Interview with Borotba leader Sergei Kirichuk, by Ulrich Heyden, published in German on Telepolis,
Under enormous pressure from the ultra-nationalists who were part of the Maidan movement, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is now pursuing a criminal investigation against them.
Sergei Kirichuk, coordinator of the Ukrainian left organization Borotba (Struggle) explains the background.
The interview was conducted by Ulrich Heyden in Berlin.
Sergei Kirichuk is 33 years old and a coordinator of Ukrainian leftist organization Borotba (Struggle). He writes analysis for the left Ukrainian website Liva.com.ua. Because of the violent persecution of Borotba members in Ukraine in May 2014, he went into exile in Berlin.
In 2000, Kirichuk joined the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU). After the KPU supported President Yanukovych’s Party of Region in the October 2012 parliamentary election,
Kirichuk founded Borotba together with friends from the independent left and former KPU members.
Editorial clarifications are in square brackets.
Ulrich Heyden: On October 12, there were raids on the homes of three leading members of the fascist Svoboda party. They were suspected of involvement in the shooting of demonstrators on the Maidan.
They are said to have stayed on the eleventh floor of the Hotel Ukraina in February 2014. From there they may have shot at demonstrators. How is it that the public prosecutor’s office now conducts these investigations against politicians who played a key role in the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on February 21, 2014?
Sergei Kirichuk: The radicals are no longer needed. They want to get rid of them. They criticize the Ukrainian president very sharply. And they allow themselves to make statements that would be impossible in any other country. They say, “we’re coming to Kiev,” “we will remove all battalions from the front,” “we’ll go to Kiev and establish a patriotic regime there.” You can read these statements on the website of the Right Sector.
UH: There are also arrests and summonses against other well-known politicians from the right and left of the spectrum.
SK: Recently, Poroshenko’s government arrested the leader of the (right-wing nationalist) Ukrop Party, Gennady Korban, a friend of oligarch Igor Kolomoisky. He is accused of forming a criminal group. And there are signs that even representatives of the [Russia-friendly] Opposition Bloc could be arrested. Poroshenko is our Robespierre.* He arrests the right and then the left. He wants to chill all radical forces and consolidate his power. I believe that the government of the U.S. assists him in this.
UH: What is the social situation today in Ukraine?
SK: The economy has collapsed. There is great poverty and it’s hard to survive. The prices of electricity and gas have risen. People now live much worse.
UH: Your parents live in Kiev. How are they doing?
SK: My parents are currently living on 275 euros [equivalent] monthly. My father is an engineer. He designed systems for the protection of power supplies. His salary has fallen in the last two years from 800 euros to 200 euros. My mother got a pension of 200 euros. Now they get only 75 euros. The prices of electricity and gas in Ukraine have risen several times.
UH: And people don’t pay their bills?
SK: Ukrainians are very disciplined. They pay electricity and gas and starve themselves. I do not know where that comes from. That’s probably the Soviet mentality, which our nationalists are now fighting against (laughs).
UK: Where is Ukraine heading?
SK: It’s trying to establish a form of dictatorship. There will be elections, but basically it will be a dictatorship. There are two possibilities. Either there will be a pro-Western dictatorship that speaks of Western values ??and European integration and imprisons all radicals. Or a dictatorship of crazy ultranationalists from Svoboda, Ukrop, Right Sector and the fascist Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko. These forces looted several million dollars and weapons from the “Fund for the Defense of the Fatherland.” The fund was overseen by the now-arrested Gennady Korban.
UH: What are the chances that Poroshenko can consolidate his power?
SK: He is now supported by many who do not want a nationalist dictatorship. After the rightists threw a grenade at policemen on August 31 [four policemen were killed, 100 people were injured], many people in Ukraine said, “This is too much.” The people in Ukraine do not want violence against police officers and no more terror. The grenade was thrown by a soldier who just returned from the front.
