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Sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko says another upheaval will come if the government does not address socioeconomic conditions of ordinary people

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ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

It’s been over a year since the Euromaidan protests began it Ukraine. Since then, the country has seen a former president flee, a billionaire oligarch come to power as president, and so-called ceasefires fail to bring an end to the civil war in the Eastern regions. And after early parliamentary elections were held on October 26, Ukrainian officials are working to form a new government.

Our next guest says that although the most prominent right-wing and neo-Nazi parties, like Svoboda and the Right Sector, did not win enough votes to enter parliament, they remain an ignored and underestimated threat to the future of the country.

Joining us now to talk about this is Volodymyr Ishchenko. Volodymyr is a sociologist studying social protest in Ukraine. He is the deputy director at the Center for Society Research in Kiev and a lecturer at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

Thanks for joining us, Volodymyr.


WORONCZUK: So, Volodymyr, you recently wrote an article for The Guardian where you said that despite that Svoboda and Right Sector and other right-wing parties, that they did not receive enough votes to enter parliament, that they still remain a threat to the future of the country. Can you explain that?

ISHCHENKO: Yeah. Indeed. First of all, the fact that they didn’t get over 5 percent at the party competition doesn’t mean that the Ukrainian parliament will not have any far-right MPs, because the electoral system [incompr.] parliament is elected in the single-member districts. So the experts, like /ˌvɪtʃsɑljukəˈtʃɔːf/, precisely they calculated that something like 13 MPs can be counted as the far right in the new parliament. And they were elected in the single-member districts or they were included, actually, to the lists of centrist parties, particularly even to the party of the incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko Bloc. And some MPs were supported by the People’s Front Bloc, led by incumbent prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. So the mainstream centrist parties were actually supporting some of the far right.

Moreover, among these new far-right MPs, which are less in number–but nevertheless, some of them are not just the far right; they are real neo-Nazis, without any exaggeration, openly racist activists and members of neo-Nazi organizations. And the most notorious of them is Andriy Biletsky, who was one of the leaders of the Patriot of Ukraine group, known for its racist attacks on the migrants, particularly in arson and in other criminal activities. And he was and he is still the commander of quite infamous Azov Volunteer Battalion, which has now actually [been promoted to] the rank of regiment. And Biletsky was not only elected in the single-member district in Kiev, but he was also appointed to the lieutenant colonel rank in the police structure. And he’s not only one of them; there are at least two other people with neo-Nazi views that were recently appointed to quite high ranks in Ukrainian law enforcement.

Another guy, Vadym Troyan, he was the deputy commander of the Azov Battalion, and now, in October, he was appointed to the position of the chief of Kiev region police–not of the Kiev City, but of the neighboring province in Ukraine administrative structure. He was–again, he–one of the members of the neo-Nazi Patriot of Ukraine group.

And another person, Yuri Michalchyshyn, who was previously a Svoboda Party MP. And he didn’t get into parliament, but he was appointed to be head of strategy and analysis department in the Security Service of Ukraine. Michalchyshyn was actually an ideologue of the radical wing of Svoboda Party, a committed social nationalist. Once he was published in a book, including the text by Joseph Goebbels ABCs of National Socialism.

WORONCZUK: Well­, nonetheless, though, even if there are some of these people who have gained some positions within the government, relative to the last parliamentary elections we actually have seen a decline. For example, like, Svoboda we’ve seen a major decline in the voting results for them. So this doesn’t–at first glance, though, this doesn’t seem like a consolidation of any right-wing power.

ISHCHENKO: Yeah, exactly. This is at the first glance. And this is true, that we have less far-right MPs than in the previous parliament. And it’s probably–like, almost definitely we will not have Svoboda representatives in the new government after the new parliament will vote for it.

But electoral support for the far-right parties is just one and only one dimension of the influence on Ukrainian politics, and we should not be so formalistic about that. So we have to look at the other dimensions–on the growth of the far-right party structures, on the paramilitary and even military units very closely connected to the far-right, like Asov Battalion, where the core of this military structure was actually formed by neo-Nazi Patriot of Ukraine activists.

WORONCZUK: Well, let me just interject here for a moment. Volodymyr, let me just interject, because what’s actually kind of significant about this, too, which I’ve seen from reading some of your research, is that after Kiev, a lot of major right-wing parties had some of their greatest presence in the Eastern regions, where there’s now a civil war. Can you explain how that occurred?

ISHCHENKO: No, that was our data from Maidan participation. So we collected all the protest events during Maidan, and we could see which identified organizations or initiatives, parties, were mentioned in those protest events.

And what we saw: that that data we collected, these were the protest events during Maidan stage, during the period of Maidan since the end of November until the end of February. And in these protest events, we could count who was mentioned as the participants of protest events, and precisely of Maidan protest events organized in support or in solidarity with Maidan.

