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    Svoboda: The rise of Ukraine's ultra-nationalists

    Ukraine's ultra-nationalist party, Svoboda, was a shock winner in October's parliamentary election, capturing 10% of the vote and entering the legislature for the first time. How radical is it?
    In the last parliamentary elections five years ago, Svoboda managed only 0.7% of the vote. This time, in addition to expanding its traditional base in the country's Ukrainian-speaking west - it won close to 40% in the Lviv region - Svoboda made inroads into central regions, capturing second place in the capital Kiev.
    Even now, Svoboda's platform calls for passports to specify the holder's ethnicity, and for government positions to be distributed proportionally to ethnic groups, based on their representation in the population at large.

    "We want Ukrainians to run the country," says Bohdan, a participant in a recent Svoboda rally, as he waves a Ukrainian flag and organises cheering and chanting.

    "Seventy percent of the parliament are Jews."

    Some see signs that Svoboda's radical elements are reasserting themselves. Activists recently attacked and sprayed tear gas at a gay rights rally in central Kiev. Ihor Miroshnychenko, meanwhile, used abusive language to describe the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis, who is Jewish, in an online discussion.
    The party itself could also become more mainstream as it conforms to pressure from its political partners. This has happened with other far-right groups in the past, like the Italian Fascist party, which mellowed as it integrated into Italy's conservative camp, experts say.

    "There's a belief that Svoboda will change, once in the Verkhovna Rada, and that they may become proper national democrats," says Andreas Umland, a political science professor at Kiev's Mohyla Academy University.

    But he hesitates to predict how the party's internal tensions will be resolved.

    "We don't know which way Svoboda will go," he says. "It may actually become more radical."

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