Andreas Umland
July 2011

No Parliament for Ukraine’s Radical Right

What happened to the nationalists in Ukraine?” was the title of an article written by Paul Kubicek in 1999 in an attempt to explain the comparative scantiness of the radical nationalist parties in the Ukrainian politics of the '90s. Until quite recently, the marginal status of the ultra-nationalist groups in Kyiv did not undergo any substantial changes.

Ukraine in Post-Communist Comparison

Undoubtedly, Ukrainian nationalism does in fact exist. It has attracted a lot of attention recently due to the growth in the influence of Oleh Tiahnybok's party, All-Ukrainian Union "Freedom" (“Svoboda”). Sometimes the strength of Ukrainian nationalism as depicted by European mass media has more foundation in the imaginary rather than the real. A few years ago, the Kyiv magazine Ukrainian Week, describing the manipulation in information flow in Ukraine in Russian (or pro-Russian) publications (see issues 18-19, 2008), brought the example of the “Hitlerization” of Ukrainian politics. The magazine was referring to the attempts to discredit Kyiv through a) promotion of marginal cases, e.g. the selling of Hitler puppets from Taiwan in Ukrainian stores; b) simplification of complex historical processes, e.g. actions of Ukrainian nationalists during WWII; or c) artificial scandals, e.g. the calumny against Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko's late father, Andrii Yushchenko, a former prisoner of the Flossenbürg concentration camp, in one book written in Russian by a fictitious “Jewish historian” and published in Pakistan.    

Despite these successful (partially in the West as well) media campaigns of the Kremlin, Ukraine remains a special case both in the Eastern and even the European contexts—in fact, a case opposite to the suggested image. Not only did Ukrainians surprise the world with the days-long, successful, and non-violent act of civil disobedience known as the “Orange Revolution.” But Ukraine is also distinguished by the fact that its parliament has had no ultra-nationalist factions for many years. 

Political landscapes of other East European states similar to Ukraine show that this comforting phenomenon is not a common one. In most of the partially or entirely pluralistic post-communist European states – from Poland and Slovakia, who have been EU members for a couple of years already, to states with a Christian Orthodox tradition that recently joined into the EU (Bulgaria, Romania), and states isolated from Europe in their development, such as Serbia and Russia – in all of these states radical nationalist groups have become inseparable parts of social discourse and political life of their countries. The primary witness to this is the relative success of the ultra-nationalist groups in parliamentary and presidential elections. Further proof is the noticeable presence, although not permanent, of various right-wing extremist groups or populist factions in the legislative institutions at the federal or national level, and recently even in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or in the European Parliament. 

Right-wing Radicalism in Eastern and Western Europe      

When considered with a comparative approach, these East European phenomena are not surprising. In the frequently-cited article of 1967, German political scientists Erwin K. Scheuch and Hans-Dieter Klingemann define right-wing radicalism as a “normal pathology” of Western industrial societies. How “normal,” then, is the presence of ultra-nationalist groups in parliaments troubled by the severe crises of transitional states with poor democratic traditions, unstable political institutions, numerous economic problems, and undeveloped civil society? Both sociological theory and simple civil intuition lead us to expect extreme reactions to the stressful situations that Eastern Europe had to survive in the 1990s. Thus, we...

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