I don't think I'm one of them either. I'm one of mine.

Tag: russia (Page 1 of 2)

There is a difference between understanding something and supporting it.

It is worth trying to understand why some Palestinians fight with Hamas, or why some Ukrainians actively collaborate with the Russians, why some Israelis equate non-eliminationist Palestinian liberation movements with antisemitism, or why the Ukrainian government and its supporters have become even more ethnonationalist than they were before the full-scale war started.

Understanding the fault lines in Israeli and Ukrainian society can lead to healing. If we don’t understand what is happening, then we will be at a loss to end the suffering.

But this understanding need not—must not—justify Netanyahu’s genocidal aims, Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion, Kiev’s petty ethnic nationalism, or Hamas’s slaughtering of civilians and hostage-taking.

On throwaway politics

The world has seen an epidemic of throwaway politics over the past decade or so. What do I mean by “throwaway politics”? Throwaway politics is the practice of treating entire demographics as expendable, useless, superfluous. Throwaway people are second-class citizens, Others, subalterns. They are often ethnic, racial, religious, gender, or sexual minorities, but not always—for example, Black South Africans were throwaway majorities under apartheid.

Politicians and constituents who adopt throwaway politics are usually on the right, but the right doesn’t have a monopoly on the practice—consider left-wing Hamas supporters’ callous attitude towards Jews, or certain left-wing politicians, such as Sahra Wagenknecht, who vilify migrants to outflank their right-wing counterparts.

The demographic characteristics of throwaway residents may vary, but the underlying dynamics are the same: there are some people who are less equal than others. In Europe and European-influenced countries, typical throwaway people are often Muslims, immigrants from the “wrong” countries, refugees from the Middle East (who are typically Muslims), LGBTQ+ people, and occasionally Jews.

Once you’re a throwaway, nobody cares about your rights. You’re not worth listening to. You may as well not even exist. You are no longer deserving of empathy or consideration.

We know where this leads: the events of 1933–1945. Hitler’s primary target was Jewish people, but Jews were not the only throwaway Germans. Disabled people, dubbed “ballast existences,” were targeted through the Nazis’ Aktion T-4. So were the Roma. The Nazis didn’t care much for Russians, either. Queer and trans people were also fodder for Hitler’s hate machine.

Why the hell are exclusivist ideologies, or the remnants of exclusivist ideologies, given any credence in supposedly inclusive (most Western democracies) or anti-fascist (Russia) societies? We know where this can go. It’s not as though we’re in 1920 and had no record of an industrial-scale genocide. Hitler’s Germany is still in living memory. Why are TERFs’ arguments taken seriously, especially when their “sex-based rights” model is a few steps away from Kinder, Küche, Kirche? Why is the Russian government endlessly pursuing LGBTQ+ people and claiming to be “anti-fascist” when their attitudes towards the community are little different from those expressed by the Nazis? Why are Christian fundamentalists, whether American Protestant or Russian Orthodox, treated as a legitimate political constituency when the same liberal or progressive politicians see right through their Islamist counterparts? Why do American police officers disproportionately target Black people with violence? Why are US presidents calling neo-Nazis “very fine people” and calling for the “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”? Why is the new, modern, liberal, European government in Kiev treating ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers as fifth-column traitors, in a shadow of what the US government did and has done to Arab and Muslim Americans after 9/11 and now the Hamas attacks? Why is the Israeli government bombing Gaza instead of trying to live alongside the Palestinians? And why are supposedly “woke,” enlightened people claiming that every Israeli Jew is a throwaway person blocking Palestinians from their freedom?

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A queer antinationalist on Ukraine and Russia

I am queer. I am also a vehement antinationalist. These facts make it impossible for me to offer ideological support to either Moscow or Kiev.

Let’s start with the obvious one: the Putin regime. Russia has heightened its repression of LGBTQ+ people, including a new Supreme Court ruling that effectively outlaws pro-queer activism as “extremist.” LGBTQ+ activists face the risk of fines and imprisonment up to 12 years. Putin has already used these tactics against dissidents like Boris Kagarlitsky, Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza. Putin’s Russia tries to contrast itself with the “decadent” West with its persecution of LGBTQ+ people, even though our right-wing politicians hold views that are just as bad as Putin’s. Like western conservatives, Putin weaponises religion—in this case, the Eastern Orthodox Church, rather than evangelical Protestant denominations or the Roman Catholic Church—to impose an authoritarian social agenda. And I could go on about Russia’s other reactionary, repressive policies and laws, but there’s already ample coverage in CNN, the New York Times, NBC, The Guardian, etc.