And first one of the most significant findings: we saw that Svoboda was the most visible organized actor mentioned in the Maidan protest events. And another quite interesting finding: that the far right and actually political parties in general were more visible in local Maidan events in the Eastern and in the Southern regions that in the Western and Central region. And it might sound quite counterintuitive, because Maidan was more supported in the West and in the center of Ukraine, but it’s actually quite logical. In those places where Maidan didn’t have majority support from the population, it couldn’t rely on the grassroots mobilization. And it meant that it had to rely on the party structures, including the far right, and which consequence it had that those parties, including the far-right party Svoboda, which already were quite discredited in the Southern and Eastern regions, where they didn’t have trust from the local citizens, where they didn’t have support from them–and all the electoral results and all the polls actually showing this quite regional divergence in support of these parties, and precisely in those regions, they were more visible. And in the next step they were even more pushing away those local residents who potentially could support Maidan protest. And this was one of the factors why Maidan revolt didn’t become truly all national protest. And in the final instance, it created one of the grounds for the civil war we see now.

WORONCZUK: And so, Volodymyr, let’s fast forward to now. What have people been doing on the streets for the past few months?

ISHCHENKO: And, yeah, according to the latest data, over our continuous research we see quite interesting changes, what happened with Ukrainian protests after Maidan. So, first of all, the level of protest activity, the just sheer number of protest events now, is quite high. It’s two or three times higher than it was before Maidan started in 2013. The number of protest events is very high.

The topics have changed. And in August and September, for example, the most frequent demands which were raised in the protest, they were of ideological nature. So these were mostly the protests in support of United Ukraine, showing Ukrainian patriotism, were on the opposite side in support for federalization-slash-separation demands from the opposite political camp.

In October, quite logically, before elections, the highest number of protests raised political demands. So they were of–they were electoral campaigns, also antigovernmental protests, also protests which demanded to clean the power–the so-called [illustration (?)] processes, we call it here. And this is very untypical, because before Maidan started and all the years we are doing this systematic research, we saw that the social economic problems were the most frequent issues raised in Ukrainian protests. But not now. But what we see instead: that the absolute number of social economic protests is still very high, but we see other–that the protests which are raising other issues are even higher.

But this situation might change very quickly as this patriotic mobilization, which was quite natural during the high-intensity of war in August and in the beginning of September, is going down. It’s already been quite lower in October. And elections are finished. The new government will be formed quite soon. And the people will start to ask from the new government about its promises, about the promises about reforms, about the economic situation, which is deteriorating. The real wages in Ukraine are kind of, like, 100 percent less or twice as less as they were before because of the devaluation of the national currency. And the prices are rising. The prices for the public utilities are also rising. And the wages are–especially in the state enterprises, has been freezed, so they remain the same.

And the people in Ukraine won’t wait forever, and they want to–cannot be manipulated forever with patriotic rhetoric of the government that our main enemy is Putin and we the [incompr.] we have now is Russia. So the people in Ukraine cannot be manipulated forever with patriotic rhetoric and with the permanent emphasis that our enemies–first of all, Putin and Russian government. And people will start to see that the enemies are also within their own government. Within that the people who are ruling them in Kiev are not actually ruling them in their own interests, but rather in the interest of the same oligarchs, which have not been removed from the power since Maidan but just changed their relative influence on Ukrainian politics and their relative assets.

I’ve just read the article today with an attempt to calculate how, for example, Ihor Kolomoyskyi, probably one of the most patriotic oligarchs now in Ukraine, how much money he earned this year. And the journalist calculates something like 20 billion Ukrainian hryvnias. And this is slightly more than 1 billion euros, which he gained on the military contracts, on the supply of oil, and on the quite–again, on selective preferences from the state, the same kind of corruption which was one of the most important advantages for Ukrainian oligarchs and in competitive advantages.

WORONCZUK: So, Volodymyr, it’s worth also recalling as we observe the one-year anniversary of the Maidan protests that it’s also the ten-year anniversary of the Orange Revolution. And this is significant in terms of the point that you were just making earlier, which is that the oligarchs are still in power. And as the Orange Revolution took place, the Euromaidan protest took place, oligarchs are still in power. What kind of movement do you think it will take to take them out of power?

ISHCHENKO: That should be completely different kind of movement, probably class-based, with much strong and more important influence from the unions, from the organized labor. Actually, the labor people are, in potential, at least, the most dangerous class for this kind of neoliberal system, because on their power and on their exploitation, the whole system relies on. And if they are not ready to support it anymore, if they start to protest in an organized, collective way, this would be the most crucial.

And, also, this new revolution would have to be much more socially articulated. Actually, the questions which were not really articulated, neither in the Orange Revolution ten years ago nor in the recent Maidan a year ago, there were a lot of social grievances with Yanukovych government. But no party, no organizations was actually trying to articulate them and to create a systematic program to fulfill those demands in favor of the people.

So we need to see more the emergence of the new strong unions and the other organizations of other discriminated groups, and also the emergence of probably the left party, which would be necessary to articulate in a systematic way and create a program for radical social reform in Ukraine. And only in this case we’ll see a truly anti-oligarchic revolution, which would actually fulfill the deepest desires and the most fundamental interests of a Ukrainian–on that list of the majority of Ukrainian people.

WORONCZUK: Okay. Volodymyr Ishchenko, coming to us from Kiev.

Thank you so much for joining us.

ISHCHENKO: Thank you.

WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Volodymyr Ishchenko is a sociologist based in Kyiv. He has published articles and interviews in the Guardian and New Left Review.