Masked demonstrators, members of so-called Maidan Self Defence, seen at Independence Square on 7 February in Kiev, Ukraine. Photograph: Barcroft Media/ITAR-TASS
A number of academics have expressed their concern about the international media's misrepresentation of the protests in Ukraine. They say that the media have over-emphasised the significance of the far right in what is a broad and diverse protest movement; and such exaggerations may serve Russia's imperialist interests in Ukraine.
Appeals for balanced coverage can never be irrelevant. But politically liberal academics are turning the real problem upside down. It is a very real far right, not sensational media reports or an imagined Kremlin conspiracy, that is discrediting Euromaidan.
Before the start of full-fledged street violence on 19 January, western media were naively celebrating the "European values" of the movement – despite the fact that the xenophobic, homophobic, nationalist Svobodaparty had, with even more extreme groups, been involved in Euromaidan – as the protests are known – almost from the beginning. They were using far-right slogans, fighting with the police, leading occupations of administrative buildings and dismantling monuments. Yet neither the incidents of torture, lynching and public humiliation of alleged thieves in the protest camp, nor the beatings of homeless and drunk people nearby, have made it into the international media.
After the violence started no pro-Russian conspiracy was necessary to lead the media to the more radical parts of the movement. There should have been some explanation of how a "peaceful" and "democratic" protest moved to heavy violence. It may be debatable as to who was the first to start fighting with the police – but it is hardly questionable that without organised far-right groups it would have developed on such a scale.
The far right are not numerically dominant in Maidan. However, the most decisive factor in politics is not necessarily numerical strength. The real problem is who exactly will lead the apolitical masses. Now neofascists have become normalised as a legitimate part of the movement, they have become heroes of the people's struggle against authoritarianism and police brutality .
If the opposition wins in parliament, Svoboda will very much likely become a part of the new government gaining the highest possible cover for its violent militants, and direct influence over state policies. Previously marginal neofascists from the militant Pravy Sektor (the Right Sector) are now involved in negotiations with Ukrainian law-enforcement bodies. They will be among the undisputable leaders of the more radical part of the movement who will not be satisfied with a narrow rearrangement of powers as demanded by the opposition.
In this respect the liberal academics complaining about the media are taking a politically naive and irresponsible position. Despite all the rhetoric about a peaceful, democratic movement – and despite violent and authoritarian government actions, police killings and kidnappings, half the Ukrainian population still do not support Euromaidan.
If the Ukrainian protests are to lead to any of the fundamental socioeconomic reforms that Ukraine needs, the Maidan movement must decisively break away from the far-right. Instead of downplaying it, instead of justifying and normalising strategic co-operation with neofascists, progressive intellectuals must come clean about the "diversity" of the movement and attack the far right, not those who dare to speak about inconvenient facts and dangerous tendencies.