There is now a major problem in the integration of soldiers returning from the front. They smelled gunpowder and, as they say, “tasted blood”. They see themselves as heroes who defended the country. But there are no jobs for them when they come back. Therefore, they are now demanding social benefits outside the Presidential Administration building in Kiev. Officials there will then tell them ‘we didn’t send you to the front’. These returnees feel consigned to the dustbin. Maybe they will set up criminal gangs now. I am a political opponent of Poroshenko. But if he is not an authoritarian leader now, then Ukraine is in danger. Poroshenko and his clan could stop the radical leaders right now.
UH: And what does all this mean for the Russia-friendly Opposition Bloc?
SK: Gennadi Kernes, the [Russia-friendly] mayor of Kharkov, was re-elected in late October with 60 percent of the vote. Shortly thereafter, he declared ‘we must restore economic relations with Russia’. So he has turned against the mainstream, but the people know that he’s right. Without economic relations with Russia, there is only collapse and no future.
In Odessa, Governor Mikhail Saakashvili experienced a Waterloo. He publicly supported a candidate who was defeated by a candidate of the former government in the mayoral elections.
UH: In Russia, the Right Sector is prohibited. Their website is banned in Russia.
SK: Russia reacts in panic. If the conflict in Ukraine is not in any way won by Russia, it will come to Russia.
UH: Is the panic justified?
SK: Of course. There is so much social injustice, so much corruption in Russia.
UH: Is a Maidan also possible in Russia?
SK: I am convinced of it.
UH: What signs are there?
SK: There is a calm before the storm. If one muzzles the whole opposition and there is no dialogue with the opposition, that breaks at some point. Russia has lost its influence in Ukraine. It would actually be logical for there to be a pro-Russian and not a pro-U.S. government in Kiev. If Putin would carry out only ten percent of the policy that Chavez carried out in Venezuela, where oil-dollars were used to build houses for the poor and provide education and health care, it would be different. But that money goes into the pockets of the oligarchs and the majority of the population suffers from neoliberal reforms.
UH: Opinion polls show support for Putin is higher than ever.
SK: This is a dangerous drug. You must constantly keep up the high ratings. But many Russian oligarchs want to reconcile with the West and end the confrontation. They dream of being integrated in the international bourgeoisie. The Russian oligarchs are willing to have a second referendum conducted in Crimea. But public opinion in Russia will not allow this, the ground must be prepared first.
The Russian leadership is already a prisoner of public opinion. The Kremlin would have been prepared to carry out a second referendum. But they can’t do it. The population would not understand.
UH: Many on the left believe both the U.S. and Russia were to blame for the Ukrainian conflict.
SK: I’m of the opinion that one must look at the Ukrainian conflict not only from the geopolitical point of view. The logic of civil war is that foreign countries interfere in the conflict. In the Spanish Civil War, Italy and Germany interfered on one side and the Soviet Union on the other. In Ukraine, the civil war was partly provoked by the United States. But the internal contradictions came from Ukraine itself.
UH: What is the cause of the Ukrainian Civil War?
SK: The events of today were already triggered in the early 1990s. Capitalism began in the 1990s. That was such poverty, such shock, such drama! It was not what they promised us at all. And, of course, there was a danger of red revenge. There were people who said: “Folks, let’s return to socialism. Because this way is really not working.” Pyotr Simonenko (KPU chairman) would have easily won the 1998 presidential elections. In this situation, the national bourgeoisie, the oligarchs, who had appropriated state property in the 1990s created an ideological screen to stop the red revenge. They chose the numbing nationalist ideology at that time.
UH: How did that work exactly?
SK: I went to school at that time. The teaching of history was directed against the Soviet Union. And even then there was glorification of Stepan Bandera [Nazi collaborator in WW2] and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).
UH: The ideological reorientation happened so fast?
