[ Part 2: Their War Will Not End ]
A former history student and amateur boxer, Mr Biletsky is also head of an extremist Ukrainian group called the Social National Assembly. “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival,” he wrote in a recent commentary. “A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”From The Telegraph, 11 August 2014
The Azov Battalion was one of the volunteer brigades created by Minister of Internal Affairs Anton Avakov. The volunteer battalions were formed after Avakov had disbanded the Internal Troops rather than reorganize them into the new National Guard. If the volunteer battalions were not regular soldiers then who organized and joined Azov?
Патріот України, “Patriot of Ukraine”
The man said to be the founder of the Azov Battalion is Andriy Biletsky. He described his political background in his 11 October 2014 interview with UNIAN. Biletsky told them that he became involved in politics while studying military history at Karkhiv National University. His studies focused on the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and he graduated in 2001.
Biletsky is credited with founding the Patriot of Ukraine organization in 2005, saying that “From the very beginning there was a team of 8-10 key figures, by the way, six of whom are now officers of our battalion.” According to Biletsky the Patriot of Ukraine carried out protests and direct action against bootleg liquor and drug trafficking, including street fights with police alleged to be profiting from the drug trade. Biletsky says that these confrontations led to his arrest in 2011 and the PU being forced underground.
The PU would reappear as founding members of Right Sector and successfully demand the release of Biletsky as a “political prisoner.” Biletsky says that within 7 hours of his release he had become a speaker at a right wing rally in Kharkiv where he led 300 people into forming the “Black Corps” vigilante group. This informal militia was already fighting near the Sea of Azov on May 3 when Biletsky applied for recognition as a volunteer battalion. That recognition was granted on May 5 and Azov Battalion was formally born.
Biletsky described the state of the organization in October 2014:
Now our team is the basis of the whole regiment “Azov”. We have not only about 700 fighters, with a tendency to expand the staff, but also a huge number of cells, people’s wives, combat training centers throughout Ukraine. People’s wives see our battalion “Azov” as their flag, an example for themselves. They associate themselves with the battalion. The ideas that lead the battalion into battle are native to them. They fight in Odessa, Kharkiv, Nikolaev. So far without weapons, but this is also work aimed at defending Ukrainian independence.Andriy Biletsky in UNIAN
“The ideas that lead the battalion into battle are native to” the wives of the Azov members. What are these ideas? To find out more we will look to Biletsky’s previous organization, the Patriot of Ukraine.
Freedom for Fascists
Andriy Biletsky is sometimes reported to have founded Patriot of Ukraine in Kharkiv in 2005. In truth Biletsky had re-formed the group after it was disbanded by its parent organization in 2004. The Patriot of Ukraine had been founded earlier, in 1996, as the militant youth wing of the Social-National Party of Ukraine.
The SNPU was formed during Perestroika and Glasnost, in the period of liberal reforms that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The sudden opening up of political discourse allowed many Anti-Soviet civic organizations to form and to work for the independence of Ukraine from the USSR. The city of Lviv, at the western edge of Ukraine, was a hotbed of Anti-Soviet activity.
In August 1987 four students at the Lviv State Medical Institute decided to form a youth group that would fight for independence. They were joined by five more colleagues including Andriy Parubiy; the “brothers” gathered and studied “forbidden pages of Ukrainian history” about the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). On 28 March 1988 they held a constituent assembly for their Orhanizatsyi Ukrayinskoyi Molodi “Spadshchyna” (Organization of Ukrainian Youth “Heritage”).
Spadshchyna trained youth in the martial art of Combat Hopak, codified in 1985. By 1994 they hosted the first Hopak competition and in 1995 they entered into the nascent Patriot of Ukraine. Spadshchyna youth would later join the Maidan Self-Defence and the volunteer battalions in 2014. Spadshchyna remains under Andriy Parubiy’s leadership to this day.
Studentske Bratstvo Lvivshchyny (“Student Brotherhood of Lviv Region”), the “first independent Ukrainian student organization,” was established on 25 May 1989. Their actions included erecting monuments to the UPA and the Waffen-SS 14th “Galician” Division.
The Student Brotherhood was one of the organizers of the protests in Kyiv that became the Revolution on Granite. Tens of thousands of protesters came to October Revolution Square (now called Independence Square or Euromaidan) to protest the results of the 1990 election and to demand major reforms.
SOCIAL-NATIONAL PARTY OF UKRAINE
According to party co-founder Oleh Tyahnybok the SNPU was formed by activists from these and other groups, including Andriy Parubiy from Spadshchyna and representatives from the Ukrainian Union of Veterans of Afghanistan. The organizers met on 26 September 1991 and proclaimed the Social-National Party of Ukraine on 31 October 1991.
