Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence

Last month, former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a lecture at Trinity College Dublin made remarks condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin, blaming him for the resurgence of far right politics in the European Union and United States. Clinton stated that Putin

“has positioned himself as the leader of an authoritarian, white-supremacist and xenophobic movement that wants to break up the EU, weaken America’s traditional alliances and undermine democracy. We can see this authoritarian movement rippling out from the Kremlin, reaching across Europe and beyond. It’s emboldening right-wing nationalists, separatists, racists and even neo-Nazis.“

Before addressing the deceitfulness of her comments, the one part of them that is true needs to be recognized. At this point, it is universally acknowledged that there is a significant revival in far-right and neo-Nazi political activity being experienced in America and across the EU. It is also increasingly present in other countries such as India and Turkey, and even Brazil’s current leading candidate for President is being called a fascist. However, not only is Putin’s more traditional conservatism not in line with the rabidly anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant orientations mobilizing in the West, according to a recent study the actual determinant of such activity is historically contingent with austerity implemented by neo-liberals like Mrs. Clinton.

There is also one country in Europe facing a regrowth of far right nationalism which throws her narrative about Russia into disarray when considered. While not yet an EU member, the Ukraine was promised a still pending entry into the trade bloc and has undergone the same drift towards fascism. Recently, hate crimes committed by ultra nationalist gangs against its large Roma community have become increasingly widespread to the point where Human Rights Watch, an organization often politicized with a pro-Western bias, has even voiced concern. Forced evictions and violence against the Romani have been occurring under the post-Maidan authorities since 2014, but the attacks have sharply escalated in recent months. HRW reports that

“since the beginning of 2018, human rights groups have documented at least two dozen violent attacks, threats, or instances of intimidation by radical groups such as C14, Right Sector, Traditsiya i Poryadok (Tradition and Order), Karpatska Sich and others against Roma people…”

In April, members of C14 burned down Roma encampments in Kiev. After torching their homes, the vigilante mob terrorized Romani women and children with rocks and mace, posting cell phone video footage bragging about it on social media and vowed more attacks in the future. In late June, masked assailants carrying knives and bats assaulted a Roma camp in Lviv, killing one man and hospitalizing several others. On July 2nd, the body of a Romani woman was found with her throat cut after another siege by masked assailants. Rights groups say the perpetrators are enjoying freedom from any liability from authorities, perhaps because C14 is the recipient of state funding from the Ukrainian government.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Chief Military Prosecutor made publicized anti-Semitic statements in the midst of the violence that “Jews want to drown Ukraine in blood.” It’s no wonder that with such officials in charge of criminal investigations how hate crimes against ethnic minorities could go exempt from punishment. Many of these groups (particularly Right Sector and C14) played a significant role in the Maidan protests that led to a coup ousting the democratically-elected government of Viktor F. Yanukovych after he rejected an EU Association Agreement in favor of an austerity-free bailout from Russia. Their hatred of Russia is a shared interest with U.S. foreign policy, rooted historically in the collaboration between Ukrainian nationalists and Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union during WWII. Their hostility toward Moscow also eclipses their Euroskepticism as the Maidan brought the prospect of Ukrainian entry into the EU, but the same groups now regularly burn its flag in public demonstrations as well. The extremist militias were used as provocateurs during the protests, and they are now committing hate crimes against ethnic minorities like the Roma.

A minority of Romani people, known in the English-speaking world by the exonymic slur ‘gypsies’, have lived in the Ukraine as far back as the 14th century. With mysterious ancestral roots due to their lack of recorded history, the Roma are believed to have originated in Northern India because of their dialect’s linguistic similarity to Hindi. This has been corroborated by recent genetic findings pinpointing their origins and migration, though they are still not considered part of the Indian diaspora. Their history is tainted with extreme persecution nearly everywhere they have traveled, as well as a widespread misunderstanding about their origin and identity. The term “gypsy” itself even stems from the mistaken belief once held by early Europeans that the Roma descended from Egypt, as does the term “bohemian” when they were thought by the French to have descended from the Kingdom of Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic). The French perception of the Romani was a derogatory view of them as cheap, promiscuous vagrants living in self-imposed poverty. In English ‘bohemian’ is used to denote a free spirited and unconventional lifestyle as the French extended the term to include artists who dwelled in lower class Romani neighborhoods. Today, Roma minority communities can be found across the continent but they are the highest concentrated in Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans. In each country, the culture and language of the Roma varies, absorbing influences and forming sub-groups within each respective nation while preserving their many traditions and heritage. A beautiful cinematic portrait of the Romani and their rich culture is the 1993 film Latcho Drom.