Ukraine, for its part, is aggressively pursuing an ethnonationalist agenda that conflates Russian ethnicity and language with Putin’s vile regime. Even soldiers in the far-right, extreme nationalist Azov Battalion have been attacked for speaking Russian, primarily by the now-fired Lviv Polytechnic professor Iryna Farion, who used to be a member of the Nazi-adjacent Svoboda party (link in Russian). Nationalism has infected even otherwise progressive circles in Ukraine: according to the Kharkov-based anarchist group Assembly (link in Italian and English; English is on the bottom), many feminist and LGBTQ+ activists are closely tied with Ukraine’s nationalist movement. Instead of uniting the entirety of the Ukrainian people against the Russian state, the Ukrainian government and many of its supporters have chosen instead to create even more divisions. As I’ve said before, Kiev’s own-goals push people towards supporting Russia, even though it’s unlikely they’ll get any more freedom there than they do in Ukraine.

The situation is undoubtedly worse for people who find themselves ostracised from both sides—for example, I can’t even imagine what it feels like to be a queer leftist in occupied Eastern Ukraine (especially one who primarily speaks Russian) who runs the risk of being persecuted by Kiev or the Russian occupiers. Or for pro-Ukraine (or merely anti-war) Russians who want to leave the country: many of Russia’s European neighbours have closed the border; Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Poles distrust Russians, regardless of their support of Putin; and Putin’s dictatorial rule has made it impossible for them to stay home in Russia with the people they love the most. They’re being told that there is something inherently evil inside them for being from Russia, and they’re also being told that there’s something inherently wrong with them for opposing the Russian regime.

I can’t support either position. Both Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ repression and Ukraine’s ethnonationalism are incompatible with a functioning pluralist society. They imply that if you’re not an ethnic Ukrainian who speaks Ukrainian, you’re not a real Ukrainian, or that if you’re gay or bi or trans, you’re not a real Russian. If you’re not a nationalist, you’re not a real feminist. If you’re a leftist, you’re not a good Ukrainian. If you’re a liberal or progressive, you’re not a good Russian.

And once you’re no longer seen as a real member of your society, you’re open to persecution, since civil rights and liberties are reserved only for real people, not superfluous ones.

I don’t know what the right answer is, either to put a stop to Russia’s increasing repression or Ukraine’s nationalist obsessions. I don’t think anybody does, no matter how many thinkpieces are written, no matter how many declarations are made on TV, no matter how much people rant and rave on Telegram and Reddit and Twitter.

What I do know is that people are suffering, dying and praying for a better chance for themselves, their families, their friends and their communities. And neither Russia’s sexist repression nor Ukraine’s reactionary ethnic nationalism will bring their people the peace they so desperately deserve. You don’t want real liberation or justice if your goal is to make a new group of second-class citizens.

Inverse oppression is not liberation.

Inverse oppression is not liberation.

Calling to commit genocide against a dominant ethnic group is still wrong. It still implies that there are groups of people who don’t deserve to live, not because of what they have individually done, but because of the cruel actions of their government. Targeting your own citizens because they speak the “oppressor’s language” isn’t going to free you from domination; it’s merely going to tear your country apart because your blinkered nationalism has caused you to forget who is also on your side.

I don’t mean this to be a saccharine “why can’t we just get along” plea. I don’t mean that we have to suck up to people who don’t value our lives. Fuck them. But I won’t endorse essentialist claims about how, for example, Russians exist solely to oppress Ukrainians and must be destroyed. This is toxic garbage. Nobody exists solely to oppress anyone else. When you claim that someone’s very existence is oppressive, you sound like a fucking fascist.

Most social justice activists aren’t like this. Most want to find a place for themselves within a pluralist society. But they are drowned out by a loud minority that calls for blood at the earliest opportunity.

Turning misogyny around and claiming that men are all domineering brutes who want to subjugate women doesn’t lead to women’s liberation—it just causes misogynists to double down and act worse because “women hate us anyway.” And “reverse misogynists” are often the ones who end up becoming TERFs, since they believe in sexual determinism. If you’re born with this bodily configuration, you’re virtuous; if you’ve got the other kind, you’re damned.

