They came back. The marchers. We could hear the rhythm of their call-and-response commotion just after 7:15 this evening. We opened the windows to look out onto the street. Zachary took photographs.
If it weren’t for the words coming out of the bullhorn and the crowd’s enthusiastic repetition, it would have seemed a happy occasion. Men parading down the street in their sirotchky, those embroidered shirts that many people around here wear for festive national and religious occasions. Indeed, you might remember we bought the boys sirotchky for their first day of school in September. (They will wear them on their last day of school in May, and they have worn them to church in between—notably on Easter and Christmas.)
Earlier today, I wondered what holiday people were celebrating. Zachary and I were traveling back from the airport after seeing off Bill and his mother, and we noticed a number of men on the bus wearing their festive shirts. How nice they looked! As one man and then another would climb aboard, they would shake hands and smile and chat animatedly. Everyone got off the bus happily near the center of town. I did not realize that the good humor was anything but benign.
Those men must have been among the noisy crowd that were coming down Doroshenka Street. As we leaned out of our windows, we could see young girls leading the way. Then came street-wide banners that I could not read. But in front of one of the banners, a young girl dressed in white dress and wearing flowers in her hair seemed to be the ceremonial leader. An example of young and perfect womanhood, so important to racial purists like Aryans and Nazis, neo- or not. Three or four hundred marchers followed her, mostly men. This march was not as scary as the march Jan 29 when marchers braved a frigid night to carry torches through the dark. But it certainly drew our attention.
The January march brought out twice as many participants. I marveled that so many more people would come out in such freezing temperatures than I had seen on the night of the first march I witnessed in September. Then I realized that marching in the dark could be anonymous. Especially in a balaclava.
Tonight I could see their faces.
The fellow with the bullhorn was wearing his sirotchke over khaki cargo shorts. He dodged Saturday evening pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk beneath my window as he rode the wave of common purpose down the street. His head was shaved on both sides and the long hair that remained was slicked back into the distinctive Cossack ponytail. (I wondered what the SS would have thought about that.)
“Slava Ukraina!” he bellowed. Glory to Ukraine!
“Slava Ukraina!” the crowd replied huskily.
“Slava Natsi!” Glory to the nation.
Maybe I should spell it the way they meant it. Slava Nazi.
In Zachary’s photos, you can see black and red flags: communist or anarchist. In fact, the black and red combination recalls the communist party in Soviet times. I learned as much this past week on my trip to Crimea. The ribbon of the communist party is appearing on election billboards and posters all over Crimea together with messages that recall the Soviet “good times” and the ruling Party of Regions. Similar posters appear all over Odessa. You can see the red and black striped ribbon, sort of faded but still recognizable, in the top right-hand corner of the poster below, peeking out of the shade above the red stripe. The picture shows a legendary church near the train station where icons miraculously reappeared on the walls s many times as unbelievers tried to erase them. It says in Russian, “Odessa: This is not just a city. It is God’s smile.” Maybe the new boss will be more god-fearing than the old boss, but still — remember the good old days? (Brought to you by the communist party.)
In the photo below, see the black flags with the single-hook cross or wolfsangel on them? The single-hook cross looks like a Z with an additional horizontal line slashed across the middle, and then turned on its side. The single-hook cross waved by these marchers evokes the double-hook cross, which we know better as the swastika. The swastika was adopted by the National Socialist German Workers Party in 1920, and we all know that what followed in the next 25 years ruined centuries of positive spiritual meanings the symbol had communicated for cultures around the world. These days, the swastika is illegal in many countries in Europe, leading neo-Nazis to adopt other symbols around which to rally. Other symbols such as the single-hook cross or wolfsangel.
These days, the wolfsangel is used by white supremacists. It is also used by Satanists. Hmmm.
Perhaps both groups refer to Hermann Lon’s (1910) book Der Wehrwolf. It does not seem so strange, then, that the werewolves on HBO’s series True Blood are tattooed with this very symbol. In fact, one of the episodes referred to the historical Nazi initiative Operation Werewolf, an end-of-the-war effort visually branded by the wolfsangel.
The blue shield carried by many people in the center of the marching group looks like a version of the Middle Ages coat-of-arms of the Principality and Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia. If lots of things had things had turned out differently, I might be spending the year in Galicia right now instead of Ukraine. L’viv was an important Galician center. Through political maneuverings and other the stuff of history, the area of Galicia morphed into part of the Austrio-Hungarian empire, to which it belonged until the First World War. The blue shields seems to speak of that time of pseudo-independence; however, the shield is a more recent emblem, that of the Ukrainians who joined the Nazis to fight the Soviets: the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Galizien (1st Ukrainian). Even though loyalties and actions during the period of the Second World War were tremendously complicated, the message expressed by the shields carried down my street tonight is not: “We are Ukrainian, and we are Nationalists in the Nazi tradition,” they say. This must be a worry for Euro 2012 organizers.
The burst of fireworks that began a minute ago is a bit disconcerting. While I don’t think tonight’s march has led to a revolution quite yet, this is the third march we have witnessed from our apartment window. It reminds me that Ukraine’s politics are tremendously complicated. And that independence and democracy need special care and feeding if they are to flourish.