According to a report released this week by The Soufan Center, Ukraine is “emerging as a hub in the broader network of transnational white supremacy extremism.” But Ukraine, in particular the capital Kyiv, also appears to be emerging as a centre for something else: neo-Nazi concerts.
Over the past year, as a journalist who focuses on the far-right in Ukraine, I have documented and written about several neo-Nazi concerts that have taken place in the Ukrainian capital. While, of course, neo-Nazi concerts take place all over Europe, with some of the largest taking place in Germany, these events in Kyiv are far more open than their counterparts in other countries. Tickets are freely available for sale to the public. They take place at well-known local venues that also host mainstream events. Worse, they continue to take place with little to no attention or scrutiny from government and local media.
These concerts offer far-right extremists from Ukraine and abroad a ticket to recruitment and radicalization, and a means to further promote and spread far-right extremist ideologies; in the words of German neo-Nazi band FLAK (as referenced by CARR Senior Fellow Dr. Bernard Forchtner), “music is the best leaflet.” However, in Ukraine these concerts continue to take place out in the open.
In addition to smaller events (such as, for example, a hardcore show held in the courtyard of the Azov’s movement central Kyiv social centre), there have been three significant open neo-Nazi concerts in Kyiv over the last year.
The most recent of these events took place on September 14, when German band Kategorie C – a German band long known for its connections with the country’s far-right football hooligan scene – headlined a concert in Kyiv. As researcher Thorsten Hindrichs observed, “there’s no doubt (and never was)” that Kategorie C is a neo-Nazi band.
The concert was hosted and promoted by a far-right football hooligan firm, “Rodychi” (roughly translating as “the family” from Ukrainian); back in 2015 members of Rodychi were involved in an assault on black football fans at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium. The Rodychi firm has included members who later rose to prominence within Ukraine’s Azov movement.
Alongside Kategorie C were several Ukrainian neo-Nazi bands, most notably Sokyra Peruna (“Perun’s Axe” in Ukrainian). Sokyra Peruna’s frontman, Arseniy Bilodub (by birth, Klimachev) is a veteran of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi scene. Bilodub was on the party list for the “united nationalist bloc” led by Azov’s National Corps in this summer’s parliamentary elections; he also runs the Svastone far-right fashion label, whose clothes are a common sight at far-right events in Ukraine.
The concert took place at the MonteRay Club, a venue in central Kyiv, a short walk from the city’s main square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). It is a concert hall with a capacity of up to 600 people. Instagram video and photos from the concert show countless Nazi salutes and, at one point, a flag with a Celtic cross held aloft on stage. This concert, however, was hardly secret; weeks ahead of time, tickets were available for public sale and the venue was publicly known.
Moving back in time to June 2019, the “Fortress Europe” concert that took place in Kyiv was even less secret. As I wrote about at the time for Haaretz, this concert took place on the anniversary of the date Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Fortress Europe was the creation of Sokrya Peruna’s Bilodub – whose band headlined the concert – and featured several neo-Nazi bands, including American band Blue Eyed Devils, whose former guitar player murdered six people in a 2012 hate crime at a Wisconsin, USA Sikh temple.
As CARR Doctoral Fellow Bethan Johnson told me at the time, she saw a “huge difference” between the way Fortress Europe was organized versus what she has observed for similar events across Europe, especially Germany. Fortress Europe was announced more than five months ahead of time, with ticket sales open, the venue (Bingo Club) known well in advance and even with a phone number listed on the website to call with questions – an openness not normally seen with similar neo-Nazi events across Europe.
The most significant neo-Nazi concert event, however, took place last December – and is scheduled again for December 2019. The Asgardsrei festival, hosted in the same Bingo Club venue as Fortress Europe, is organized by figures within Ukraine’s Azov movement, including Alexey Levkin, a notorious Kyiv-based Russian neo-Nazi who I wrote about for investigative journalism site, Bellingcat.
Asgardsrei draws devotees of National Socialist black metal (NSBM) from across Europe. December 2018’s iteration also featured neo-Nazi bands from across Europe, including Goatmoon, Levkin’s own M8l8th, and Der Stürmer, a Greek band notorious for openly neo-Nazi songs like “Piles of Pigheads in the Synagogue.” The concert earned a complimentary review on American white supremacist Greg Johnson’s Counter-Current’s website, who himself attended an Azov conference in Kyiv in 2018.
But Asgardsrei, and these other open neo-Nazi concerts, are hardly just about the tunes. Just a few days before last year’s Asgardsrei in 2018, the international secretary of Azov’s political wing, Olena Semenyaka, told me in an interview just how important this event was for their movement.
“It of course helps us to develop and build up our international fanbase, our support base,” Semenyaka told me, adding that they held a short far-right conference and discussion before the concert. “Members of [international] political organizations attend this conference and attend this festival.”
Tickets for this year’s Asgardsrei, scheduled for December 2019, first went on sale in August. While the lineup for this year’s Asgardsrei has not yet been announced (despite promises they would do so in June), the organizers have nonetheless promised that “this year’s lineup is going to be legendary.” Whether this latest neo-Nazi concert in the Ukrainian capital elicits much – if any scrutiny – from government and local media remains to be seen.
Mr Michael Colborne is Policy and Practitioner Fellow at CARR and a freelance journalist with by-lines for Haaretz, Bellingcat and Foreign Policy magazine. His profile can be found here:
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