In his recent article, Taras Kuzio, reviewing the workshop “Russian and Ukrainian Nationalism: Entangled Histories,” (http://www.taraskuzio.net/Files/Kuzio_Columbia.pdf) has made several allegations with regard to my participation which I cannot ignore.
First of all, he writes that I “refuse to accept the existence of xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism anywhere in Ukraine, except that which may be found in Western Ukraine.” Ironically, in his pre-circulated paper, he referred to my recent chapter “From Para-Militarism to Radical Right-Wing Populism,” where I stated that: “Contemporary far-right organizations and movements in Ukraine can be divided into two groups: Ukrainian and pro-Russian/Slavic ultra-nationalists….”
Further, I also wrote: “It should be noted that Ukrainian ultra-nationalists are principally based in Western and Central Ukraine, while the bulwark of pro-Russian/Slavic ultra-nationalists is in the Crimea, as well as Eastern and Southern Ukraine.” It is clear that not only do I acknowledge the existence of the far right outside Western Ukraine, but also Kuzio deliberately misinformed his readers and slandered me.
Then, Kuzio found it strange that I allegedly focused my talk exclusively on Western Ukraine and the Svoboda party, instead of talking about my hometown, Sevastopol, which – according to Kuzio – “has the greatest number of xenophobes and extremists in Ukraine.”
First of all, my paper was about the determinants of the comparatively successful performance of Svoboda in the 2012 parliamentary elections on the national level, i.e. not only in Western Ukraine – the problem that was, in particular, noted by the European Parliament in its December 2012 resolution on my country where it voiced its concern “about the rising nationalistic sentiment in Ukraine, expressed in support for the Svoboda Party.” Is Kuzio going to complain about the European Parliament’s resolution as well?
Second, Kuzio has failed, both during the workshop and in his referenced, pre-circulated paper, to justify his thesis about Sevastopol having “the greatest number of xenophobes and extremists in Ukraine.” No single source that he cited proves his argument. At the same time, this interpretation reveals his amateurish use of sources. For example, in his paper, Kuzio even went so far as to declare that in Sevastopol “skinheads” have organized “underground cells” and undertaken “violent attacks, sometimes using explosives and weapons, against non-Slavic peoples.” Although he provided no reference to support his statement, the source of this (mis)information was evidently a press-release issued by the Sevastopol police in 2001. That was the occasion when Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian President Vladimir Putin were about to visit Sevastopol and some corrupt police officers decided to seize the opportunity to fabricate the “skinhead” case to get promotion. They detained 54 persons and made a fuss about the case in the media. I do not know whether Kuzio followed the development of these events, but, ultimately, only one person was charged with possession of gunpowder, while the other 53 were released. No charges of any “violent attacks […] against non-Slavic peoples” have ever been made.
Third, I find Kuzio’s implications about the geographical determination of research – I come from Sevastopol, so allegedly I must do research on the Sevastopol far right scene – academically flawed. Geographical determination, which is, again, wrong, implies that a non-Ukrainian national (such as Kuzio) has fewer, if any, rights to do research on Ukraine than a Ukrainian national (such as myself).
He also writes: “Shekhovtsov came as close as I have ever heard anyone say that the murder in Odessa was undertaken by an “anti-fascist” defending himself against a “fascist” Maksym Chayka (in other words, that it was justified).” Naturally, I never justified the murder of Chayka, which would have been unethical. Yet Kuzio’s putting the word “fascist” in quotation marks is also revealing. It takes five seconds to “google” Chayka and find several photos of him giving a Nazi salute. Kuzio probably ignored this when he called Chayka a “member of the patriotic youth movement,” in the same manner as he ignored the fact that Chayka had been killed by an anti-fascist in self-defense, when Chayka and his 14 neo-Nazi cronies attacked 5 anti-fascists. However, for Kuzio, “the murderer was a member of the national Bolshevik Rodina Party,” which had “ties to local organized crime and was funded by Russian intelligence services.” The fact is that it has never been proven that the person who killed Chayka was a member of the Rodina party. Moreover, Kuzio’s source of information is the statement disseminated by the Odessa “Prosvita” organization, whose head, Oleksandr Stepanchenko, is also a member of Svoboda. It seems Kuzio prefers to trust extremist, rather than more balanced independent sources.
Kuzio’s own workshop paper is replete with misinformation and factual mistakes. To treat neo-Nazi groups like the Patriot of Ukraine or the Ukrainian National-Labour Party as manifestations of “Russian and Soviet Nationalism,” as he does, is to betray one’s incompetence and to defy common sense. His comment that the newspaper Zvon Sevastopolya is published by “neo-Soviet national Bolsheviks” demonstrates an apparent lack of research: the newspaper is actually published by the Ukrainian cultural and educational association “Prosvita.” But space precludes comments on all Kuzio’s errors. I will conclude by saying that Kuzio’s review of the “Russian and Ukrainian Nationalism” workshop is slanderous, while his research on the Ukrainian far right appears to be based on gossip, nationalist propaganda, and dubious sources.
Anton Shekhovtsov is Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences, Austria