Certain “woke” academics and students think that antiracism means dehumanising white people, straight people, or cis people—and those white, straight, and cis people will turn around and escalate their racist, homophobic, and transphobic claims because they think that non-white and LGBTQ+ people are out to get them. They think they’re going to be oppressed, too. When they talk about being “decolonial,” they want to become the new colonisers instead, wiping out history and rewriting it to fit a new “liberated” agenda. (And some are perfectly fine with some colonisers like the Chinese.) They conflate cultural exchange—a near-universal in all human societies—with crude cultural appropriation, like white people wearing stupid fake Native American headdresses at Coachella.

Real liberation occurs when societies can reckon with historical inequities and find ways to live alongside each other. We must not tolerate racism, sexism or any other prejudice. But this demand must be separated from retributive, eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth “morality.” There is a difference between fighting for one’s rights—even with violence—and wanting to eliminate the other side. For example, I don’t want white Americans to be wiped out. I want them to start seeing their non-white counterparts as full members of society.

I am tired of hearing that calling for reconciliation and kindness, rather than calling for blood, means “siding with the oppressor.” Unfortunately, a lot of oppressed people think that liberation means doing what the other guys did to them. The oppressed can become oppressors. One cursory look at a history book will show this to be true. The Russians were oppressed by the Mongols. Later, they turned around and oppressed Mongolic groups like the Buryats. Jews were and are oppressed in Western societies and the Arab world. But now the Israeli state (not Jews as a whole, just the Israeli state) is oppressing Palestinian Arabs, and those Arabs, as well as their Iranian allies, are now calling for the oppression of Jews as a whole. Both Jews and Muslims are marginalised religious and ethnic minorities in the West, and this complicates politics among Israel’s allies. Anti-Zionism is shot through with antisemitism, and Zionism is shot through with Islamophobia. And there are people who are both oppressor and oppressed—for example, non-white Americans may serve in the army and still struggle with racism at home. I side-eye anyone who talks about “The Oppressor” as though this is a permanent category, an indelible mark of evil.

I do not believe in tit-for-tat morality and I will never endorse it, even if it is masked as “liberation.” I’m not against the use of violence to send a message (though it should occur only after non-violent options have been exhausted), but it has to be targeted—and it should not be directed at civilians or private citizens. I’m sick of this Manichaean bullshit, and I hate that social justice movements have been infected with it.

If you are obsessed with eliminating groups of people, you aren’t freeing anyone from literal or figurative bondage. You just want to be the new master.

Kiev doubles down on linguistic nationalism

According to a new poll from the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, 45% of Ukrainians think that linguistic discrimination is a problem—even more than discrimination based on sexuality, gender, or disability. But you wouldn’t guess that from the attitudes expressed by some Ukrainian officials and hyper-nationalist citizens. Yet again, Kiev has continued to score own-goals by discriminating against large swathes of its population instead of trying to bring its people together.

Keep in mind that KIIS’s poll probably doesn’t include the heavily Russian-speaking Donbass, currently occupied by the Kremlin. The people being polled are in places like Kiev, Lviv, and Vinnytsia, far away from the frontline.

The English-language press hasn’t picked up on this—they’re too busy focusing on the fanatical Israeli and Palestinian nationalists instead. All the links in this post will be in Russian and Ukrainian—Google Translate will help you out if you don’t read them fluently, which I don’t.

By treating the Russian language and its speakers as synonymous with Vladimir Putin, Ukraine is merely playing into the Kremlin’s narrative about oppressed Russian-speakers who need to be saved from Kiev. And yet they do it anyway:

  • Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s head of national security, said that the Russian language should disappear from Ukraine, equating its very use with Kremlin propaganda. Of those who continue to use Russian, he said, “We don’t need anything from them. Let them leave us behind; let them go to their swamps and croak in Russian.” He also said that the government would switch its “FreeДом” channel from Russian to English—even though English is not a native language of most Ukrainians. Russian, however, is. This lack of regard for his fellow Ukrainians is stunning in its callousness. Is it any wonder that there are so many Ukrainian citizens willing to work with the Russians? He’s giving talking points to Vladimir Putin, Sergei Lavrov, Margarita Simonyan, Dmitry Kiselev and Vladimir Soloviev, not encouraging national unity.
  • The Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev will stop teaching Russian, Belarusian and Farsi courses. (I suspect that they’re cutting Farsi because Iran is anti-Israel—they’re mixing in Zionism with their own local ethnonationalism. I would also object if a university cut Hebrew because of Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians.)
  • A taxi driver in Kiev was fired because he refused to give into his riders’ rude demands that he stop speaking Russian. He kicked his riders out for their behaviour, and from what I can pick up, they reported him to the government. Ukraine’s “language ombudsman,” Taras Kremin, promised to impose a fine on this driver.
  • Taras Kremin has called for Ukrainian TV stations to stop making bilingual programming.
  • The irony in all this is that, although just over half of bilingual parents in Kiev have started to speak Ukrainian more frequently to their children, 20% of Kiev preschoolers barely understand Ukrainian. Kids often pick up Ukrainian at school, but according to this survey, most of them continue to speak Russian during breaks and with their families, and the memes that teens share online are vastly more likely to be in Russian or English than they are Ukrainian.

