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Weissman writes: "From Moscow and Kiev to Western Europe, neo-Nazis and near-Fascists are flexing their muscles, but doing it in different and changing ways. Three questions shape the story."

Neo-Nazi pictured at a rally in 2009. (photo: Reuters)
Neo-Nazi pictured at a rally in 2009. (photo: Reuters)

Neo-Nazis Suck, But in Changing Ways

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

02 September 13


rom Moscow and Kiev to Western Europe, neo-Nazis and near-Fascists are flexing their muscles, but doing it in different and changing ways. Three questions shape the story.

  • Why do neo-Nazis play such a prominent role in the supposedly moderate Ukrainian government of billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko?

  • Why did Marine Le Pen, her Front National in France, and her fellow-travelers in Western Europe stop supporting their former neo-Nazi allies in Ukraine?

  • And why do the Front National and many of its allies give such fervent support to Vladimir Putin, who presents himself as the Great Anti-Fascist?

Together the answers provide a far more nuanced view of the world than most Americans will get from the mainstream press, the Putin propaganda mill, or the followers of Lyndon Larouche and other conspiracy-mongers who uncritically cheerlead for Putin.

Long Before Bandera

Ukraine’s neo-Nazis, with their SS-like symbols and murderous brutality, are in many ways the most straightforward. They grow out of a long history of Ukrainian nationalism and its yearning for an ethnically homogenous homeland. Their blood and soil nationalism led them to target the country’s long-standing Jewish population, mostly in Galicia, which is now in Western Ukraine but was formerly part of Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Over the years, the nationalists have held their Jewish neighbors guilty as a group for everything from crucifying Christ to working for rich Polish land-owners to supporting Soviet Communism.

Most dramatically, nationalist-led Ukrainian pogroms against Jews reached epic proportions in the annals of ethnic cleansing. As far back as the Chmielnicki Massacres of the mid-1600s, Cossacks and their allies killed more than 100,000 Jews and destroyed 300 Jewish communities. In 1920, Ukrainian nationalists killed some 60,000 Jews. During World War II, they helped the Nazis slaughter hundreds of thousands of Russians, Poles, Czechs, Armenians, Gypsies, anti-Fascist Ukrainians, and Jews, including the killing of thousands at a ravine near Kiev called Babi Yar.

“Jews in the USSR constitute the most faithful support of the ruling Bolshevik regimes and the vanguard of Muscovite imperialism in the Ukraine,” proclaimed the followers of nationalist leader Stepan Bandera in April 1941.

“I … fully appreciate the undeniably harmful and hostile role of the Jews, who are helping Moscow to enslave Ukraine,” declared Bandera’s closest deputy, Yaroslav Stetsko. “I therefore support the destruction of the Jews and the expedience of bringing German methods of exterminating Jewry to Ukraine.”

Wanting Galicia for themselves, the Nazis jailed Bandera and Stetsko. But Ukrainian nationalists under Bandera’s wartime chief Mykola Lebed continued to slaughter Jews, Poles, and others in the most barbaric ways. As one eyewitness told the story, “Bandera men … are not discriminating about who they kill; they are gunning down the populations of entire villages.… Since there are hardly any Jews left to kill, the Bandera gangs have turned on the Poles. They are literally hacking Poles to pieces. Every day … you can see the bodies of Poles, with wires around their necks, floating down the river Bug.”

Read the horrific history for yourself. It’s available free online in an authoritative study from the U.S. National Archives: “Hitler’s Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence, and the Cold War.” Note how quickly the allies made their peace with Ukraine’s fascists, which helps explains why Washington and the Europeans feel so comfortable about using them again today.

Updating the story in Part II of “Meet the Americans Who Put Together the Coup in Kiev,” I laid out at length the overlapping histories of the key players, especially Andriy Parubiy, who commanded the often armed militants during the coup. He now runs the government’s National Security and Defense Council, which oversees Kiev’s “anti-terrorist” campaign in Eastern Ukraine. His credentials are vintage neo-Nazi. He helped create both the militant Praviy Sektor, or Right Sector, and the pointedly named Social National Party, which became the ultra-nationalist Svoboda (“Freedom”) Party, under Dr. Oleg Tyanhnybok.

You can find the details and sources in “Meet the Americans.” Here I want to draw attention to an often overlooked part of the story. When the U.S. and its European allies engineered the first “Orange Revolution” in 2004, they brought to power Viktor Yushchenko and his Ukrainian-American wife Katherine Chumachenko, a former Reagan aide who was extremely well-connected in Washington. These supposed “democrats” authorized a new official history of Bandera and the others, presenting them as national heroes and white-washing their horrendous crimes.

