exposed in a series of corruption scandals.

The Communist Party, which was practically in a governing coalition with the Party of Regions under Viktor Yanukovych, supported the infamous dictatorship laws of 16 January 2014, and in so doing, bound its political future with that of the regime, which quickly fell apart a month later.

After Maidan, with a large portion of their electorate in annexed Crimea and the territories of the ‘People’s Republics’, the communists had little hope of returning to parliament.

‘The left swamp’
At the same time, new left-wing organisations of a different breed have emerged: genuinely anarchist initiatives, Trotskyite groups, radical offshoots from the bureaucratic structures of the CPU, left-leaning nationalists, anti-fascists, social democratic circles—the wide spectrum of left organisations and movements typical of any western country.

To distinguish these groups from the post-Stalinist parties, which monopolised the left flank of national politics, Ukrainian journalists coined the term ‘the new left’. They did this without paying much attention to the fact that this term refers to a concrete political tradition; and one, which, not every young leftist who doesn’t love the CPU belongs to.

Aware of their minimal numbers and influence, these movements kept close to one another: they organised common protests and May Day demonstrations (for Kyiv, with a population of three million, a 500-strong May Day march was considered a success), operated general mailing lists and leased spaces for collective use.

Members of one group would move to another or create their own, but would remain, nevertheless, in the same friendship groups. New people also found themselves here.

This is how a phenomenon that came to be known as the ‘left swamp’ formed: a relatively stable, close-knit social environment where many people hated one another on political and personal grounds, held different political ambitions, but nevertheless felt a sense of belonging to a common cause.

Drying out the swamp
When one group tried to use the swamp in its own interests, though, this was the beginning of the end of this community.

In 2010, the Organisation of Marxists, a group that unified Stalinist former Komsomol members with Trotskyites, invited the swamp to participate in the creation of a ‘left political subject’ (the term ‘party’ was not used to avoid scaring off the anarchists). And so a process was set in motion. Its results turned out to be contrary to its aims: instead of entering the ranks of this new party in droves, the swamp began to dry out.

The anarchists put forward an alternative proposal: unite in radical federative unions on the basis of a syndicalist strategy. In summer 2011, the Autonomous Workers’ Union (AWU), which positioned itself against this new ‘party’, was founded.

By 2011, the Organisation of Marxists had already disintegrated into Stalinist and Trotskyite wings. The former took the name Borotba (the title of a Ukrainian social democratic party active in 1918-1920), while the latter called itself the Left Opposition (a nod to the Trotskyite platform in the Soviet Communist Party of the 1920s). Both groups saw the creation of a leftist party with parliamentary ambitions as their task.

The most influential of these new organisations turned out to be Direct Action (Priama diya), a student union anarcho-syndicalist group founded in the mid-1990s.

Beyond the swamp

Wth their different political views and aims, the paths of these organisations naturally began to diverge. And though accusations of sectarianism and opportunism began to fly as the ‘swamp dried out’, this process ultimately benefited everyone.

In 2012, for instance, anarchist organisations were able to hold their own May Day demonstration, raising their own libertarian agenda; Borotba received the opportunity to found their own parliamentary party, bringing police officers into their ranks, co-operating with Russian nationalists as well as developing other initiatives, previously unthinkable in partnership with the anarchists and Trotskyites.

Meanwhile, Left Opposition (Liva opozytsiya) strived to remain in the swamp longer than everyone else, trying to maintain good relationships with everyone simultaneously. The events of 2013-2014, however, marked the end of a general left community.

The pro-Putin left

Initially taking a sceptical position (typical for most leftists) towards the Maidan in Kyiv, Borotba went on to break with Ukraine’s other left groups in January 2014.

As the protests took on an anti-police character, and the Yanukovych regime intensified its repressive tactics, one thing became clear: there was no going back. Instead, what we faced was either the victory of Maidan (and an uncertain future) or a new authoritarian regime in the Russian model.

Despite this, Borotba openly took the side of AntiMaidan, a pro-government movement, which later transformed into pro-Russian separatist movements in the south and east of the country.

Today, Borotba’s leadership resides partly in western Europe, partly in Russia, and has tied its political future to the separatist movement in the east of Ukraine.