The popular imagination in the West of the Romani still consists of the practice of divination (fortune telling) and other stereotypes like the licentiousness of Roma women, most of it racist invention with little resemblance to their actual culture. In the Ukraine, there are an estimated 120,000 to half a million Roma who face deep poverty and discrimination that has been characteristic of their community’s status throughout history. Societal integration and protection of their rights and property have always been a difficulty everywhere they have voyaged, in part because of their fundamentally itinerant lifestyle. Their rejection of assimilation and nomadic culture has led to perpetuated stereotypes of them as beggars and thieves, and it has historically made them a target for scapegoating. Their migratory nature has likely contributed to their frequent indigence and lag in education, resulting in a mixture of both real and excessively perceived propensity toward crime. The worst cases of their persecution resulted in enslavement in previous centuries as well as ethnic cleansing, most notably by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

Roma in Ukraine during WWII met the same fate as the Jewish population not only at the hands of the occupying Germane but their local Ukrainian collaborators in Stepan Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The number of Roma killed in mass executions at Babi Yar alone is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. Following the Holocaust, the reckoning for the Romani has not been as swift due to their continued social status and lack of nation state, even though their fate nearly paralleled that of the Jews. The German government paid war reparations to the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust but not to the Romani, as there were never any deliberations at Nuremberg regarding them. Groups like C14 carrying out the current anti-Roma pogroms are self-proclaimed ideological followers of Bandera and the OUN, who are also celebrated and whitewashed by the Ukrainian government as national heroes who fought for independence. Prior to the Maidan, the fascist Svoboda party which co-organized the protests had even been barred from entering the U.S. because of their anti-semitism in 2013, but just months later then-Vice President Joe Biden and Senator John McCain were shaking hands with its leader, Oleh Tyahnybok. This past month, Andriy Parubiy, a current speaker in Ukraine’s parliament who co-founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine with Tyahnybok (which became Svoboda) spoke at an event organized by foreign policy think tanks at a US Senate building in Washington, DC. Parubiy was welcomed even as human rights groups sounded alarms about the attacks against the Romani by C14, which was formed in 2010 as the youth wing of Svoboda.

The Social-National Party of Ukraine was founded immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union which granted Ukraine its sovereignty. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union had divided the world, but for a brief time that changed following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991…or so we thought. Russia spent the next decade weakened by a collapsed economy, with the introduction of ‘freedom and democracy’ resulting in the average life expectancy being reduced by a decade, possibly of diseases that had been nonexistent in the Soviet times like tuberculosis. While Russia’s state infrastructure was auctioned off to the free market by Boris Yeltsin, the U.S. spent the decade carving up the former Yugoslavia into a NATO fortress. Yet by the time the American empire had expanded to the Middle East, the Russian economy had been rapidly rebuilt under Putin whose model of multi-polar non-hegemony began to slowly confront the United States. Suddenly, Russia’s economy no longer needed sizable IMF loans to remain afloat and its foreign debts were erased. Many point to the Russian intervention in Georgia as the first sign of their willingness to push back, but it actually began earlier when Putin blocked American attempts to expand it’s ‘axis of evil’ to include Belarus, Zimbabwe and Burma as ‘outposts of tyranny.’

While the Maidan was portrayed as a spontaneous movement, Clinton apprentice Victoria Nuland pulled the strings of the coup in Kiev as part of the global chess game between U.S. hegemony and Russia. The new Cold War is not so much about competing ideologies as it is American dominance of the post-Soviet world, regardless of whether the obstruction to its plans are socialist or conservative. Putin actually moderated the extent of the privatization and robbery of state enterprise by the ruling class in Russia that had occurred under Yeltsin, ironic considering the inverted portrayal which has made his name synonymous with the word oligarch itself. Despite high inequality and corruption, Russians have seen their income levels overall rise significantly under Putin. After NATO had gobbled up the Soviet bloc, Baltic states, the Balkans and Georgia, the Ukraine became its next target as the wealthiest and most industrial part of the former USSR in its continued effort to surround Russia. Four years later, the Trump administration is now sending anti-tank javelin missiles to the Poroshenko regime fighting against the pro-Russian separatists in Donbass. A newly released film, A Sniper’s War, is an absolute must-watch for anyone interested in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Although it is more of a gripping psychological portrait of a Serbian volunteer sniper who joins the rebels than a political film, it does depict both the personal motivation of its subject who despises the U.S. and NATO for the bombing of his native country and reveals the communist political convictions of many of the separatists.