Why does this matter? Because many of the same ideas that motivate the overt neo-Nazis and right-wing ultra-nationalists inspire the supposedly moderate Fatherland Party of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, for whom the scary Andriy Parubiy now works.

Follow the food chain. The U.S., EU, and IMF back Ukraine’s billionaire oligarchs. Yatsenyuk works for the oligarchs. Parubiy works for Yatsenyuk. And the neo-Nazi militias work for Parubiy as little more than hired storm troopers. The balance of power could change to a degree, especially in the highly unlikely event that Tyanhnybok’s Svoboda Party were to win the parliamentary elections, now scheduled for October 26. But, the bigger danger comes from the spread into the highest levels of the Poroshenko government of an ideology so eager to kill in pursuit of an ethnically pure Ukraine, which remains an impossible dream.

Back in March, as the coup was defining itself, I wrote a column called “Will the Nazis and Jews Make Nice?” Though I obviously had tongue in cheek, the question has become even more pressing. Ukraine’s overt neo-Nazis see the most unexpected people as “”some type of Jew or secret Jew,” to cite The Daily Stormer. The hate list includes Poroshenko, whom one militant publicly called “Jew Trash”; the heavyweight champion Vitali Klitshko, now Mayor of Kiev, whose maternal grandmother was supposedly Jewish; Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, whom a political opponent called “the impudent little Jew”; and Yulia Tymoshenko, “the billionaire Jew” with a peroxide bottle.

Who cares who’s Jewish? The neo-Nazis do. But as long as an impoverished Ukraine needs so much Western support, most of the mini-Führers have decided to make nice, joining with their new allies to spew racist venom against the “ethnically impure” Russians.

Paradoxically, those who simply parrot Putin’s propaganda about Ukraine’s neo-Nazis vastly underestimate the danger here, as Putin himself seems to be doing. This is especially true now that Kiev has once again asked for NATO’s nuclear guarantee. To give Ukraine, with its historic yearning for ethnic homogeneity, the key to blow up the world would be one of the dumbest things Washington and its allies could do. But they are proving themselves just dumb enough to do it, especially with Putin making his own dumb nuclear threats rather than trying harder to find a diplomatic way to make nice.

Her Daddy’s Darling

When Jean-Marie le Pen ran France’s Front National, no one could doubt how much he despised Jews, or how much he admired Adolph Hitler and his National Socialists. So, few paid attention when the old paratrooper came to Ukraine as an honored guest at the Social National Party’s convention in May 2000 or when he returned in 2004 to see the group soften its name to the Svoboda (“Freedom”) Party and began to look more like the Front National. The elder le Pen also hosted a visit by Tyanhybok to France in 2009 and worked closely with him in the Alliance of European National Movements.

File all this way as yesterday’s news. Once Le Pen’s daughter Marine took over the Front National, she began rewriting the book on how to bring the far right to power. She still uses the old Nazi template, holding fast to her father’s blood-and-soil nationalism and targeting an ethnic scapegoat on whom to blame the world’s problems. Only she now directs her fire primarily at Muslims, especially Sunni Muslims and their rich backers in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Little noticed at the time, in her effort to de-demonize the Front National, she completely abandoned Ukraine’s Svoboda Party with its lingering stench as Jew-bashers.

Why the turnabout? In part, but only in part, Marine seems to have discovered a simple truth. Even with Israel’s outrageous persecution of Palestinians, which decent people loudly condemn, she has found it a tough sell in today’s world to extol Hitler, deny his Holocaust, and forever persecute Jews. Tough, and not at all necessary for building a mass right-wing movement in Western Europe. As the caustically racist American Free Press summed it up, “National Front finds being ‘anti-Muslim’ better for business than being anti-Semitic.”

Like most of Western Europe’s leading far-right nationalist groups, Marine is proving bashing Muslims to be more productive, especially with the shameful encouragement of right-wing Israelis and anti-Muslim activists, Christian as well as Jewish, in Europe and the United States. Will this mark a major sea-change for Western Europe’s ultra-right? I have cautiously come to think it will, though how that will affect European government policies depends on how well the new strategy works in elections.

France still has the Jew-bashing comic Dieudonné Mbala Mbala winning young people of all races with his Nazi-like salute, the quennele, and his sickening “Holocaust humor.” Crowds still march in the streets of Paris shouting “Jews. Out of France!” and “Faurisson was right. Gas Chambers are a fraud.” Righteously angry but sadly short-sighted pro-Palestinian demonstrators still shout “Death to the Jews” in both French and Arabic, and militants have carried out the threat in several highly-publicized attacks over recent years. But, if Marine Le Pen and her allies do as well as current polls suggest, these outliers will become little more than a legitimating fringe for a massive anti-Muslim movement, which will also target other immigrants and the Roma.

