Messianic Mission

X., a thirty-and-something years old, former student, is the head of Ukraine's most powerful paramilitary nationalist organization: Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNSO). Forbes met with X. in a Kiev monastery. In a quiet voice,he explained the purpose of his organization: "We aspire to the radicalism of the French Revolution."

X. knows his history. When he speaks of the French Revolution, he knows full well how bloody it was, but like the Jacobins of 1793 he seems to believe that bloodshed is therapeutic. "We understand that our mission is a messianic one," he declares. "Our people must be saved!"

At the expense of anyone who gets in the way. X's men have made a name for themselves in a series of street brawls in the cities of Lviv, Simferopil, Yalta and Kiev. President Kuchma tried to have the organization banned. X. continues to organize. His message, archaic though it may sound, has force among young Ukrainian nationalists. Thousands have flocked to UNSO demonstrations or to get combat training in one of the organization's summer camps. Many are former army officers. Others have cut their teeth as mercenaries in the small civil wars that have sprung up on the Romanian frontier or in the Caucasus. In a depressed, seemingly hopeless economy, a lot of these young people feel they have nothing to lose by risking their lives and killing if need be.

X's message is an old one and, though discredited, still potent: racial and cultural purity. "Russia has always expanded by absorbing many different nationalities, and now it has lost its purely Slavic character," he explains. "But Ukraine is a purely Slavic nation."

"The Ukrainians are the only barbarian nation in all of Europe,'' X. adds besides. He means it as a compliment: To be a barbarian is to be vigorous, healthy, optimistic, future-oriented.

Irrational? Rationality doesn't always win. Think Iran. Think Bosnia. Think Chechnya. Think.

Magazine: Forbes

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