Today, a march by far-right social nationalists under the Pravy Sektor/ Right Sector (Правий Сектор) banner took place in Ivano-Frankivsk. Right Sector is a hastily constructed confederation of various radical and far-right Ukrainian nationalist organisations that emerged in the course of the Euromaidan protests. The clearest programme is declared by the Social Nationalist wing which was incorporated into the confederation.
Around 150 men and two women, some clearly barely in their mid-teens while most were twenty- and thirty-somethings accompanied by a few men closer to middle-age, marched along Hrushevskoho Street, along the city’s central Nezalezhnosti Street and to the headquarters of the local police. This is the building whose wing housing the Security Service was burnt out on 18/19 February, while the police side escaped largely unscathed. The members of Right Sector marched unopposed through the city centre, with some members of the march carrying baseball bats and shields. Most of the men wore branded Right Sector bandanas over their mouths and noses, leaving only their eyes visible. A handful wore full balaclavas, while the large majority were dressed in combat fatigues. Some preferred tracksuits, with adidas the brand of choice.
Those marching at around 16:00 today chanted slogans including, ‘Ukraine/ Above All’, ‘Glory to the Nation/ Death to the Enemies’, ‘Glory to Ukraine/ Glory to the Heroes’, ‘Right/ Sector’ and ‘Bandera, Shukhevych/ Heroes of Ukraine’. The last slogan was new to me and was not one that I had heard as part of the torchlight procession which took place in the city, headed by social nationalists Patriot of Ukraine. Bandera, the most heavily mythologised leader of the Ukrainian Organisation of Nationalists (OUN), is well-known. Shukhevych, meanwhile, was a follower of the Bandera faction of OUN who then collaborated with the German occupiers before becoming leader of UPA, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army before his dead at Soviet hands in 1950. They also chanted ‘ACAB’ or All Cops Are Bastards, showing that they know the first three letters of the English alphabet very well.
Here is where I encountered the march around 16:10 this afternoon, at the start of the pedestrianised section of the city’s central Nezhalezhnosti Street. The men of more military appearance headed the parade while there were some stragglers still wearing armbands over their everyday clothes at the end.
Once outside the Police HQ – they could have got their much quicker had they taken the most direct route, up Konovaltsa Street then onto Sakharova but obviously they needed to show they could appropriate the city centre – the Right Sector boys, men and two women initially faced the wall, as if they intended to piss up the police HQ. When the command came, however, they turned around and listened to the local leader, Vasyl Abramiv. (His surname suggests he might have quite an interesting family history.) After some chanting demanding that representatives of the police come down and speak to the crowd, Abramiv declared his indignation at the cowardice of those in the offices who ‘refuse to listen to us who speak for the Ukrainian people (narod).’ He declared that Right Sector had fought the Security Service, it had fought against the Yanukovych regime and it was prepared to fight the new government. ‘Our brothers didn’t give their blood for a government of oligarchs’ and others associated with the old regime. He demanded full ‘lustration’ of new local and national authorities, a process designed to expose anyone who cooperated with the previous regime, so that only those ‘who will fight for Ukraine and the Ukrainian soil’ will be in power. Abramiv then declared that as of tomorrow the local Right Sector will form a ‘military headquarters’ which will be armed and will divide members age-appropriately.
At one point a man not wearing any clothes identifying his allegiance – the Right Sector activists all wore red and black armbands – got into an argument with one of the Right Sector men, effectively telling them to stop being a bunch dicks. There was something of an angry confrontation with him, a bit of rutting, but no punches thrown. However, the Right Sector cameraman who was standing close to me did make sure to get a very good shot of the man who argued with them while later I overheard some Right Sector members asking if anyone knew who the guy was. After throwing a few very loud bangers, which generated some rather primitive cheers of joy and the reprimands from more senior figures, the Right Sector men and two women (whose roles were medic and photographer, so auxiliaries but also people who actually might have to do some work, rather than stand around and look aggressive while masking their faces) marched off. They went to pay their respects to Roman Huryk, hero of the ‘Heavenly Hundred’, who was a student in Ivano-Frankivsk and killed on the maidan in Kyiv. Not a single local news report has mentioned the march through the city centre* and this time there has not even been an attempt to sanitise or bowdlerise the slogans chanted. Pravy Sektor/ Right Sector is being normalised, even glorified, by the local media.