SK: The nationalists emerged at that time from two groups. Some were conformists. Previously, they were ideologues in the Communist Party. They were “newly painted.” Another part was the young generation that grew up under the new, nationalist perspective. But the national bourgeoisie was of the opinion that this was not enough. And then Viktor Yushchenko came to power (2005). But under Yushchenko, nationalism did not achieve any new quality. Then in 2010, Viktor Yanukovych became president. Although he controlled all financial streams, he did not abolish the nationalist propaganda. The governor of the Lvov region (in the West) laid flowers at the monument of Stepan Bandera. To the east, they laid flowers at the monuments to Soviet soldiers.
UH: Were there any other reasons for nationalism?
SK: Of course. When people are poor, their identity is the most important thing they have left. You can see that now in the Islamic world.
UH: But wasn’t the Maidan in 2013 also a social protest?
SK: No. On the Maidan, there were already strong nationalist sentiments at the very beginning. There was a great tolerance for the extreme right. Today, our opponents say that the ultra-right were in the minority on the Maidan. Yes, they were in the minority, but they were an active minority.
UH: But the most important motive of the 200,000 on the streets of Kiev in November-December 2013 was improving their lives.
SK: Yes and no. Social demands, too, can be reactionary. On the Maidan, there was an ideology of social racism, stating that the middle class supposedly produced everything of value. Supposedly the country lived at the expense of the middle class, which paid taxes.
UH: You mean to say that the 200,000 protesters were all middle class?
SK: Ninety per cent were middle class, or those who thought they belonged to it. The most active part of the movement was the auto-Maidan. They made ??car parades and hunted for Tituschki [hired thugs by President Yanukovych]. Under Yanukovych, the monthly wage was on average 500 euro. But their cars cost 50,000 euros. These were not poor people.
This social racism has many levels. First, it is against the legacy of the Soviet Union, against the Sowok [backward, Soviet everyday life] and “the totalitarian regime, which made us into slaves.” The second is hatred of the workers and the poorest in society, against the “Bydlo,” “the stupid and uneducated”. The third thing is that, imbued with this social racism and nationalism, protest is not necessarily a radical expression.
UH: And what do the people of eastern Ukraine think of themselves?
SK: You mean, that they create the gross domestic product of Ukraine? That’s true, because 20 per cent of gross domestic product and 50 per cent of exports were created in eastern Ukraine. Most of Ukrainian foreign currency revenue was based on exports from the steel mills in the east of the country. But on the Maidan in Kiev, they said: “The people of eastern Ukraine are stupid. The steel mills are outdated. These people are dragging us down.”
UH: What can you say about the role of Yanukovych? Was he an oligarch, or was that only his son, Aleksandr?
SK: Yanukovych was a civil servant. He had no property, no factories. But during the three years Yanukovych was president, his son became co-owner of all the major companies in Ukraine. He became the owner of the Bukovel ski resort in the Carpathians. If a new shopping center was built somewhere, Aleksandr Yanukovych was co-owner. All the oligarchs — Dmytro Firtash, too — had to share with Aleksandr. Ministers were obliged to bring cash payments to President Yanukovych. How could a minister get the money? Only from the oligarchs.
UH: Actually, it was foreseeable that someone like this could not lead Ukraine, with its numerous oligarchic clans that all have different interests.
SK: In Kiev, there is the Lukyanov Detention Center. Over those three years, about 1,000 entrepreneurs who had refused to overwrite their business to Aleksandr Yanukovych were housed there. These were small printers and the like. They had been imprisoned under absurd pretexts. I know several small entrepreneurs who were in this prison.
In addition, Yanukovych created a comfortable opposition. He gave the Svoboda party money. Yanukovych’s dream was that he would compete in the second round of presidential elections against [Oleh] Tyahnybok. In that case, the head of the Nazi Svoboda party would naturally have lost.
UH: Is there evidence of this funding?
SK: I have no concrete evidence. Yanukovych himself never financed Svoboda. He never used his own money. That was a project of the head of the Presidential Administration, Andriy Kluyev.
