A common refrain among Ukraine’s uncritical supporters is that Kiev is free of far-right movements because extreme nationalist parties (e.g. Svoboda) barely got any votes in the last election. But this is a poor argument, since movements outside a country’s legislature can still exert influence on politicians’ decisions. For example, the British Conservative Party has been pushed further to the right because of more extreme parties and movements. The UK Independence Party has held only two seats in Parliament since its creation, and only one of those MPs won his seat in a general election. Despite UKIP’s lack of parliamentary representation, however, it was successful in achieving their main goal: withdrawing the United Kingdom from the European Union. UKIP accomplished this by pushing the Tories to the right on immigration. Not wanting to be outdone by Nigel Farage & Co., the Tories introduced more and more xenophobic policies designed to appeal to the base. Theresa May introduced the hostile-environment policy, designed to discourage migrants from settling. Tabloids like the Daily Mail and Daily Express launched incessant “crusades”—as the Express terms them—to drive out economic migrants from poorer EU countries like Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland. (The United States, on the other hand, seems to incorporate its radicalising elements into the party structure—consider the Tea Party movement and its eldritch offspring, the Trump/MAGA movement.)
The other irritating argument I come across is “Ukraine has a Jewish president, so there’s no more antisemitism now.” Sadly, I see this coming from the same people who would see the absurdity in the statement “Obama was Black, so there’s no more racism in America.” Zelensky’s election does show real progress in Ukrainian society, just as Obama’s election showed progress in American society. But that doesn’t mean that the work is over. It’s far from over when Ukraine has streets and monuments in honour of Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, or when the American South is full of statues to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson. It’s not over when the Ukrainian press bends over backwards to defend a member of the Waffen-SS who was given a standing ovation by the Canadian parliament, and it’s not over when people continue to sing the praises of the Confederate Army, even though they fought for the right to “own” other people and extract their labour.
Ukraine doesn’t need far-rightists in parliament for them to influence its social policy, and Zelensky’s Jewish background does not insulate the country from criticisms of its ultranationalist tendencies. Claiming otherwise is merely spouting Kiev’s state propaganda.
You should support Ukraine’s fight against Russia, even if your support is strictly harm reduction, as mine is. But for the love of God, please stop airbrushing over Ukraine’s far-right movements. Argue on humanitarian grounds. Argue on anti-Putin grounds. Argue on national-security grounds. But don’t pretend that extreme nationalism and far-right movements don’t exist. This does no one any good—especially not Ukrainians.