In so doing, Borotba has lost its political appeal for the rest of Ukraine. Have they managed to achieve anything on that side of the frontline? It’s hard to say: separatist authorities have arrested Borotba members on several occasions. The CPU has also found it difficult to enter the ‘political process’ in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).

Meanwhile, though it never officially supported Maidan, the position of the Autonomous Workers’ Union’ on Maidan changed after January 2014.

Many members of AWU participated in protests and infrastructure initiatives, including protecting casualties in hospitals and supporting the occupation of the Ministry of Education (organised by Direct Action).

Indeed, anarchists from AWU were the first to hold a protest after Maidan—against the new government. AWU is still yet to become a syndicate, as it has not managed to set up cells in factories. But it operates as a propagandist anarchist organisation, protesting and holding consciousness-raising events.

The local Kharkov branch of AWU managed to partner up with the liberals in winter 2013-2014, and became an influential force in the Maidan movement there after pushing out the nationalists. Indeed, Kharkov, despite several splits, is home to several anarchist initiatives, including a squat for ATO refugees.

In Kyiv, the left had no such opportunity: nationalists maintained their monopoly on public pronouncements, and pushed the leftists and feminists aside as soon as they unfurled their human rights and socio-economic banners. Nevertheless, Direct Action stubbornly tried to promote its agenda on Maidan (and on the walls of the occupied education ministry). It was in violent confrontations with left activists that the far-right group Right Sector was born.

After Maidan, Direct Action underwent personnel changes: a third generation—young students of an anarchist bent—replaced the second, who were, at last, destined to leave the lecture halls. Today, Direct Action is involved in fighting an anti-religious campaign, resisting the creeping influence of the church in educational institutions, as well as defending the interests of students against neo-liberal education reforms.

Meanwhile, Free Earth, an anarcho-ecological organisation founded in Kyiv, continues to fight against the development of shale gas in Ukraine, and building on Kyiv’s green sites. Several activists from this group are currently fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The initial post-Maidan period seems to have produced several new anarchist groups. In autumn 2014, an anarchist initiative called Black Rainbow sprung up in Kyiv, and local anarchists in Zhytomyr managed to set up Chaotic Good, despite nationalist resistance.

All these groups categorically separate themselves from the ‘People’s Republics’ in Ukraine’s east, seeing those movements as far-right puppet dictatorships, which are controlled by the neo-liberal Putin regime. At the same time, though, they are against any form of nationalism.

Refusing to lay equal blame for the breakout of conflict on the Russian and Ukrainian governments, Ukrainian anarchists come out against the neo-liberal and conservative initiatives of their ‘own’ state.

Digital democracy
The departure of Borotba from Ukrainian politics opened up a space for a young left party—one which, just like Syriza and Podemos, could unite grassroots social movements and promote a social democratic agenda.

Left Opposition decided to take this mantle. Shortly after the victory of Maidan, which they supported, they launched the Party of Social Revolution, declaring the principles of digital democracy. In order to avoid the usual bureaucratic hiccups of registering a new party, they reached an agreement to essentially buy a formal party structure created by other people.

This party has had no shortage of scandals. Under pressure from activists in Odessa, Oleg Vernik—leader of the Defence of Labour trade union—found his way into the party management. In the early 2000s, Vernik, a union leader, was suspected of conning international socialist organisations.

Vernik’s biography is a full one: during Ukraine’s parliamentary elections in 2012, he worked closely with Alexei Kochetkov, the Russian political technologist responsible for CIS-EMO, an election-monitoring organisation. Indeed, Vernik has long tried to establish partnerships with nationalist groups.

In May 2014, however, the organising committee decided to build the party from scratch under the name Social Movement. According to the organisers, they consciously decided to avoid the word ‘revolution’ in the name, given its lack of popularity among today’s electorate.

This new party hopes to repeat the successes of the Greek and Spanish parties—to become a platform for grassroots socio-economic protest, and eventually get into parliament and promote Keynesian economics and progressive politics.

As to their position on the current war in Ukraine, this party tries to please everyone at once: they are smooth in presentation, declaring that both sides are at fault. Yet a scandal over one member of this new party’s management, who had been serving in one of the pro-Ukrainian police battalions, has sharply divided the party: for some, this was fine; for others, it was impermissible.

Have Social Movement made the right choice? Only time will tell. After all, larger political projects, with better financing and administrative resources, have already appropriated socio-economic slogans against austerity, rising communal charges and the fall in citizens’ income.

