World Cup 2018 Gets Political: The Nazi and anti-Russian Roots of 'Glory to Ukraine'

The slogan was originally popularized by two World War II Ukrainian paramilitary organizations, one which was responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Jews, the other, of Polish villagers

Croatia's Domagoj Vida kicks the ball during a training session of Croatian national team at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Moscow, Russia, Friday, July 13, 2018
Darko Bandic/AP

Tonight Croatia will play France in the Football World Cup Final in Moscow. Despite the best efforts of FIFA not to drag politics into the World Cup, it inevitably has been.           

After beating Russia in the quarter-finals, Croatian player, Domagoj Vida, and assistant coach, Ognjen Vukojevic posted a video on Instagram shouting “Glory to Ukraine” (Slava Ukrayini). 

FIFA, citing that this violated their rules and regulations on political impartiality, fined Vukojevic and warned Vida. Vukojovic was promptly fired by the Croatian football federation.

Vida apologized and stated that the statement was apolitical and was merely meant as a joke to their friends at the Ukrainian football team, Dynamo Kyiv. Both Vida and Vukojevic played for the team.

However this just stoked the geopolitical fire, and drew attention to Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine, which Russia has been trying to play down.

Russia has alleged that the chant has ultra-nationalist connotations, whereas the Ukrainians assert that its modern meaning is mainstream and meant as a pro-Ukraine anthem against Russian threats to their sovereignty.

Both are right, and both are wrong, writes Foreign Policy's Lev Golinkin. On the one hand, the slogan originally became popularized by World War II era groups, such as the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). The OUN collaborated with the Nazis and participated in the murder of thousands of Jews and other Ukrainians. The UPA on the other hand fought against both the Nazis and the USSR. However, it also slaughtered 70, 000 Polish villagers.

The slogan found a revival during the 2013-2014 Ukrainian revolution, or the Maidan uprisings. In the face of Russian aggression and annexation of Crimea, the slogan was widely used by many, not just ultra-nationalists. It was a source of pride and a reassertion of national identity. However, as with most symbols, this slogan cannot and is not completely disassociated with its ultranationalist past.