* very late today, 12 March, this report embedded a six-minute video made by Right Sector, while the whole article framed as a march by concerned citizens of Ivano-Frankivsk and activists, whereas it was exclusively Right Sector in reality.
As they marched away they revealed that by the main entrance the Ivano-Frankivsk Police HQ there were standing calmly a group of men belonging to the Maidan Self-defence (Самооброна Майдану) organisation. This is the largest non-party organisation, a kind of umbrella group coordinating between the National Resistance Headquarters (Штаб національного спротиву) which includes political leaders and the disparate organisations that form the Self-Defence. In Kyiv, Right Sector forms one unit of Self-Defence, among a number of organisations, yet in Ivano-Frankivsk they appear as competing organisations, with Right Sector and its confederates in fact much more visible on the city streets.
The Self-Defence representatives were also dressed in military fatigues but carried only ex-police shields and no weapons as far as I could establish. Other members of Maidan Self-Defence were standing among the crowd when Right Sector turned up, identifiable by rather professional-looking tags more reminiscent of academic conference identifiers than military dog-tags. Most of those in the crowd were from the Kolomyja Maidan Self-Defence and had arrived as an organised group by bus. They departed as soon Right Sector had left, marching to their bus in an orderly fashion. Their bus could have been parked better, although the police had closed off this busy street causing traffic chaos around the city, meaning that pedestrians were free to walk where they wanted.
Others belonging to Maidan Self-Defence arrived by car, with the Opel, above, with a number plate-type sign in its window screen declaring that this vehicle is part of the Self-Defence. Whatever the legal validity of this sign (perhaps as much as Del Boy Trotter’s “Tax in Post” message), in practical terms the Self-Defence do have significant freedoms in the city in the current situation. There are more volunteers patrolling the city alongside police than there are official police and other state organisations keeping peace and order in the city, according to this news report. There are 60 official police etc. while there are 70 volunteers, with forty of those from Self-Defence.
I encountered the protest outside the police HQ around 13:30 today on my way to teach a class and then chanced upon the Right Sector march on my way back. At 13:30 there were just a handful of men from Self-Defence blockading the doors, while the official state traffic police blocked traffic along the street and a few men from Right Sector were hanging around with armbands showing their allegiance. On my way back from work, I encountered the Right Sector march in the city centre and decided to follow it to the police HQ. After Right Sector left, I spoke to the Self-Defence lads remaining by the entrance to the police HQ. I introduced myself as a Briton who has been in Ukraine for nearly two years and is keenly interested in events. They put forward a tall young man who spoke very good English, although we spoke largely in Ukrainian. He told me that he had come back from working in the USA at Christmas and has been involved with Maidan Self-Defence since then. I asked him what he and his colleagues thought of Right Sector. He answered, and his comrades agreed, that ‘they just came here for the PR (піаритися)’. A great Ukrainian verb made from the English ‘PR’ literally meaning ‘to PR yourself’. A colleague of the man who had been to America said that in a month Right Sector would fall apart and they’re a bunch of posers with no idea of discipline. The tall man who had been to American said that they were sick of Right Sector promoting themselves and forgetting that Self-Defence had been there from the start. They also said that in Kyiv, at least, Right Sector was part of Self-Defence in terms of being a subordinate unit of organised divisions. In Frankivsk, however, no one has any idea about who Right Sector’s allegiance is to and what orders they are following. There is clear tension between the groups and any cooperation seems to be uneasy. The Self-Defence lads on the door of the police HQ, meanwhile, were very demonstrative in refusing to take Right Sector’s newspaper which teenage girls with RS badges were handing out to the crowd.
Now, the question is why are there even people outside the police HQ today and what do they want? Well, it all started late last night when activists, largely from Self-Defence but also Right Sector, blockaded the building to stop the new head of police in the city, nominated by Ministry of Internal Affairs officials in Kyiv, from taking his post. They are opposed to Volodomyr Smich (literally, his surname means Laughter, so plenty of potential for jokes there). There are rumours that he was involved in initiating a trial against some activists involved in the initial protests in 2013.