The most disturbing aspect of Ukraine’s anti-Russian-language drive is that the authorities simply don’t care about at least one-fifth of their population, if not more. They’re throwaways, or “superfluous Ukrainians,” as the leftist activist Anatoly Ulyanov put it.

I am actually afraid of the consequences if Kiev wins. A Russian victory would be worse—everything Ukraine is doing, Russia does at least fivefold—but if Zelensky pulls out a win against the odds, it will be a Pyrrhic victory at best. Hollowed-out cities, a lowered standard of life even for the poorest country in Europe, unbearable national debts, privatisation and neoliberal policies in a country whose president has sold out its people to the highest bidder, and a class of second-class citizens based on their native language. I cannot enthusiastically support Ukraine. I have not quite reached the point where I can’t support it at all—I think Kiev can eventually be held accountable, unlike Israel and Hamas—but it is extremely difficult to do so.

Why is it so difficult? Because nationalism is heartbreaking, gutting, life-destroying poison. Unlike patriotism, it relies on a desire to eliminate anything that does not match its narratives. It is chauvinistic, narrow-minded, bigoted and short-sighted. And when there is nationalism, there is no real peace.

 

Nationalism is poisonous and must be resisted

Nationalism, regardless of its variety, is one of humanity’s worst afflictions.

If it weren’t for virulent ethnic and religious nationalism in the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians—or Muslims and Jews in general—wouldn’t keep killing each other over and over again. These parties’ competing claims are rooted in religious supremacism that disallows peaceful coexistence in a pluralist society.

If it weren’t for virulent ethnic nationalism in Eastern Europe, Russians and Ukrainians wouldn’t keep throwing their soldiers into a meat grinder for nearly a decade.

And if it weren’t for virulent ethnic nationalism in Central Europe, millions of Jews and Roma would have avoided the Shoah and Poraimos.

Nationalism often arises out of systemic oppression. Those who cling to these beliefs often want to defend their cultures and people against invaders or imperial overlords, whether past or present. We see this with ultra-Orthodox Zionists, Palestinian nationalists, Russian nationalists, and Ukrainian nationalists, all of whom have legitimate grievances against antisemites, Israeli nationalists, Nazi Germany, the USSR under Stalin, Poland, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But these groups go beyond simply defending themselves. They promote their own chauvinistic ideas that invert what the Germans, Russians, Poles, or Israelis said about them. They sully their reputation abroad by attacking civilians, defending ethnic cleansing, oppressing their own citizens, and silencing dissent.

You cannot fight oppressive chauvinism with more of the same. Fighting for liberation need not mean that you copy your oppressor’s tactics—or plan to do so once you have regained your power. All you have done is drunk the poison and internalised it.

Spit out the poison. Resist all nationalisms.

 

German-owned Politico publishes piece defending SS veteran

The European edition of Politico, which is wholly owned by Germany’s Axel Springer conglomerate, published an op-ed by Keir Giles on the Yaroslav Hunka affair. Giles, a British Russia expert, claims that SS-Galizien was cleared of all crimes in a Canadian investigation (but not the Nuremberg trials) and that Hunka was forced to make a difficult decision because of the threat the Soviets presented to the Ukrainians. He dismisses the complaints of Jewish groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, even though it is Jews who were the Nazis’ primary victims. Every acknowledgement of Ukrainian nationalists’ complicity with the Nazi regime is Russian propaganda and no more.

If I didn’t know it was from Politico and not Euromaidan Press or Ukrainska Pravda, I’d have thought Giles’s essay was Ukrainian propaganda.

The Nuremberg Trials declared all SS divisions criminal organisations with one exception: the Equestrian SS [second link is in Russian]. This means that SS-Galizien was not cleared at Nuremberg. In an article (rehosted by the author on academia.edu—the actual site is paywalled and unavailable on Sci-Hub) for the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, the historian Per Anders Rudling makes clear that the the volunteer members of SS-Galizien were not mere dupes or heroic Ukrainian freedom fighters. Members of the division had to swear oaths to Hitler, and they were educated in Nazi ideology. SS-Galizien committed multiple war crimes against Poles and civilians. Ultranationalists affiliated with the Ukrainian government—especially Volodymyr Viatrovych, the former head of Ukraine’s Institute for National Remembrance—have attempted for years to play down the atrocities that fascist and Nazi-affiliated Ukrainian nationalists have committed.