During the Maidan, there were numerous provocations on the part of the Presidential Administration. The Right Sector was brought onto the Maidan with the help of the Presidential Administration, in order to discredit the movement and frighten the middle class who demonstrated there. The plan worked. Support for the Maidan in Kiev fell from 57 to 47 per cent. But the critical mass was already too big and public opinion no longer played an important role.
UH: But you have no proof for this theory.
SK: I can only say that the last politician Yanukovych received on February 20 [just before his escape] in the Presidential Administration was the head of the Right Sector, Dmitri Yarosh. He has denied this visit. But he is listed in the visitor log.
I am convinced that Yanukovych did not give the order to shoot people. Who shot, that is the question. Now, the Prosecutor General’s Office conducts investigations against three members of the Svoboda party. This is more than a scandal. With this, the whole narrative of the Maidan is destroyed.
UH: You’ve lived in Berlin since May 2014?
SK: I was invited by the fraction of The Left party in Berlin to report on the situation in Ukraine on May 5. A few days later, arrests of activists in Kharkov began. I decided at that time not to return to Ukraine. I recommended that my comrades in Kharkov also leave. Many did not listen to me. On May 7, the rightists in Kharkov tried to kidnap left activists. The Right Sector shot into the air at the Lenin monument in Kharkov. They tried to kidnap Denis Levin, one of our leaders. But Levin was freed by passersby.
I myself was followed since April 2014. I never slept for two nights in the same place. Our office in Kharkov was wrecked by people wearing masks. On the night of March 15, two activists on an anti-fascist demonstration in Kharkov were shot by Right Sector (“Right Sector” murders in eastern Ukrainian Kharkov). Borotba still exists there. But our members no longer act openly. It is too dangerous. People are demoralized.
UH: On the German left, there were accusations against you in the summer of 2014.
SK: It was said that I was a Russian nationalist.
UH: How did it happen?
SK: I had invited people to a meeting in Berlin with the authors Stanislav Byshok and Alexey Kochetkov. They wanted to present their book, ‘Neo-Nazis & Euromaidan‘. The event was canceled, however, due to allegations against the authors.
Both authors were former Russian nationalists. But they had renounced their previous positions. Their investigation into the Maidan was carried out professionally. In Europe, the theme of “fascists on the Maidan” was taboo at the time. I said that we could discuss the book. I explained my position in an interview with Andrej Hunko.
The campaign against me was led by a small anarchist organization in Ukraine, the Autonomous Union of Workers. One of their members living in Germany translated their texts into German and sent them out.
Later, when Bundestag members from The Left party, Andrej Hunko and Wolfgang Gehrke, went to Kiev, these people made a leaflet. In it, the two deputies were called agents of “Putin-imperialism.” Perhaps you can criticize these two politicians for something, but that they are agents is absurd. Then the campaign ended. These people had simply lied.
UH: Thank you for the interview!
Ulrich HeydenUlrich Heyden’s book ‘War of the oligarchs: The tug of war over Ukraine’ appeared in German in May 2015, published by PapyRossa, ISBN 978-3-89438-576-7.
Born in 1954, Ulrich Heyden is a German journalist and author. He is a co-author of the first German-language book on the contemporary opposition in Russia and co-author of the first German film about the attack on the Trade Union House in Odessa on May 2, 2014 which left 48 people dead. Since 1992, he is a freelance correspondent for German-speaking media in Moscow.
* Note by Sergei Kirichuk: An amazing response followed my interview with Ulrich Hayden for Telepolis. In the course of our conversation, I joked that Poroshenko is our Robespierre, meaning that for him to retain power for any length of time, he needs to defeat both the right and left opposition (the Gironde and Les Enragés) and try to establish a dictatorship. In Germany, this was seen as okay because in Europe, Citizen Robespierre is clearly a negative character. But here in our public, it’s a comparison that caused outrage.