Partisans the world over prefer to see no evil on their own side. Yet even by the rock-bottom standards of modern politics, it’s appalling to watch the trans-Atlantic liberals elide, excuse, and obfuscate the presence of neo-Nazis and other ideological ghastlies among their champs in places like Ukraine and Hungary.
Start with embattled Ukraine. On Monday, print and broadcast media across the Anglosphere led with a 79-year-old Ukrainian great grandmother, Valentyna Konstantynovska, receiving small-arms training in the eastern city of Mariupol in preparation for a potential Russian invasion. The event was seemingly readymade for the media: The silver-haired, wrinkly granny vowed, “I will defend my home, my city, my children.”
In Britain, the Times and the Daily Telegraph plastered Konstantynovska above the fold on their front pages, while the Guardian, the Independent and the Financial Times featured other, equally stirring photos from the same civilian training exercise (a well-manicured woman holding a rifle for the Guardian, a child taught to handle ammo clips for the Independent, a camouflaged militant teaching a crouching young woman to shoot for the FT).
U.S. media couldn’t resist, either. NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel quoted Konstantynovska telling him, “Your mother would do it too.” ABC’s New York affiliate aired footage from the same training session, and there was Konstantynovska, again, giving Vladimir Putin a steely look from behind the muzzle of Kalashnikov. Taxpayer-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty likewise followed the script.
The message: Here are the grannies, little kids, and (attractive) young women manning the front lines of democracy against Russian reaction and revanchism.
What Americans and British reporters didn’t report: The training was offered by the Azov Battalion, which has its base in Mariupol. Our own FBI describes Azov as a “paramilitary unit…known for its association with neo-Nazi ideology and the use of Nazi symbolism” and alleges it “participated in training and radicalizing United States-based white-supremacy organizations.” (Defenders of Azov counter that it’s a regular unit, merely “rooted in a volunteer battalion formed by the leadership of a neo-Nazi group,” as if that’s much better than the FBI account.)
In the ABC segment, you could just see Azov’s SS-inspired insignia on the arm of one of the uniformed men training granny. Otherwise, Anglophone media kept mum. It fell to internet sleuths to point out the connection for Brits and Americans. This, even though outlets on the Continent had no trouble straightforwardly reporting the neo-Nazi link. Euro News, for example, ran the story under the headline: “Ukraine Far-Right Group Offers Training to Civilians.”
After the Twitter outcry, Radio Free Europe unaccountably deleted its granny story (see screen captures below); the other outlets moved on.
Are all Ukrainians gearing up to defend their homeland neo-Nazis and racist reactionaries? Of course not. Even so, as Russia hawkism reaches a fever pitch in Washington and Westminster, it’s instructive to see our media erase any fact that might mar an otherwise simple, moralistic narrative—Brave Liberal Democrats Face Down Kremlin. To insist on the inconvenient facts is tantamount to “amplifying Russian propaganda,” as a GOP Hill staffer accused me of doing recently.
Which brings us to Hungary, where Prime Minister Orbán and his ruling Fidesz party will soon face off in a general election against a self-described coalition of liberals, greens, socialists, and neo-Nazis. Yes, you read that right: In an effort to ensure that Fidesz doesn’t face a divided opposition, the left has formed a united block with Jobbik.
That would be the neo-Nazi “Movement for a Better Hungary,” whose leaders have spat on Holocaust memorials, whose website until recently warned of “Zionist Israel’s efforts to dominate Hungary and the world,” and whose foreign policy chief has called on fellow lawmakers to “tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national-security risk.”
Having twice interviewed Jobbik’s leadership, I can attest that it is one of the most genuinely frightening parties in all of Europe. Yet over the weekend, footage appeared of Péter Márki-Zay, the leader of the opposition bloc and the man who would replace Orbán as premier, campaigning for a Jobbik candidate and acknowledging the membership of “fascists” in his coalition.
Do left- and right-liberal outlets in the United States (and Britain) acknowledge the same fact? Painfully, begrudgingly, if at all. Try searching “Jobbik” on the New York Times website. The most recent hit you’ll get is a transcript of my appearance on the Ezra Klein Podcast, in which I brought up this most inconvenient fact. The next hit is from 2018—before the formation of the united opposition bloc.
Say it, libs: “They may be Nazis, but they’re our Nazis.”