The change in the tenor of Ukraine's Orange Revolution 2.0 came suddenly. After more than a month of peaceful street protests, television screens around the world were abruptly filled with scenes of organized and well-armed hooligans attacking police lines.
Clearly this was a beast of a different temperment than what we have witnessed since November. The difference was as stark as night and day, as though someone had flipped a switch. Who are these extremists who have hijacked the hitherto peaceful protests?
These are the Brownshirts of the extreme right Freedom Party. Historically at the fringe of mainstream anti-Yanukovych activism, the extremists were gifted the stamp of approval by US Senator John McCain in December. The super-annuated cold warrior has never met an anti-Russian sentiment that he does not immediately and unreservedly embrace.
Thus emboldened, the storm troopers of Svoboda unleashed their assault on the state a month later. What has been totally remarkable for the fact that it goes totally uncommented on is the utterly ambiguous response of the Yanukovych administration. These protesters were originally motivated by Yanukovych's snub of the EU. There is no country in the EU that would treat armed thugs in the streets with the benign indifference exhibited by the police in Kiev.
And not just in the EU. Indeed, the spectacle of armed gangs tossing volleys of firebombs at police lines would be unheard of in America. The rioters would be ruthlessly swept from the streets after the first bottle was tossed. In Kiev, Yanukovych seems paralyzed.
The original protests may have been naive. After all, what sort of foolishness is it to be clamoring to join that slowly sinking ship that is the EU today? But they were peaceful and well-intentioned. To have their peaceful protests hijacked by the most extreme of greater Europe's neo-nazi partys is a crime against freedom and a crime against democracy.
Responsible members of Ukraine's opposition will disavow the extremist elements, distance themselves from the anti-semitic thugs fomenting the violence, and commit themselves to making peaceful change in their country.