Dr Ilyas Mohammed writes how neo-Nazis from around Europe are gathering in Ukraine to help their fellow ideologues.
Over the last decade Western governments have been concerned about members of their Muslim communities travelling to conflict zones. Muslims have been motivated to travel to these zones for two reasons: humanitarian and to fight.
The latest conflict on the conveyor to attract Muslims, which is worrying Western governments, is the Syrian civil war because of the possible “blowbacks”. There are two types of repercussions that concern the governments: firstly, Muslims who volunteered as humanitarian workers will come back having been “radicalised” by what they have witnessed and warming to the jihadist ideology.
Secondly, Muslims who travelled to Syria with the purpose of fighting against the regime will have had their views hardened by friendships made with other jihadists, the training they have received and the shared experience of war. According to policy makers and terrorism experts, these individuals are likely to “radicalise” and inspire other Muslims through online and offline platforms to attack their home countries.
In contrast, neither Western governments nor experts in terrorism have paid much attention to neo-Nazis mimicking Muslim counterparts and travelling to conflict zones to assist their brethren. According to numerous media reports, the Ukrainian theatre is attracting neo-Nazis from Europe.
The online and offline neo-Nazi communities are buzzing with conversations with calls to assist their Ukrainian counterparts. There is a precedent for this type of volunteering, for example the Spanish Civil War which attracted fascists from other countries – including Britain and France – to fight alongside Franco.
Alarmingly, the new Ukrainian government has appointed members of the ultra-right Svoboda Party to six major cabinet ministerial positions. Svoboda is the neo-Nazi, ultra-right, anti-Semitic, Russophobic party with its base of support in western Ukraine. If this was not shocking enough, representatives from Svenska Ukrainafrivilliga have made alliances with local politicians, presumably those affiliated with Svoboda have also been scouting support in Russia.
Swedish Ukrainian volunteers from Svenska Ukrainafrivilliga have been reported as stating: “Our message to them (Ukrainians) is that we will assist with whatever; clearing the streets, security, making food”. The group’s website has material, which is aimed to inspire like-minded people to volunteer for the Ukrainian cause. A spokesperson for the group recently said: “We do not organise any paramilitary force because our involvement is of a civil nature, as aid workers”.
Of course, should violence break out we will make use of our right of self-defense. The group’s website advises recruits to “improve your physical fitness” before travelling to Kiev. The group also added that Ukraine is facing an existential threat: “We must secure the existence of our people and the future of our white children”. The comments on the website suggests that Swedish neo-Nazis are preparing themselves to intervene in Ukraine.
According to some reports, there is scattered evidence that neo-Nazi groups from other parts of Europe are in Ukraine or are planning to do so. It is not clear from which countries they are coming from, but Magnus Söderman a representative of Svenska Ukrainafrivilliga has stated in interviews with journalists that “comrades from other European countries are also preparing to assist if it is needed”.
If it is true that foreign neo-Nazis are travelling and operating in Ukraine, it strongly suggests they are following the well-trodden path of their forefathers from the Spanish Civil Car, and learned from their European Muslim counterparts. At the national and the EU level, it will show that the strategy to counter neo-Nazis has failed on two points: challenging it ideologically and failing to realise the potential of neo-Nazis to setup a “nomadic international brigade”, which not only inspires others, but also engages in combat in conflict zones.
Whilst there is no evidence to suggest that members of the British far-right or neo-Nazi sympathisers have travelled to the Ukraine, it cannot be ruled out as a possibility, if we were to take the comments by Söderman seriously.