CounterPunch is very kindly featuring an article I wrote for them titled “The Durability of Ukrainian Fascism“.
First, a correction. In the piece, I give credence to allegations that the Nachtigall Battalion (Ukrainian nationalists, largely Banderites, organized into a military unit under the direction of German military intelligence) participated in the first Lviv pogrom. These allegations are apparently false and the result of a Soviet forgery and disinformation campaign.
In the piece, I take issue with the desire of some supporters of the Kyiv regime to downplay the role of fascism and fascist parties such as Pravy Sektor a.k.a. Right Sector and Svoboda in the current political mix. Fascism, I conclude, is not just part of Europe’s past; it’s part of its present…and future.
Fascism is particularly strong in the Baltic republics (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), and in Ukraine. Post-Soviet governments in these frontline states have, in a rather gingerly fashion, rehabilitated native fascists who fought with the Nazis against Stalin as rallying points for anti-Russian nationalism.
Rehabilitating fascists has also required poormouthing the Holocaust and its unique moral significance, primarily because World War II fascists and nationalists abetted the German occupation and liquidation of Jews, provided manpower for the “Final Solution” and enthusiastically and savagely participated in local pogroms that the arriving Germans permitted during the brief “honeymoon” period of the occupation.
Traditional strains of local anti-Semitism were amplified by the identification of Jews, rightly or wrongly, with Soviet occupation and administration. When the German armies first entered the Baltic and eastern European states and liberated them from Soviet rule, elements of the local population enthusiastically engaged in horrific pogroms against Jews, especially in Lithuania and in Ukraine. In July 1941, using the massacre of thousands of prisoners in Lviv’s prisons by the retreating Soviets as an excuse, residents of Lviv humiliated and murdered Jews in the city, with a death toll of over 3000. German film crews recorded the episode in order to educate the homeland as to the desperate and savage struggle with “Judeo-Bolshevism”. Some footage was incorporated into newsreels and can be found on the Internet. The raw footage ended up as evidence at the Nuremberg Trials.
A careful and persuasive study by John-Paul Himka concludes that the July pogrom was facilitated and executed primarily by the local militia of Stepan Bandera’s OUN-B faction.
In Origins of the Final Solution, Christopher Browning Jurgen Matthaus describe the second, Fall 1941, Lviv pogrom executed as part of the ghettoization effort:
…ghettoization was combined with decimation. Access to the ghetto was limited to passage under two railway bridges, where German and Ukrainian policemen seized valuables from the incoming Jews and conducted a selection…Many thousands of Jews were killed in the so-called bridge of death Aktion…women were for the first time the primary victims.
After the inaugural frenzy, the Germans reserved for themselves the responsibility and grim honor of engaging in the actual execution of Jews; but Baltic and eastern European auxiliaries were always there, to dig the graves, bury the dead, control the victims, and police the camps. In Lviv, by the end of the war the Jewish population had dwindled from the 1939 high of 200,000 to around 300.
Exalting fascists, therefore, involves downplaying the moral claims of the Holocaust. This involves giving suffering at the hands of the Soviets at least equal stature with the program of annihilation local fascists helped visit on the Jewish population of Eastern Europe.
In Ukraine, this means elevating the Holodomor, the massive loss of life in Ukraine inflicted by Stalin as part of his program of collectivization, suppression of local resistance, and the ensuing famine. The direct death toll was bad enough, somewhere on the order of 3 million; through various statistical jiggery-pokery, Ukrainian nationalist historians have tried to boost this figure to ten million dead, thereby eclipsing the canonical Holocaust figure of six million for all of Europe.
And, to the outrage of Jewish groups, the Baltic states’ lobbying arm was able to prevail upon the US Congress this week to do this:
Legislation designating August 23 as a “Black Ribbon Day” commemorating the victims of both Soviet communist and Nazi terror passed yesterday in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is a culmination of an ongoing two-year effort by the Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) seeking passage of this legislation.
Congressman John Shimkus of Illinois, the co-chairman of the House Baltic Caucus, sponsored the legislation and effectively shepherded its passage in the House. The legislation, part of a National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4435), will now be taken up by the Senate. A conference committee of both houses will work out differences…
In Hungary the rightist/nationalist government is currently in the midst of a wrangle with liberal-democratic, Jewish, and pro-EU groups concerning its insistence on erecting a statue commemorating the suffering of Hungarians at the hands of Hitler, depicting an eagle (Germany) attacking the Archangel Gabriel (Hungary).
Just as Austria smoothed over the rough edges of its collaboration with the Nazis by portraying itself as “Hitler’s first victim”, it would seem that Hungary–which saw a belated occupation by the Nazis in 1944 to forestall their ally’s efforts to negotiate a separate peace as the German war effort collapsed–is trying to repackage itself as “Hitler’s last victim.”
The real Hungarian victims of Nazi Germany, were of course, the Jews of Hungary, none of whom are particularly identified with the Archangel Gabriel–the symbol of the divine sovereignty of the Roman-Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hannah Arendt relates that Eichmann was able to achieve the unimaginable task of transporting 450,000 Hungarian Jews to the overworked death chambers of Auschwitz in two months only because of the assistance of the local Hungarian bureaucrats: “Everything went “like a dream” as [Eichmann] repeated every time he recalled this episode…” (Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Viking Press, pg. 125)
I argue that European fascism is not just bigotry, xenophobia, and nostalgia for the Russian-bashing practices of Nazi Germany; it’s also a nationalist response to the perceived excesses and failures of transnationalized, globalized neo-liberalism. But it’s also determinedly and shamefully anti-Semitic.