These populists have very good chances at the coming local elections in October, and Social Movement will have to fight them on the same ground.

Left nationalists
The Autonomous Resistance (AR) movement stands apart in Ukraine’s left scene. Founded in 2009, this group has undergone a political evolution in the past six years.

The founders of AR used to be in charge of the Ukrainian National Labour Party – a national socialist movement, which looked up to Hitler. Gradually, though, a new group emerged with a ‘left Nazi’ ideology. They were particularly enamoured with the Strasser brothers, and their ideology shifted towards defending the rights of workers (ethnic) and resisting the oligarchs (Jews).

In reality, the rather odious Yury Mykhalchyshyn—a member of Svoboda—used to run this party, but broke off contact after becoming a people’s deputy in 2012. A conflict between Svoboda and AR took hold, manifesting itself in regular street violence in Lviv (AR’s ‘stronghold’). Svoboda, which brought the majority of classic neo-Nazis groups under its wing, sent them to fight AR, the ‘communists’. As a result of this conflict, AR swung further to the left.

Currently, this group positions itself against capitalism in its texts, and considers the key contradiction in society to be class, rather than nationality. It condemns xenophobia, though its members desire a ‘proletarian’ government after the social revolution has taken place (instead of the immediate abolition of the state), and resists progressive social agendas such as feminism, LGBT, and reproductive rights. They have, for all intents and purposes, remained nationalists.

During Maidan, AR was active in Lviv, occupying the regional administration building. After conflict broke out in the east, many AR members set off for the front to fight against ‘a more reactionary regime’ (they do not support the Ukrainian government).

The Greek crisis
The Ukrainian left is often accused of lacking unity: the bringing together of everyone with everyone else is fashionable, and those who resist it are branded ‘sectarians’.

Although all the groups mentioned above are on the left of the political spectrum, they have, at times, expressed very different views. For instance, take their views on Greece.

Of course, all Ukrainian leftists condemn the policies of the Troika, which, as they see it, continues to insist on senseless and merciless austerity, stigmatising Greeks as ‘lazy natives’. But there are serious differences.

Borotba and similar groups underline the geopolitical aspect, ‘exposing’ the role of the European Union, which is stripping the Greeks of all they have, and will soon do the same to Ukrainians.

Autonomous Resistance emphasises the destructive role of usury, and believes that Greece should liberate itself from this yoke—after all, they say, the parasite bankers have trapped Greece in a web of debt.

Social Movement proposes complete solidarity with Syriza, and hopes for a further radicalisation of its politics—the nationalisation of the banks, and reforms in the style of Lenin’s NEP.

Anarchists express solidarity with Greek workers, but do not support Syriza as a party (it heads a bourgeois government). For them, there’s no point in the proletariat relying on this government: they have to organise themselves and take the initiative. Several of them would add that the problem here resides in capitalism itself, and not the populist dichotomy ‘people/oligarchs’, and that there is a latent anti-Semitism in the stories of greedy bankers who are at fault for everything.

These are all different positions, and belie the radically different political philosophies at work here. Many on the European right, of course, also ‘support Greece’.

The next political battle
For Social Movement, clearly, the next political battle is the upcoming local elections. Given the domination of populist rhetoric heard from their more powerful opponents, they shouldn’t expect much in the way of electoral success this autumn. That said, they themselves take a more long-term view, seeing the coming elections as an opportunity for agitation.

The current patriotic hysteria that has swept Ukraine—unavoidable in times of war—is helping left-wing nationalists to gain ground.

When it comes to AR, their political programme is close to that amalgamation of left and right slogans which dominates the minds of many people in Ukraine. Aside from nationalism, AR’s demonstrative radicalism and insurrectionism also attracts attention: it draws people who wish to defend the ‘achievements of the Maidan revolution’, but who are not prepared to work with right-wing movements.

That said, surveys show that the overwhelming majority of people in Ukraine are tired of radicalism and violence: thus, ‘ultra-radical’ political forces can appeal only to a minority.

Anarchist organisations are aware of this, and opt for different tactics: without hiding their radical programme, anarchists believe their main goal is to help raise the consciousness of workers and build organisational structures.

As Maidan showed, without organisation, there’s no point thinking about more ambitious aims.