What to do with the far right? OdessaSeptember 13, 2015
Regular readers of the blog will have noted that a few days ago that there was no entry – an exceptionally rare occurrence over the many, many years it has been running.
The reason for this was your author’s attendance at an all day investors conference in Odessa that started very early and ended very, very late.
No lineage will be taken to talk about the conference itself, other than to say it was structured in a way that allowed for a lot of meetings “on the fringes” – and meetings “on the fringes” there certainly were.
For several hours and on several occasions your author discussed politics, policy, reform and other local (and national) issues with those amongst the loftiest ranks of the Governor’s team on a one to one, or sometimes two to one basis. None of what was said will be repeated – except one final question posed to your author at the very end of the night.
How to engage the far right in Odessa?
Firstly, it is necessary to dispel the myth that the far right in Odessa is Right Sector. That is not true. Right Sector is perhaps the most famous brand, but it is not the be-all and end-all of the far right. It is not the only far right/nationalist group (meaning more than one person) in Odessa.
Right Sector may be fashionable, but it is not an entity that will stand the test of time. Indeed, when talking about Right Sector as a brand, that is not to infer that all that call themselves, or identify with Right Sector have a standard ideology – or even a remotely shared ideology. Whilst a shared ideology may have been somewhat true in late 2013 and throughout early 2014, by Autumn 2014 many of those that assumed the Right Sector brand were doing so for reasons of imagery or as a cover for more nefarious schemes – but not due to a shared ideology (probably to the ire of those with a far right ideology).
Now, having said all that, the number of genuinely ideologically far right people in Odessa is extremely small. A few hundred from a city of a million. They are however a noisy, occasionally law-bending, sometimes plainly criminal, organised few hundred that simply cannot be relied upon to remain within the law when pursuing their (generally ignored) political agenda (such as it is).
However, that their number is but a few hundred in Odessa, can be multiplied to several thousand nationally who may decide to rally in Odessa with similar deadly results as occurred outside the Verkhovna Rada, if the occasion is deemed warranted. (The far right involvement in that recent and shameful episode outlined very well, here.)
As for the question posed, there are of course problems and limitations to accept before going further – and they are the same limitations whether talking about the far left or far right in Odessa.
Firstly, until the far right begin to act entirely within the law, the Governor and his Administration would find it almost impossible politically to be seen to be engaging with a lawless/quasi-lawless set of official/quasi-official organisations.
Therefore any engagement cannot be direct or be seen to be direct, for whilst democracy demands inclusiveness and tolerance for all that will remain within the law, yet it also demands that those that use or threaten to use force for political ends are excluded from the democratic discourse until they fully abide by the rule of law.
Thus an engagement, discussion, diplomacy and negotiation cannot be anything other than indirect – which the far right consider is not being taken seriously, or to belittle their sense of entitlement to enter the political discourse.
There is then the issue of a coherent and unified position between the far right groups – or lack of one.
Given the almost non-existent support for much of the far right agenda amongst the vast majority of the local constituency, what (if anything) should be offered to the far right under the label of “inclusiveness and tolerance”?
Clearly it would be foolish for the local authorities to move to the right to accommodate the desires of the poorly supported far right, so what overlaps are there, no matter how few, between the far right and the centre, and can these few overlaps be developed and progressed together in an entirely law abiding way? This would then move the few issues within the far right agenda that may garner reasonable societal traction into the centre, whilst leaving the swivel-eyed nuttiness that has no support where it belongs – nowhere.
However, it appears that the local far right (and far left) seem to think the local authorities under the Governor have far more power than they actually have. Indeed the local authorities have very little power, and even if the Governor is a long-standing personal friend of the president, its legitimate powers are what they are. It is also very evident when talking to those at the pinnacle of local governance in Odessa that the frustrations with their lack of legal room are large and growing – albeit they are accepted.
This naturally explains the necessity of the political clock occasionally stretching the elasticity of every word in a law to the limits to achieve even minor progress – in the knowledge that the law will catch up eventually if that stretch is a little too far. A risk deemed worthy of occasionally taking it appears however. So be it, though care should be taken when treading heavily, and perhaps occasionally stomping, upon the manicured lawns of the law.
Indeed there is a commonality between the far right, society in general, and the Governor’s Administration insofar as all know very well that reform and change are not stifled (entirely) at the local level, nor necessarily by a lack of government inaction – but they are stifled by a Verkhovna Rada that often will not support governmental reform legislation, or will grotesquely warp any draft Bill out of all recognition before it gets voted upon. Too little, too slow and too misshapen is the legislative result.
Locally however, the occasional grubby deal between the Governor’s administration and the old entrenched vested interests (like that of the Governor and Messrs Kauffman and Granovsky), plus the occasional appointment of well known corrupt and nefarious individuals into the new structures continues to actively stoke the unpredictable fires of the far right – notwithstanding the arrest of their members for alleged criminality, whilst the corrupt local elites simply do not get arrested, let alone go to jail (though the Governor’s administration is neither police, prosecutor nor judge).
So how to deal with the far right considering its selective indifference to the rule of law, indifference through threats of, or actual use of violence, to the detriment of the democratic requirement of a State monopoly on violence, its somewhat incoherent views and lack of unity, and the almost non-existent support by the constituency majority for its political agenda?
Is part of the problem that both local government and far right perceive the other to be more powerful than they actually are?
In the current circumstances is there a need to even try to engage the far right, other than to negotiate its dwelling firmly within the rule of law?
Is there something upon the immediate horizon that raises the spectre of a fiery far right? The local elections perhaps? Another pending appointment of a decidedly nefarious character?
Is it simply a sign of political maturity amongst some in the higher echelons of local government to want to try and be inclusive and tolerant?
Considering just how little support the far right has in Odessa, perhaps the first question should be why that question was asked of your author at all?