The year 2014 was marked by mass street demonstrations in several parts of the world. Ukraine, my native country, was awakened by powerful protests that grew into a revolution and a call for freedom that overthrew dictator Viktor Yanukovych.
In 2014, the world was observing Ukraine's brave protesters, its everyday heroes and heroines, demanding freedom and expressing their desire for European integration. We saw their fights, their sufferings and their victories.
Here we are at the beginning of 2015 and some Ukrainians are already back in the streets. Except this time, the protests are smaller and the people look different, with slogans no longer attractive to liberal Europe.
A few days ago, around 2,000 Ukrainian nationalists marched with torches and flags in the centre of Kyiv, celebrating the 106th birthday of their hero Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement during the Second World War.
The demonstration was quite small, and the speeches led by the main nationalist parties, Svoboda and Right Sector, were more ridiculous than scary. "Ukraine belongs to Ukrainians" and "Bandera will return and restore order" was screamed by a predominantly masculine crowd.
Furthermore, I have to admit neither Svoboda nor Right Sector boast many members or not gained much popularity recently. However, what is certain is they have gained a lot of visibility and have never been as harmful to Ukraine as they are now.
The Social-National Party of Ukraine was registered in 1995 with a neo-Nazi cross called the Wolfsangel Rune as an official symbol. The party was unknown until 2004 when its new leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, decided to change its name to Svoboda (or Freedom) and replace the Wolfsangel rune with a three-fingered hand.
The image of the party was radically changed but their "hero" Bandera remained the same. The son of a priest, Bandera became a nationalist icon after fighting for Ukraine's independence as the leader of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). However, Bandera was fighting the Soviet power by collaborating with Hitler's Nazi Germany.
It is for this reason the European Parliament vividly criticised Bandera's canonisation in 2010 by Pro-West President Viktor Yushchenko and demanded its cancellation. This request was used by Yushchenko's successor, Yanukovych, to remove Bandera's status as a national hero.
Bandera's complex and conflicting character and the appearances of his supporters during the Maidan protests, presented an open goal for the Kremlin propagandists attempting to poison the Ukrainian revolution.
The public appearances of marginal Ukrainian nationalists are helping the Russian media build their propaganda against what they describe as a "fascist Ukrainian revolution", and propagate this myth to discourage Europeans from supporting Ukraine's popular uprising. In March, Putin declared the leaders of the Maidan uprising were "the ideological heirs of Bandera, Hitler's accomplice during World War II".
Using the presence of nationalists in the latest events in Ukraine, the Kremlin has divided the Ukrainian population into the pro-Putins and what they call the "banderas". Obviously the Russian media are reporting daily on Ukraine's "bandera" fascists from Ukraine, although they do not pay any direct attention to Svoboda or Right Sector as they know they lack power and popularity amongst Ukrainians. Any noticeably critical journalist, politician or activist is called a "fascist" or "bandera".
Nazi slurs against me
Even I've been personally targeted by such lies recently, as a Russian information agency reported I was marching alongside Ukrainian fascists, giving Nazi salutes.
The article entitled "Leader of Femen saluted together with neo-nazis" featured a picture of someone at the march, allegedly me. Apart from the fact that it happened in 2013 when I was already in exile in France, the article looks completely believable and has of course been rabidly shared by Putin's poodles. At least this incident has demonstrated there is nothing more horrible for these Ukrainian fascists than a Femen activist being named as one of them.
However, Ukrainian nationalists are not bothered about the international opinion that Maidan is full of fascists. Instead, they manipulatively use past political indifference and the lack of political education of the Ukrainian people, and actively try to link patriotism and fighting for the independence of Ukraine against Russian occupation with their radical nationalism.
Worship Bandera, not Banderas
Preceding the Kyiv nationalists' march on Bandera's birthday, Svoboda leader Tyahnubok declared to the press that the current government came to power using Bandera's slogans, referring to the famous "Glory to Ukraine. Glory to the heroes", and therefore had to follow his ideas. Whereas this slogan was used by Bandera's OUN, he did not invent it, and it has been used on many occasions for several purposes, including protesting, but also as a toast at family dinners.
He also declared Ukraine should never "collaborate with Moscow, whoever will be in power there" because Bandera once said "Moscow is an enemy for Ukrainians forever".
Such ridiculous dogmatic speeches only serve to fuel Russian propaganda and unnecessarily increase tensions between Russians and Ukrainians, denying the liberal ideas of the Ukrainians who fought and lost their lives at Maidan, not for Bandera's ideals but for a new Ukraine. Burning their torches, nationalists are dimming our revolution and don't gain anything for themselves.
I wonder why they are using such methods, methods that corrode the credibility the Ukrainian political arena and making them lose the small support they had before, even though this, of course, pleases me. With their frequent, vocal appearances of late, they only hurt the Ukrainian image. Candidates from both Svoboda and Right Sector had a nightmare during last year's presidential elections not even reaching 2%. Svoboda lost 30 seats in the parliamentary elections as well.
It looks like changing their name and symbol was not very efficient. I advise them to work more on ideology and maybe to try to worship Antonio Banderas instead of Stepan Bandera. That might be more successful or, at least, less harmful for Ukrainians.
Inna Shevchenko is leader of the feminist protest group FEMEN, which often makes headline news across the world for demonstrating topless. Visit the Femen website or Twitter feed, or Inna's personal Twitter account, to find out more.
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