I don’t get why some of Ukraine’s supporters have to bend over backwards to defend its worst elements. By doing so, it simply hands the Russians more material for their propaganda.

Bad pro-Ukraine arguments: “Svoboda barely got any votes” and “Jewish President”

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.

 

 

Russia’s Own-Goals: How Moscow Fuels Ukrainian Ultranationalism and Far-Right Movements

Last week, I talked about how Ukraine constantly scores own-goals by doubling down on extreme nationalism, Nazi apologias, and other toxic tendencies that seem to give credence to Russian propaganda about Ukraine’s being a “Nazi state.” I would be remiss, however, to ignore Russia’s role in the rise of reactionary Ukrainian chauvinism. After all, it is Russia who initiated the Ukrainian crisis, starting with its annexation of Crimea and ending with the full-scale “special military operation” launched last year.

By attacking Ukraine, Russia is enabling Kiev’s most chauvinistic, anti-Russian politicians and activists to pass new laws restricting the use of the Russian language, openly display Nazi and fascist imagery, defend the reputation of Nazi collaborators like Stepan Bandera, marginalise predominantly Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the South and East, launch dumb campaigns to “cancel” the use in English of Russian names for Russophone cities like Kiev and Kharkov (a practice I have not adopted here), lobby international theatres and concert halls to ban Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, pulp thousands of Russian and Russian-language books from Ukrainian libraries, encourage the harassment of people who use “non-state languages” (that is, Russian), go on witch-hunts for fifth columnists who are merely critics of the current regime, ban opposition sites like Strana from being accessed within Ukraine, rehabilitate the reputation of the Galician SS, hire military spokeswomen who call Russians “Mongols” who aren’t “real Europeans” with “real European values,” name streets after Bandera and other Nazi collaborators, and make threatening promises to cleanse Crimea of all Russian cultural or linguistic influence should it fall back under Kiev’s control. Because of Russia’s attacks, many Ukrainians are adopting nationalistic views—the kinds the Russians loathe for their unsavoury association with Nazism and fascism—to distinguish themselves from their larger neighbour. Ukraine has formed its entire post-Maidan identity around Not Being Russia—and Russia has contributed to it with its actions. It is hard to want to have a close relationship with Russia when Putin is behaving the way he is. He is merely inflaming the thing he has supposedly set out to fight. If he wants to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, he is doing a miserable job at it.

None of this is to excuse Ukrainian politicians for their vicious chauvinism, especially when it is directed at Ukrainian citizens who refuse to adopt the ultranationalism imposed by the post-Maidan governments. I will never defend the Kiev regime beyond supporting its military victory over Russia. But Russia’s actions have contributed to the noxious extremism emanating from Kiev. The biggest losers in all this are the Ukrainians, especially those in the south and east. The Russians bomb their cities and abduct their children, but the Ukrainian authorities have no desire to integrate them into its increasingly ethnonationalist, chauvinistic state.

If Russia wants to put a stop to Nazism in Ukraine, if it wants to regain its influence on the world stage, if it wants to prove its strength, it must withdraw itself from this needless war of attrition. It is time for Russia to remove its troops and come to the negotiation table. Ukraine’s counteroffensive has fizzled, but that does not mean that the Russian “special military operation” is successful. Not by a long stretch. This—and only this—is how Putin can “denazify” Ukraine.

 

“Two wrongs don’t make a right” is a cliché, but it’s an accurate one

Apologias for, and minimisation of, Russian and Ukrainian fascist and far-right movements span the political spectrum. Tankies and Christian nationalists alike present Russia as a strong counterpoint to Western—well, American—dominance, either because of its foreign policy or its repudiation of social-libertarian values like feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, and due process. Liberals, progressives, and centrists view Ukraine as liberal, progressive David fighting off the authoritarian Russian Goliath. And neoconservatives who have never got over the Cold War simply hate Russia reflexively and want to see it challenged once and for all. These varied interests have made strange bedfellows out of Moscow’s and Kiev’s supporters—but one thing ties together uncritical supporters of the Ukrainians or Russians: a refusal to acknowledge far-right and fascist movements in either country.

