Ukraine's anarcho-syndicalist Autonomous Workers' Union has issued a "Statement on the Odessa Tragedy," calling the horrific May 2 violence there a "clash of right-wing combatants," with "football hooligans and Euromaidan self-defence on the one side; Stalinists, pro-Russian paramilitaries and local police force on the other." The clash climaxed when the pro-Russian ("Antimaidan") protesters fled into the city's Trade Union house, and barricaded the doors. The pro-Ukrainian forces besieged it; Molotov cocktails were thrown "both to and fro the roof of the building," which eventually went up in flames. Some 40 of those inside were killed, either burned or sufficating in the smoke.
Since then, the Russian and pro-Russian media have been sensationalizing the Odessa massacre in the most exploitative style, while the Western media are predictably giving it little play. Typically, Voice of Russia refers to 46 "burned alive," as if they all met their deaths that way, which is improbable. Among the pro-Russian sources (unfortunatley being forwarded around much by "progressives" in the West) is the Borotba Union, which refers to the pro-Ukrainian forces only as "nazi squads" (such overheated terminilogy seems increasingly common in pro-Russian accounts). The AWU statement asserts that militants from the Borotba Union, which appears to be an amalgalm of Stalinism and pan-Slavism, were actually on the scene at the Odessa riot, inciting things at the Trade Union house.
The Western media, e.g. Reuters, have been giving far more play to the incident two days later, in which pro-Russian protesters stormed a police station in Odessa and succeeded in freeing nearly 70 of their comrades who had been arrested in the street-fighting. They seem to have won over some of the police at the scene, who demonstrated their loyalty to the protesters by donning the offered St. George's ribbons, a Russian military insignia that has become a symbol of the separatist revolt. Ukrainian nationalists are petitioning for the ribbon to be outlawed. Tellingly, the insignia goes back to the Order of St. George established by Catherine the Great, abolished by the Soviets, and revived after the fall of the USSR—but the insignia (although not the order) was first revived by Stalin in World War II, as Russian nationalism began to loom larger in his ideology than Bolshevik anti-monarchism. (WP, May 5)
Kiev has since dispatched "special forces" to Odessa, and fighting also flared at Slavyansk in the east of the country. Four government helicopters have now reportedly been downed by pro-Russian rebels (or actual Russian troops?) in the east. Alarmingly, the Kiev government has reinstated military conscription (which had been abolished only last year, under Yanukovych). (Reuters, May 5; BBC News, May 1)
Also quite alarmingly, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reports that "hundreds of Jews have been fleeing Ukraine since the start of year and heading to Israel." The number of new immigrants from Ukraine registered at Israel's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption in the first three months of the year totaled 557, an increase of 43% over the same period last year. And small wonder. The Jewsih Telegraphic Agency reported April 10 that the Holocaust memorial in Odessa was defaced with swastikas and the SS symbol, along with the words "Death to the Jews" and "Right Sector"—the name of a far-right formation that has come to the fore since the Maidan protests. Now, was this really the work of Right Sector, or pro-Russian provocateurs? As we've argued, it really doesn't matter very much.
Israel seems to be going along with the Russian propaganda that it is only the Ukrainian side that is infected with the fascist virus. Israel's honorary consul in Rio de Janeiro, Osias Wurman, told Voice of Russia that a reason for Putin's animosity for the new Ukrainian government is "anti-Semitic movements and manifestations." He added: "Undoubtedly, the pro-Jewish atmosphere currently is much more credible in Russia than in Ukraine. Many of those 'revolutionaries' belong to the ultranationalist, racist and far-right Svoboda party." (JTA, April 9)
Ironically, there have been reports of clandestine Israeli support for Svoboda-linked militias in Ukraine. Whether true or not, the stench of fascism infects both sides in this conflict, and it should give "progressives" in the West pause to be uncritically accepting the same line pushed by Israel.
The AWU statement decries the "Antimaidan" forces, led "by the most reactionary clerical conservatives," but adds: "On the other hand, we are disgusted by the reaction of the right-liberal and patriotic general public which takes delight in the Odessa deaths… As Ukrainian workers side with various warring right-wing movements, they are sliding further from socialism to barbarism. The cure is well-known: we should realize our own class interests, organize at workplaces and direct our rage against the real enemy, not at each other."
We concur, and we insist, yet again, that the work of progressives and anti-war activists in the West is not to favor one side or the other in a fight between rival reactionary oligarchs and militarists, but to build solidarity with dissident and anti-militarist forces in Russia and Ukraine alike…