Ukrainian Politics
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 Most Ukrainians Do not Reazlize that Svoboda has Unabashed Neo-Nazi Members, The New York Times

The last time Oleg Tyagnybok was a member of Ukraine’s Parliament, his colleagues kicked him out over a fiery speech in which he described how Ukrainians, during World War II, bravely fought Muscovites, Germans, Jews “and other scum,” and then used slurs to refer to the “Jewish-Russian mafia, which rules in Ukraine.”

The New York Time's David Herszehorn writes: Eight years later,Mr. Tyagnibok is preparing to return to Parliament, not as a lonemember of a broader coalition, as he was when he was ejected, butas the leader of Svoboda, the ultranationalist, right-wing partythat will control 38 of 450 seats, or about 8.5 percent of thenational legislature.

Svoboda's surprising show of strength in the Oct. 29 election -polls had predicted that the party would fail to meet the 5 percentthreshold to enter Parliament - has stirred alarm, includingwarnings from Israel about the rise of anti-Semitism and xenophobiain Ukraine, a former Soviet republic and a place with a firsthandknowledge of ethnic violence and genocide.

But in an interview in the downtown office building that Svobodashares with an insurance company and a dental clinic named Smile,Mr. Tyagnibok said that fear of his party was misplaced and theaccusations of racism and extremism unfounded.

"Svoboda is not an anti-Semitic party," he said, seated behind adesk, a sport jacket stretched by his barrel-sized chest, his hugehands folded in front of him, speaking slowly and firmly inUkrainian. "Svoboda is not a xenophobic party. Svoboda is not ananti-Russian party. Svoboda is not an anti-European party. Svobodais simply and only a pro-Ukrainian party. And that's it."

Of course, that was not it.

Mr. Tyagnibok was just beginning to demonstrate the smooth charmthat has helped Svoboda, which means "Freedom," build supportbeyond its traditional stronghold in the Ukrainian-speakingwest.

Tall, with beefy good looks, Mr. Tyagnibok, 44, who is aurological surgeon by training, has used his party's pro-Ukrainianmessage to tap into frustration over the country's stalled economyand growing disillusionment with the government of President ViktorF. Yanukovich.

From Mr. Tyagnibok's frequent appearances on television talkshows, emphasizing national sovereignty and warning of encroachmentby neighboring Russia, most viewers might never discern that someof his party's members are unabashed neo-Nazis, while others shunthe label but nonetheless espouse virulent hatred of Jews, gays andespecially Russians.

Researchers who specialize in extremism say it is a talentshared by other leaders of far-right parties and has helped bringthem into the mainstream in many European countries, includingHungary, Poland and Romania.

"This is a common phenomenon within these parties, that theyhave a front-stage image and a backstage agenda," said AndreasUmland, an expert at the National University in Kyiv. "The internaldiscourse, from what we can only suspect, is much more radical andxenophobic than what we see." He added, "This is all much moreradical."

In the interview at his office, Mr. Tyagnibok said Svoboda'smessage was only positive. "We do call ourselves nationalists," hesaid. "Our view is love. Love of our land. Love of the people wholive on this land. This is love to your wife and your home and yourfamily. So, it's love to your mother. Can this feeling be bad?"

"Our nationalism does not imply hatred to anybody," hecontinued. "We formed a political party to protect the rights ofUkrainians, but not to the detriment of representatives of othernation." He added, "So, if you ask about philosophy to be explainedin two words: We are not against anyone. We are for ourselves."

For a long time, they were for themselves and mostly bythemselves. In the previous parliamentary election, in 2007,Svoboda received less than three-quarters of 1 percent of the vote,and that was an improvement. Until 2004, Svoboda was called theSocial-Nationalist Party, which critics said was just a word flipof its true ambitions.

Born in Lviv, sometimes called the capital of the western,Europe-oriented Ukraine, Mr. Tyagnibok said he was raised to hateCommunists, in part because his paternal grandfather was a victimof oppression under Stalin. He got his start in politics as astudent organizer in the late 1980s, attended medical school andhas been a member of the nationalist party from its inception inthe early 1990s.

He served six years in Parliament, from 1998 until he was ejectedin 2004. In 2001, with Ukrainian voters growing increasinglyfrustrated with the status quo, Svoboda made major gains in localand regional elections. Some voters who supported Svodboda saidthey believed that the party could present the strongest challengeto President Yanukovich. Many said they did not view the party asextreme.

"Those people who supported Svoboda in these elections, theydon't support racism, anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism," said VyacheslavLikhachev, who monitors extremism for the Euro-Asian JewishCongress. "They support Svoboda because every vote for Svoboda wasa vote against the ruling government."

Still, Mr. Likhachev said, Svoboda's rise was not a positivedevelopment for Ukraine. "It is bad for society," he said.

In the days before the vote, Mr. Tyagnibok signed an agreementto work with other opposition parties, including the Fatherlandparty of the jailed former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko. Ms.Tymoshenko, who was barred from the ballot this year, recentlybegan a hunger strike to protest what she said was fraud in theelections.

Mr. Tyagnibok's ties to Ms. Tymoshenko and former PresidentViktor Yushchenko date to before Ukraine's Orange Revolution in2004, which Mr. Tyagnibok and other nationalists supported. Criticsof the alliance say that it will give Svoboda more power than itwould have on its own, and grant it further legitimacy as amainstream faction.

Although his occasional use of ethnic and religious epithetsis well documented - there was the 2004 speech to supporters, andin 2005, his public signing of an open letter to PresidentYushchenko and others demanding an end to "criminal activities oforganized Jewry in Ukraine" - Mr. Tyagnibok called the allegationsof hate speech "a fantasy and a serious exaggeration."

The general prosecutor charged him with inciting ethnichatred, but the case was dropped after the Orange Revolution. "In2004, I was accused of anti-Semitism, but I won in all the courtcases," Mr. Tyagnibok said.

Mr. Tyagnibok said nationalist parties were enjoying arenaissance in Europe because of the Continent's financialproblems, as well as conflicts with Muslim immigrants in countrieslike Italy, France and Spain. "Europe is change," he said."Economic failures make people look for reasons."

But he said it was all for the best. "In our view the ideal isto see Europe as one big flower bed full of different flowers, withUkraine as one of the most beautiful flowers in it," Mr. Tyagniboksaid. "It has its own scent, its own beauty. It is different fromother flowers, but it is in the same flower bed."

He waved away any thought of nationalist strife. "Just imagineone nationalist talking to another nationalist," he said. "Thereshould be no problems between them. Everybody respects theirinterests, and everybody understands we live in one bigworld."
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