The pro-Ukrainian/anti-Russian coalition

Liberals, centrists, moderates, progressives, certain leftists, Brexiteers, neo-Nazis, anti-imperialists, white nationalists, and neoconservatives contort themselves to defend, excuse, or minimise fascist and far-right movements in Ukraine. This is clear through the motley band of countries that supports Ukraine or condemns Russia: the centre-left American, Spanish, German, and Canadian governments; the centrist French government; the centre-right British government; and the right-wing Italian and Polish governments. Poland’s social policies, especially for LGBTQ+ people, are only fractionally better than Russia’s—though at least Poles have freedom of movement thanks to the Schengen treaty.

Although liberals, progressives, and leftists stand for freedom of speech and expression and rightly oppose reactionary political movements in the West, they are unaware of, or choose to ignore, Ukraine’s far-right movements and their influence over the country’s civil society.

The pro-Russian/anti-Ukrainian coalition

Tankies, certain non-tankie leftists, paleoconservatives, progressives, soi-disant libertarians, neo-Nazis, multipolarists, anti-imperialists, Trumpers, Brexiteers, white nationalists, and alt-righters contort themselves to defend, excuse, or minimise fascist and far-right movements in Russia.

Ironically, rightists who defend Russia will raise the matter of Ukrainian far-right movements while promoting Christian nationalism, homophobia and transphobia, misogyny, and other reactionary ideas that sound just as fascist as they claim the Ukrainians are. Many tankies, meanwhile, will profess to be against gendered discrimination and right-wing religious movements, but excuse Russia’s repressions because it is a bulwark against American and NATO hegemony.

Right-libertarians’ motivation is a bit different—they are obsessed with minimising government spending if it has no direct effect on their lives, and so they focus on highlighting Kiev’s failings to stop their governments from providing Ukraine with weapons or humanitarian aid. In many cases, their motive is primarily selfishness, rather than true support for Russian policies. “Libertarians” who do actively support Russia are better called paleoconservatives.

Whitewashing Ukraine

The Kiev government has a tendency of scoring own-goals and appeasing nationalist movements, but it is far from being a Nazi regime. It is a worker-unfriendly neoliberal state whose social policies are usually more progressive than Russia’s. It is a wobbly democracy riddled with corruption, ethnic discrimination, and polarisation, but it can probably be fixed in the next decade under competent leadership.

Ukraine more than deserves support to fend off the Russian invasion—but that doesn’t mean that we can dismiss the relationship between Ukrainian nationalism and fascist movements. We do not have to defend the Azov battalion or claim that Ukrainian SS troops were victims of the Nazi regime when it is they who helped slaughter countless Jews as a trial run for the gas chambers.

Zelensky is no Nazi. But the Ukrainian government has been too spineless, too afraid of the far-right movements, too stubborn to admit that Ukrainian nationalism has an unsavoury side, to call these movements out for what they are. This is doubtless because Russian propaganda has unfairly caricatured Ukraine as a Nazi regime.

Whitewashing Russia

As for Russia, its position is indefensible. Any legitimate criticisms the Putin regime raises about far-right movements in Ukraine are hollow, since Russia itself is a far-right state. Nazis are primarily characterised as enemies of Russia, rather than persecutors of vulnerable minorities, including Jews, Roma and Sinti people, disabled people, queer and trans people, and political dissidents.

Putin persecutes many of the same populations that the Nazis did, especially queer people and dissidents, as well as Ukrainians who do not want to be “governed” by Russia (which is most of them). Paleoconservatives, alt-righters, Trumpers, and some white nationalists understand this—and this is why they want to cut aid to Kiev and serve as mouthpieces for the Kremlin. As for the tankies, multipolarists, and other leftist Russia apologists, they couldn’t care less what authoritarian regimes do to their people or the countries they attack as long as they’re rivals of the US and its allies.

Concluding remarks

Leftists—usually anarchists, Trotskyists, and democratic socialists—appear to be the only ones who condemn oppressive movements and policies in both Ukraine and Russia. This is the morally correct position to take.

We cannot tolerate fascism from either the Russian or Ukrainian side. It is possible to show solidarity with Ukraine and provide them support without sweeping its problems under the rug. We can reject linguistic and social discriminations against Russian-speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians without defending Putin’s monstrous actions in Ukraine. We can repudiate the excesses of Ukrainian nationalism while supporting their resistance against Russian domination. And we can defend Russian dissidents, as well as critics of the Ukrainian government, without assuming that any of these people support repression from either Moscow or Kiev.

 

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