This is cold-blooded political marketing, to be sure. But the shift also reflects a strong strategic and even spiritual thrust. Marine Le Pen and her far right-wing allies in Western Europe have become Vladimir Putin’s greatest fans. “He is attached to the sovereignty of his people,” she explained in an interview in April with the Austrian daily Kurier. “He is aware that we defend common values. These are the values of European civilization” and of our “Christian heritage.”

Even more dramatic, her Hitlerite father is singing the same song, going to extravagant lengths to defend Russian actions in Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea. Putin acted “faultlessly,” Jean-Marie declared. “The Americans [and] the European Union have been wrong in every field, politically, historically, [morally]. Putin’s position is in my opinion unassailable.”

“Crimea has always belonged to the Russian Empire,” he explained. “It was the decision of a communist dictator, Khrushchev, to give … a part of Russia to Ukraine, perhaps to compensate for the millions of deaths the communist regime had created with the famine in Ukraine.”

Jean-Marie was obviously relishing some of his old-time anticommunist zeal. But he and his daughter support Putin as part of a larger idea long popular in the Front National. They want to oppose American hegemony by joining with Russia to create “a powerful, independent, [and] respected Europe encompassing the nations of the northern (boreal) continent from Brest to Vladivostok.” The words were Jean-Marie’s in 2009. Two years later, in laying out policy for the Front National, Marine spoke of withdrawing from the integrated command of NATO, as De Gaulle had done in 1966. In its place, she would propose to Russia a strategic alliance based on a military partnership. Suggesting that she was not merely indulging in a passing fad, she spoke of the new partnership as being “profoundly energizing.”

Vlad the Conqueror

“Sad as it might seem,” said Vladimir Putin, the fight in Eastern Ukraine “reminds me of the events of World War II, when the German Nazi occupants surrounded our cities, like Leningrad, and directly shelled those cities and their inhabitants.” He was talking about the proxy war between Kiev’s forces and pro-Russians whom he claims not to be supplying or reinforcing with Russian troops.

Given his caginess about the “green men” earlier in Crimea, I see no reason now to believe his implausible denials. Nor can I find any reason to believe most of the claims from Washington and its European allies. Once bit, twice shy.

“Both towns and cities are surrounded by the Ukrainian army, which is directly shelling residential areas with the purpose of destroying infrastructure, and suppressing the will of those in the resistance,” he went on.

Characteristically, Putin wanted the world to see current Russian policy in Ukraine as a heroic replay of the Soviet Union’s fight to defeat the Nazis in World War II. Like everyone else, he cherry-picks his history, completely ignoring the August 23, 1939, deal between Hitler and Stalin to carve up between them much of Eastern Europe. Happily for Putin’s narrative, Hitler betrayed the deal on June 22, 1941, and launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union, a massive invasion to which the Soviets did respond heroically.

The present is more nuanced. If Putin is truly the Great Anti-Fascist in Ukraine, why does he get so much support from the Le Pens and their fellow-travelers in Western Europe? Why do these modern revisionists of the Nazi tradition find him such a soul-mate? The answer seems obvious. Because they see him as one of their own. Not as the reborn fascist or “National Bolshevik” that writers like Yale historian Timothy Snyder tried to paint him in the New York Review of Books. And certainly not as the “neo-commie” that so many progressives would like Putin to be.

Like the Le Pens, he remains an ultra-right nationalist who believes that blood and soil justify his meddling from Georgia to Moldova, the Baltic countries, Crimea, and the rest of Eastern Ukraine. Ultra-nationalists in Western Europe identify with all that, even as they oppose meddling and expansion by Washington and the EU.

Sharing his unhappiness with American hegemony, the Le Pens sympathize with his nationalistic response to the expansion of NATO and his desire to guarantee Russian control over its warm water fleet in Crimea. If as Kiev, Washington, and NATO warn, Putin is providing overt and covert support to the insurgency in Southeastern Ukraine to give Russia a land bridge to Crimea, the Le Pens will be the first to say “more power to you.”

They similarly feel comfortable with his embrace of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose teachings he uses to justify his authoritarianism and persecution of gays and “blasphemers” like Pussy Riot. In much the same way, the Front National uses the traditionalist wing of the Catholic Church to promote an extremely rigid view of “the natural order.”

What then do Marine and Jean-Marie think of Putin’s kleptocratic government enriching his favored oligarchs and former buddies from the security and intelligence services? They could not care less, at least from what I’ve been able to find so far. Addressing the Russian Duma in April, Marine declared that Putin was “a pure democrat, but with an authoritarian style.”

Putin clearly appreciates all the support he receives from the Le Pens and many of their Euro-Right allies, and you will find their views widely reported in the Russian media. They provide a fascinating insight into the new Russia and what the Le Pens want their new anti-Muslim Europe to become.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."

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