According to campaign insiders, the Clinton campaign deliberately chose to scapegoat Russia for its embarrassing election loss. Meanwhile, its media surrogates had constructed a fraudulent and simulated reality which completely collapsed on election day and desperately need to account for their failure. They both have given only one possible explanation for the difference between what they predicted and the results of the vote— a still undefined ‘meddling’ by a foreign power and ‘collusion’ between it and the Trump campaign which somehow changed the outcome. The admittedly undoctored dirt released by WikiLeaks is said to have come from a Russian source, based on the word of the intelligence community which routinely meddles in the elections of other countries (including Russia) over that of WikiLeaks which has never had to retract a single publication in its history. Mueller is somehow able to indict Russian nationals for ‘hacking’ the DNC’s computers which the FBI still has yet to examine, while the evidence itself points to a leak by a whistleblower rather than a hack. Meanwhile, Paul Manafort was indicted for having tried to lobby his client, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, to accept the EU Association Agreement he rejected which led to his ouster in the Maidan. In other words, he was indicted for lobbying against Russia’s interests, not for them.

The Mueller probe and the media have shown no proof as to what effect the release of the emails had on the vote itself. How can the same argument which says the contents of Clinton’s emails were negligible also contend it was significant enough to affect the outcome? Not only are collusion and meddling not defined, but it is unclear whether they believe the vote itself was legitimate or that only an increase in Trump’s support came from the result of Russian interference. If cyber warfare sowing division in America and the spread of “fake news” on social media was enough to tip the voting scales, this still would not explain the gap between the media’s universal prediction of a Clinton victory and the outcome of the vote. Brexit, the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, has been given a similarly confusing account. On the one hand, Russia is alleged to have meddled with “fake news” in the campaign that brainwashed British voters into wanting to leave the EU. They were still unable to accurately predict the outcome of the referendum — does this mean the vote itself was also illegitimate? It cannot possibly be both explanations simultaneously, and in reality it is neither. This is also nearly an admittance by the establishment that the role of the media is not to inform the public, but to manufacture consent and keep the population in check. The system is breaking down, and likely the real reason they were unable to keep their fingers on its pulse.

Now Clinton is alleging that the rise of the far right entirely originates from Russia with Putin as its “leader.” To be clear, Putin’s brand of conservatism is not consistent with the ideological character of the far right in the West, including that which contributed to Brexit and Trump’s election. While it is true that zealots such as Marine Le Pen, Richard Spencer and Nigel Farage have professed affinity for Russia based on their perception of its supposed lack of multiculturalism, it is because they are as ignorant about life in Moscow as Russophobic liberals like Clinton. While European countries and the United States are restricting immigration, Putin’s policies are relatively relaxed in comparison. Russia is home to the world’s 2nd largest number of immigrants at more than 11 million foreigners present in the country. In fact, it is more likely that Trump, Ukip or National Front would be the opposition to Putin in an election in Russia, not part of his support or his political party (United Russia). The Islamophobic character of the far right in the EU and US would be inconceivable as an electable majority in Moscow, considering Muslims make up nearly nearly 20% of the Russian population at 25 million people. Contrary to their misconception, Russia is inherently multicultural — it consists of more than 120 different nationalities, with V.I. Lenin once famously describing it as “the prison house of nations.” Finally, the biggest irony of Clinton’s claims is that the opposition figure who is frequently touted by the West, Alexei Navalny, is far more anti-immigrant and xenophobic in a way that resembles Donald Trump than Putin. Navalny has strong ties to Russian ultranationalists like Dmitriy Demushkin from the Slavic Union and has participated in demonstrations advocating the separation of the Muslim-majority North Caucasus from Russia. He even coined the slogan, “Stop Feeding the Caucasus!” which became a rallying cry for Russia’s far right nationalists who scapegoat the ethnic and religious minorities in the region plagued by a history of Chechen terrorism for Russia’s woes. Trump would probably consider Navalny’s supporters “very fine people.”

It is a reductionist narrative to say that the rise of the far right is purely a reaction to the influx of immigration and refugees by conservatives who fear the loss of their national identity to an ‘inclusive’ form of capitalism and globalism. It discounts completely the enormous contribution of the global financial crisis, particularly from the European debt which saw the largest public sector cuts made in a generation. Did Putin cause the debt crisis in Greece where the Golden Dawn made gains in parliament thereafter as well? The same neo-liberal regimes cutting social programs using the Eurozone’s arrears as a pretext are the same ‘humanitarian interventionists’ who have destabilized the Middle East causing the influx of refugees being scapegoated by the far right. The combination of these factors according to the National Bureau of Economic Research historically form the conditions necessary to increase far right political support in Europe and the circumstances across the Atlantic have been no different. Meanwhile, the US and the EU had no qualms cynically propping up the same kind of far right forces in the Ukraine when it suited their interests in the Maidan. In order to receive economic bailouts from the IMF, the Ukrainian government has since raised taxes, slashed pensions, increased the price of gas and electricity, and opened the country up to Monsanto and Western agribusiness. As Ukraine has become debt enslaved to predatory international creditors, the far right has only grown and now the Roma are paying the heavy price. In fact, it is likely that the far right will continue to grow everywhere as long as those controlling the narrative about why it is happening are the ones responsible for the failure of global capitalism.