This report states that initially today there were some fifty men all from Self-Defence (it also has better photos than me) blocking the street, while Right Sector also turned up in the early afternoon in smallish numbers before the big march around 16:00. Speaking to the press, the Self-Defence issued a statement stating that they do not want to have in a position of authority in the police a man who refuses for now to undergo lustration, i.e. a check on his past. Shortly afterwards, the new head of the regional administration agreed to make all administration workers undergo lustration and barred any ex-Party of Regions figures from taking up posts. Then a little bit later, the new head of the regional administration found that his office had been blockaded by Self-Defence and ‘local businessmen’, according to this report. Together they made a series of demands, including cancellation of certain taxes on wealth and various aspects of certification for motor vehicles and business-related issues. There was ‘Tax Maidan‘ in November 2010 which saw the small-and-medium-sized business community protest against a new tax code, so this protest in Ivano-Frankivsk could be seen in that context.
However, the approach to getting your point across seems very much in the spirit of the post-revolutionary times where there is an evident degree of mob rule and rule by force. The problem is somewhat compounded by the local press which happily write that these activists speak, as the above-linked report wrote, ‘in the name of the city community’, becoming a local echo of Right Sector’s claims to speak ‘for the Ukrainian people’. An ex-student I encountered today outside the police HQ as she passed by from university on her way home said to me that “they don’t speak for us”, referring to Right Sector. While the issue of the police head was not something she had contemplated, she expressed great concern with the way local democracy was functioning. There is a clear contrast with the rather impressive local council meeting of 26 November 2013 when the still-functioning council took important decisions and voted in the open air, in front of a more representative group of the local community. However, now there is clearly a growing vacuum in local power structures, it seems that it is possible to seek to impose by force or by threats – the blockaders of the regional governor’s office have threatened to block major road routes in Ivano-Frankivsk region on Friday if their demands are not heard – decisions upon a weak, nascent administration.
With the lack of evident structures of law & order in the city, too, it is possible for far-right organisations to march armed and unopposed through the city, while promising a much more radical ‘national revolution’ and preparing, as Abramiv said today, for war not only against Russia but also for battle against any authority deemed unsuitable. Although there was an appeal to the mayor to stop masked, armed groups from marching through the city, there is little evidence of them being stopped. And, sadly, there is little readiness for some kind of civil resistance to such groups – except perhaps from within a Self-Defence increasingly frustrated by the behaviour of Right Sector, although they Self-Defence – as argued above – are contributing to a degree towards mob-democracy. (This report includes them forcing at gunpoint the revolution on the city’s main market.) In Warsaw in 2010, I recall an innovative approach to blocking right-wing marches through the city on independence day by using peaceful resistance methods – simply blocking streets with sit down protests where the right-wing organisations were due to march. Eventually the police were forced to take them down side streets and out of the heart of the city. Since 2010, of course, in Warsaw there have been more violent clashes on 11 November, although 2010 still remains for me an example of effective resistance. However, I don’t see – for now – much potential for mass civil resistance to the rise of the right in Ivano-Frankivsk.
However, on the civil resistance and activism front, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a boycott of Russian products by a chain of local shops who are now refusing to stock them, with about three-quarters of those asked for a local news station’s vox-pop in favour. There was a peaceful protest outside the city architecture department complaining about illegal and inappropriate buildings, while this was accompanied yesterday by the launch of a new brand and image for the city.
The logo reminds me of four jelly babies stuck together and generally seems to have divided opinion in the city. The idea seems to have been to develop the logo on the basis of the shape of the city unique constructivist town hall, while also resembling the shapes found on Precarpathian embroidery. Perhaps the logo is not great, and some of the English slogans involving the initials IF not very well thought-out. However, there are included in the project some important and innovative ideas for improving the visual appearance of the city which is often spoilt by inappropriate development or unappealing signage.
In other news, a group of foreign students at the city’s Medical University read the poetry of Shevchenko in twelve native languages, from Arabic and English to Sindhi and Turkmeni. And today workers got going again on finishing Shevchenko Street and promise to do so by the end of April.