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7 Jul, 2023 13:10

Why has a prestigious US university decided to host Ukrainian neo-Nazis' latest rebranding effort?

Ultra far-right Azov members were welcomed on campus grounds at a time when even mild US conservatives have been heckled and banished
Why has a prestigious US university decided to host Ukrainian neo-Nazis' latest rebranding effort?

“The Ongoing fight for freedom: defenders of Mariupol return to Stanford,” read the flier advertising an event on the California university campus. Hosted by the Department of Slavic Languages and co-organized by Stanford’s Ukrainian Student Association, the June 29th event featured an Azov commander and the wives of two other battalion members.

Previous speakers at Stanford university who were regarded as controversial have faced considerable disruption, but somehow Azov got a free pass. You’d think that a glance at the logos at the bottom of the flier would have raised eyebrows at the prestigious American university, if only because the Azov insignia makes its Nazi origins obvious. 

Canadian military officers who had been involved in Western training and equipping of Azov fighters going back years, prior to the current conflict with Russia, had expressed concern with tattoos that they had spotted on their Ukrainian trainees. But instead of slowly backing out of the room, the West forged ahead while hoping that its enabling of neo-Nazis wouldn’t catch the attention of the press, as the Ottawa Citizen has reported. The Canadian military was particularly concerned that the trainers’ photos with the Azov fighters would appear in public. But apparently Stanford senior fellow Francis Fukuyama, and author of the infamous 'End of History' had no such issue, appearing for a photo that was later posted online by one of the Azov wives.

You really have to wonder what’s going on here. Particularly when Stanford students are known for protesting campus engagements featuring even mild right-wingers. US Fifth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Kyle Duncan, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, was actively heckled by students earlier this year, citing his positions on civil rights. The school’s associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion even indulged students’ concerns in real time, but apparently didn't need to do so with the Azov visit.

Stanford College Republicans couldn’t even get any basic speaker funding for Trump’s former VP Mike Pence’s visit. Meanwhile, the school’s Undergraduate Senate denounced an event with Conservative political commentator Matt Walsh, citing “an unsafe environment on campus” his mere presence might create.

It’s common enough for elite US colleges to even cancel appearances by conservative speakers, citing security concerns. But nothing of the sort happened with Azov, even though the group’s ideology is far more radical than any of the far-right campus speakers to-date. A TIME magazine article published in 2021 detailed how Azov, which it described as a “white supremacist militia,” leveraged social networks to “radicalize and train new members.” It featured a photo of fighters in combat attire, captioned “Recruits training in August 2019 with the military wing of Ukraine’s far-right Azov movement, which has inspired white supremacists from around the world.”

Even more hilarious – or disturbing, Stanford University’s own Center for International Security and Cooperation, with which Fukuyama served as a fellow, blatantly describes Azov as “a far-right nationalist network of military, paramilitary, and political organizations based in Ukraine.” According to this Stanford profile, “During the Battle for Mariupol, the group came to attention for its neo-Nazi iconography on the battlefield. Specifically, the battalion patch, which featured an inverted Wolfsangel symbol superimposed on a Black Sun. The Wolsfangel is a historical symbol of independence that was later co-opted by the German Nazi Party.” Guess all those people who fail to see this insignia as freedom symbols rather than the blatant Nazi association are just ignorant, right?

All this really proves is that, throughout history, extremists are easily and conveniently rebranded as “freedom fighters” by the establishment the minute they can be used and exploited as proxies against a geopolitical foe. It’s the same kind of whitewashing the mainstream media has been engaged in since the onset of the Ukraine conflict. “A far-right battalion has a key role in Ukraine's resistance. Its neo-Nazi history has been exploited by Putin,” read a CNN headline in March 2022.

Ah yes, more talk of “resistance fighters” and their victimization at the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin who keeps pointing out their neo-Nazi history at a time when the West is hoping that everyone forgets. Perhaps, it is only because this neo-Nazism actually gives credence to a major part of Putin’s justification for his special operation in Ukraine: denazification. The other items include the neutralization of all the Western weapons provided to them on Russia’s border and the protection of civilians in Ukraine’s former eastern regions from Kiev’s constant aggression since 2014. 

Stanford even acknowledges Azov’s first known “violent attack” as being traced to “April 2014 when it clashed with Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk.” Maybe they were just clashing with Russophones and ethnic Russians on the border of Russia in Ukraine? Perhaps these “separatists” were people who were trying to protect themselves from the kind of ethnic cleansing that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky now just happens to be implementing as a matter of official policy by overtly and systematically wiping Russian culture and religion off the country’s map. Did anyone at Stanford even bring that up?

Look, it’s certainly the job of universities to provoke debate and discussion. I still remember getting into heated arguments with a convicted murderer who was brought into my graduate level criminology class to discuss his ‘beefs’ with the justice system. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here with Azov. Instead, there seems to be a rebranding effort afoot that omits or minimizes much of the inconvenient reality of the group’s ideology and history. If Stanford or other universities really were interested in doing justice to free speech in pursuit of the truth, they'd at least go out of their way to facilitate contradictory debate rather than the rewriting of history for political propaganda purposes in service of the establishment status quo.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.