1. Inside Ukraine’s ideological renewal
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The Cossack House is a vibrant community centre founded in April 2016 by young nationalist activists. It is widely known for being a civil bastion of the radical Azov movement, dedicated to promoting right-wing views and bringing about a rebirth of Ukrainian nationalism.
In Ukraine radical right-wing groups are gaining influence. Their nationalistic worldview divides people into those who are “with us” and those who are “against us”. Within these groups, independent thought is often equated with treason or separatism, and it is often quickly labelled as “Kremlin propaganda”.
There is little room for grey areas, no middle ground, and no nuance. In their fight to win the hearts and minds, radical nationalist organisations in Ukraine have been reaching out to various social groups (especially young people) in order to build a community of patriotically-minded “new Ukrainians”. The Cossack House, run by the Azov movement, notorious for its use of neo-Nazi and SS symbolism, is one example of this phenomenon. Their goals are clear, as one of the leaflets promoting the centre reads: “Tomorrow the world will either belong to us, or to no one. Today you either join us, as you are strong and determined, or you will remain a part of the grey mass forever.”
The ugly child of the EuroMaidan
The Cossack House is a vibrant community centre founded in April 2016, dedicated to popularising right-wing views. It is based on Taras Shevchenko Lane in Kyiv’s historical centre, inside a building that once housed the Cossack Hotel.
The building was taken over by the “little black men”, the young Ukrainian patriots during the Revolution of Dignity. While it legally still belongs to its original owner, since the Euro Maidan it has become a space for squatting by various patriotically-minded organisations and the youth volunteer movement. It has also been used as the main educational base for what later became the Azov regiment. Today, according to AzovPress (Azov regiment’s official public relations voice), the Cossack House is a civil bastion of the wider Azov movement.
A multi-purpose youth complex, the Cossack House seeks to satisfy the needs and interests of the community on virtually every level: it hosts a literature club, a tattoo parlour, a “military zone” shop, an English language club, several sport halls and even an art workshop. It also provides accommodation for members of the Azov Regiment as well as foreign fighters involved in the war on Ukraine’s side. Sponsored by the Azov movement, the centre organises classes in the history of right-wing ideas, mostly provided by PhD candidates associated with the National Corps party (Azov’s political wing) and, on occasion, outside experts. The whole undertaking is co-ordinated by Andriy Biletsky, a soldier and politician and leader of the National Corps.
On an ideological level, the Cossack House was modelled on CasaPound Italia, a neo-fascist Italian movement founded by Gianluca Iannone, which in 2003 took over a six-storey tenement house in Rome and opened up a far-right squat. The place became home to the families of the movement’s members, but also to various social and cultural initiatives, a library, a gym and even a recording studio. But the Cossack House draws inspiration from other European movements, including the French Mouvement d’action sociale, the Swedish Nordisk Ungdom, the Polish Młodzież Wszechpolska and the Lithuanian Lietuvių Tautinio Jaunimo Sąjunga. Like its foreign counterparts, the Cossack House aspires to be the source of an ideological renewal of Ukrainian nationalism.
Neon and flyers
When walking down Shevchenko Street towards the Maidan, you can see the Cossack House on the right hand side, before a McDonald’s. On the façade on both sides of the entrance hang banners with the emblems of the Black Corpus (one of the symbols of the Azovregiment). A styled image of the Wolfsangel – a popular symbol in Nazi Germany – adorns the door, with the overlapping letters “I” and “N” meaning “the idea of a nation” ( Ідея Нації). The door is locked. I press a button at the entry and wait. When the buzz indicates that the door is open, I walk in.
- I go upstairs and I find myself in a dark corridor where the walls are covered in black paint. The only source of light are two impressive LED emblems. To the left there is a symbol of the Wolfsangel, and to the right there is an image with the profile of a Cossack’s face. Next to the front door, I find an inviting coffee table with leaflets.
- I pick up a few and go through them one by one. Some of the flyers are basic agitation brochures, offering unsophisticated populist messages, which usually do not change, no matter who the messenger is. But there are also other ones. I stop and read.
- There is a flyer advertising a patriotic youth camp, “Azovets”, where young Ukrainians are encouraged to spend two weeks with the soldiers of the Azov regiment, in order to familiarise themselves with military materiel in practice and to hear lectures on Ukraine’s history. It mentions a survival tour for even the youngest Ukrainians.
A leaflet prepared by the “Student avant garde” youth union, which seeks to change society and bring order to the streets of Ukraine, encourages young people to take part in survival and tactical medicine classes, as well as political discussions and military training. There are also several booklets of the National Corps. As they explain, contemporary Ukraine inherited the idea that citizens do not have the right to individual protection and are forced to rely on the protection of the state from Soviet propaganda. The solution, they claim, is to legalise private firearms in Ukraine, since “weapons in the hands of the citizens turn people into a nation, and lift the national spirit”.
The last brochure, with a distinct title “Strong family – strong state”, explains: “the demographic situation in the country is catastrophic. The population is aging. The best ones are dying”. The authors of the brochure recommend that the state should materially support young families based on a graded scale of individual merits.
Those individuals who lead an “anti-social” lifestyle – i.e., alcoholics, drug addicts, beggars, the homeless and drug dealers – should be deprived of social benefits. The last line chillingly reads: “A traditional family, and not an individual man, should be identified as the highest social value of the state … because traditional family values, marriage and maternity are the foundations for a healthy national body”.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at :/eu