Rare Right-Wing Party Favors EU Integration, Joining Nato

The Svoboda party is Ukraine's mainstream nationalist party. But as Europe's far-right parties rise up from the fringes, Svoboda is now the odd man out: anti-Putin and pro-EU.

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Europe's far-right parties did well, really well in last week's elections to the European Parliament. But their embrace of Russia and its annexation of Crimea is not exactly what the far-right counterparts in Ukraine were expecting. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports on a rare right-wing party that favors EU integration and joining NATO.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The Svoboda, or the freedom party, is the most prominent nationalist party in Ukraine. Although it didn't fare well in Sunday's presidential election. With just over 1 percent of the vote, analysts note that Svoboda got fewer than half the votes won by the Jewish candidate in what Russia seasons anti-Semitic country.

Svoboda is, however, part of the government coalition that's been in power since former Pres. Victor Yanukovych fled to Russia. Russian media routinely accused Svoboda along with more extreme parties such as right sector of plotting to bring fascist and Neo-Nazi values to Russia's border. But these days Svoboda is an anomaly among the European far-right. Erica Rocha, deputy leader of Svoboda watched in disbelief as his far right counterpart best to defend Vladimir Putin's move to swallow up the Crimea Penisula.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) At the moment, we do not consider European far-right partners to be a partners. During our revolution dignity, we cut our ties with European nationalist because of their support of Putin's illegal annexation.

KENYON: Europe's far-right seems thrilled by Russia's brute force approach to confronting the growth of the European Union. Marine Le Pen of France's National Front and Nigel Farage of Brittan's U.K. Independence Party are among Vladimir Putin's admirers. Ukrainian political scientist Andreas Umland notes the irony of Moscow railing against what it calls Neo-Nazis and fascists in Ukraine while accepted praise from Neo-Nazi groups elsewhere in Europe. Umland says Svoboda seems it seems to be evolving to something closer to a traditional conservative party.

ANDREAS UMLAND: Although it is nationalistic it has now adopted rather unusual positions for right radical party concerning new integration and NATO integration that is now turning into a slight scandal for Svoboda because it used to have relations to parties that are now supporting Putin and his becoming an embarrassment.

KENYON: Svoboda's Syrotiuk says his party does indeed support integration and even becoming a part of NATO mainly because they see no other way to defend the country against Russiam aggression. He says it's been a painful lesson to learn that he's talking nationalism with other European far-right politicians There're not talking about the same thing.

YURIY SYROTIUK: (Through translator) But now we realize that what we call nationalism here is patriotism in Europe. And what Europeans call nationalism we consider Chauvinism. It's a different political lexicon.

KENYON: Syrotiuk says it's not forging new links mainly with center-right European parties. Analysts warn, however, that despite it's pro EU and NATO view it should not be mistaken for mainstream right-of-center group. Analysts say in the current tense climate a bigger potential danger for Ukraine might be fresh support for truly extreme parties like right-center based on the uncompromising anti-Russian stance.

UMLAND: The right sector especially if the confrontation of Russia continues may get an image of the sort of most devoted patriots, not because people will become more xenophobic or homophobic but rather because the both see these radically patriotic parties as sort of adequate to the current charges of Ukraine.

KENYON: But for the moment, both Svoboda and right-sector enjoy marginal support in Ukraine despite the relentless efforts of some Russian media to build them up. Peter Kenyon NPR News, Kiev.

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