We Don't Need That Fascist Groove Thang-- But How Much Of It Is Kremlin Propaganda?
Kyiv is being shelled, bombed, pounded, choked... and yesterday Carlotta Gall reported that nearly half the population has fled, but that around 2 million are still in the city. "Some stayed," she wrote, "because they did not have the means to leave, or a place to go to, but others did so from a sense of patriotism or a newfound defiance in the face of the Russian invasion... The invasion has galvanized the population, fostering a unity that few had felt before; spawning enthusiasm for volunteering and solidarity for the men fighting, but also a stubborn refusal to be cowed by the invader.
“The Ukrainian people have been reborn,” said Oleg Sentsov, a filmmaker who was imprisoned in Russia for his opposition to the annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Mr. Sentsov said he evacuated his family to western Ukraine and joined the territorial defense within a day of the invasion, and he has already been serving in the suburbs of Kyiv.
“Of course the war is terrible,” he said, “and many people are dying but there is a feeling that our nation is being born and our connections to Russia are being cut.”
Late Saturday I embedded the Beton cover of The Clash's iconic "London Calling," re-christened "Kyiv Calling," in a post about Ukrainian resistance. I described Beton as "a relatively unknown Ukrainian punk band." Although the original song with the new lyrics and some disturbing imagery is no longer available of YouTube, here's a new version still available (at least this morning):
I wasn't sure I should include it just now. That's because Billy Bragg was one of the warning voices about Beton's affinity to WWII era nationalist, fascist leader Stepan Bandera. Bragg posted about it on his Facebook page last night.
Yesterday evening I posted a clip of the Ukranian band Beton performing their rewrite of 'London Calling'. According to reports, the song 'Kyiv Calling' was approved by the Clash, with funds raised going to the Free Ukraine Resistance Movement.
After a few hours of discussing the lyrics of the song and whether Joe Strummer would approve of the rewrite, a number of people drew my attention to a series of photographs on the band's Facebook page showing members of the band wearing t-shirts based on the Ramones circular logo.
The word 'Ramones' at the top of the logo had been replaced with the word 'Banderas' and although all of the names within the circle were not visible, the one that was clearly read 'Stepan'. The photos dated from a year ago.
This is deeply troubling. Stepan Bandera was a far-right Ukranian politician who collaborated with the Nazis during the occupation of Ukraine and whose followers were complicit in the Holocaust. That he did these things in the name of Ukranian independence from the Soviet Union has led some present day far right nationalists to adopt his image in their decade long struggle with Russia.
The knock on effect of this has been to allow Putin to smear all those who want a democratic Ukraine free from Russian influence as neo-nazis. The lionisation of Bandera explains his attempt to legitimize the invasion as a campaign of 'denazification', despite the fact that when, during the 2019 Ukrainian elections, all of the major far right Ukrainian parties formed a unified party for the national election, they gained just 2.15% of the vote and failed to secure a single seat in the national parliament. Compare that with the 2009 EU parliament election, where the BNP won 6% of the vote.
I left a message on the band's Facebook page asking them to explain why they were wearing t-shirts that appeared to support Bandera, but after 24 hours, I've had no response, so I've deleted my post.
We can argue about the meaning of 'London Calling' and what Joe Strummer would or wouldn't have said about the lyrical changes, but we can be damn sure that he would not have allowed his song to be utilised by a band that expressed their support for fascists.
Scott Larsen responded that "Its pretty complicated and I'd be happy to walk you through it. But the Short of it is the Ukrainian Partisan Army-- UPA which Bandera founded was set up to free Ukraine from Soviet rule. Their last fighters died in the 50s. They were not perfect but they fought against totalitarianism. And played the nazis off the communists at times. Bandera died in a nazi detention camp after being poisoned by a Russian communist. [this seems to be incorrect according to wiki etc.] Bandera is like the Ukrainian Che Guevara or William Wallace. His name and likeness is associated with Ukrainian freedom. The reality is more complicated but Moscow tries to use parts of Bandera’s history to white wash all Ukrainians as nazis. In no way are Beton pro fascist.
For example of how the name is used Molotov cocktails in Ukraine (to avoid using a soviet minister’s name) are called Bandera smoothies. For Moscow bandera is a boogey man."
To which Bragg answered that he appreciates "that Bandera is a complex figure and did indeed spend time in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, but the use of his name by Ukrainian nationalists has given Putin the excuse to smear all Ukrainians who want to be free of Russian dominance as neo-nazis. I don't think it helps the Ukranian people in their struggle against Putin to post anything that may help to justify that propaganda. So I deleted my post."
This morning, Noah Smith addressed the Ukrainian Nazi thing, noting that "In the first couple of weeks after Vladimir Putin ordered his legions into Ukraine, the media narrative was overwhelmed by the moral clarity of the situation. A totalitarian tyrant had launched a murderous, unprovoked invasion of another country, whose people were valiantly fighting to defend themselves. America’s hyper-partisan shouters, if not exactly silenced, were at least forced to momentarily keep their heads down. Almost everyone basically agreed that Russia was the bad guy. But now, almost a month into the war, Russia’s propaganda narratives are slowly pushing their way back into the conversation. There are basically three Putinist narratives:
1. Russia’s invasion is a reaction to NATO expansion.
2. Ukraine has been taken over by neo-Nazis and needs to be “denazified.”
3. Russia is inevitably going to win the war, so Ukraine should surrender for humanitarian reasons.
All three of these narratives are baldly ridiculous and extremely easy to debunk. Just for the record:
1. Putin’s seizure of Crimea and Donbas made it impossible for Ukraine to join NATO even before this invasion, because that would have immediately required NATO to go to war with Russia. So this invasion wasn’t sparked by fear of NATO.
2. Ukraine has a very small neo-Nazi element-- a group called the Azov Battalion. They number fewer than 1000 people, compared to Ukraine’s total fighting force of somewhere around 400,000. Ukraine’s far-right parties won only 2.3% of the vote in a recent election.
3. Neutral observers like the Institute for the Study of War agree that the Russian offensives in Ukraine have now ground to a halt. Independent visual confirmations of Russian losses are increasing at a rapid and steady pace, and Ukraine is still receiving massive amounts of military aid from the West. Russia still has a lot of ability to deal death and destruction in Ukraine, but they’re far from the inevitable victors.
This isn’t a full and complete catalog of the pro-Putin narratives-- there’s also a weird conspiracy theory about U.S. chemical weapons labs in Ukraine, for example. But the three narratives above are the most common ones. And you can see these narratives being parroted more and more by Americans on both the far Right and the far Left.
We have also published-- as a matter of balance-- very provocative pieces by investigative historian and media critic Eric Zuesse that have, among other things, explored Ukrainian ties to fascism. You can read the argument about Ukrainian fascists here. The fog of war is always present every time a conflict explodes into violence and this one is no different. Do you believe Putin, Tucker Carlson, Trump, Cawthorn, QAnon, Tulsi Gabbard and Marjorie Traitor Greene... or everyone else?