Parubiy was a central figure in the SNPU and its officially registered youth wing, the “Society for the Support of the Army and the Navy — Patriot of Ukraine.” He was director of this organization and a leader of Spadshchyna at the same time, recruiting members for PU from the established youth group.
In Tyahnybok’s account the SNPU first contested elections in 1994, winning four seats on the Lviv Regional Council. Tyahnybok was one of those four deputies. In 1998 Tyahnybok was the only SNPU member to win a seat in the Verkhovna Rada (“Supreme Council,” the parliament of Ukraine). 2002 was the last time the party contested elections under this name. Tyahnybok was re-elected, the SNPU won seats on Lviv Regional Council, and the party captured several mayorships in Lviv and Volyn regions.
Gaining State Power
Tyahnybok spearheaded a strategy to bring the SNPU beyond its local support base in Lviv. In 2004 he was elected party leader and rebranded it using the Tryzub salute from the independence movement. The SNPU officially became Vseukrainske obiednannia “Svoboda” (All-Ukrainian Association “Freedom”).
Svoboda ejected the most radical right wing elements from the party and disbanded the Patriot of Ukraine in 2004. The new image of the party was meant to make it more broadly appealing, though the party leadership never disavowed Social Nationalism.
After Patriot of Ukraine re-formed around its Kharkiv chapter it continued to associate with Svoboda. This association ended in 2007 when a letter was published by PU describing Svoboda as corrupted by electoralism and compromise. PU identified itself as the true vanguard of the national revolution.
Svoboda made great gains over the old SNPU. They formed the largest faction in the Ternopil Regional Council in 2009 and repeated the feat the next year in Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk.
It was from this western power base that Svoboda launched their most successful campaign. Svoboda won 37 seats in the 2012 parliamentary election and became the third-largest opposition party in the Rada.
This victory positioned Svoboda to join the National Resistance Headquarters and the subsequent coalition government. The party held key ministries and its co-founder, Andriy Parubiy, was empowered to create the volunteer battalions.
Though they lost their Rada seats in the snap election of 2014 Svoboda had been able to exercise state power. Oleh Tyahnybok’s electoral strategy was successful: the SNPU had entered government and used that power to turn their paramilitary street fighters into hardened professional soldiers.
The ideology of the SNPU given in Tyahnybok’s “History of Svoboda” is hardline anticommunism. The Nation is a “blood and spiritual community,” and so only people of Ukrainian blood and faith could join. Atheists and former Communists were explicitly forbidden from membership. Tyahnybok writes that the foundational text of the party was дві революції (“Two Revolutions”) by Yaroslav Stetsko.
The 2013 Svoboda edition of “Two Revolutions” can be found at the Electronic Library “Ukraine” maintained by the government of Ukraine. In this text Stetsko argues that a National revolution cannot succeed without a subordinate Social revolution. This is the ostensible source of the name of the SNPU and its ideology.
“Two Revolutions” was also published in 2007 by the Patriot of Ukraine as part of its “Library of the Patriot of Ukraine” series. These books and brochures of Ukrainian Nationalist texts were printed shortly before the split with Svoboda and reprinted in 2015 after the Azov Battalion’s victory in Mariupol.
Mykola Kravchenko, editor and publisher for the PU and Azov, describes these books in a 2020 post made to Censor.net. The Library of the PU comprised “Independent Ukraine” by Mykola Mikhnovsky, “Ukrainian military doctrine” by Mikhail Kolodzinsky, “Nationocracy” by Mykola Stsiborsky, “Geopolitical Landmarks of the New Ukraine” by Yuriy Lipy, and “Two revolutions.” These were collected with more recent texts in the volume “Foundations of Ukrainian Nationalism” in 2019 or 2020.
Nationocracy is a key text for understanding “Social-Nationalism.” It calls for a totalitarian state in which “all socially useful strata” are involved in governing. The methods described by Stsiborskyi were not original; “Nationocracy” is a class-collaborationist system in which the social elite and the working classes are allies. They were to be organized “according to their socio-productive function – in representative bodies of state governance” in the vein of the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations of Mussolini’s Italy. After the establishment of the Nationalist state, state power was to be exercised according to the Führer Principle.
Svoboda and PU have consistently propagated Social-Nationalist theory since their foundation. Their ideology echoes the race politics, elitism, and anticommunism of Hitler’s NSDAP but is grounded in Ukrainian rather than German nationalism.
We cannot say that these groups are Nationalsozialistische, but we can say that they are Sotsial–Natsionalna. Either way, Nazi is an appropriate English shorthand for their movement.
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[ Featured image from Haaretz ]