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The Men Who Monitored Ukraine's Rebel 'Elections'

VICE News brings you the lowdown on some of the motley crew who illegally crossed the border from Russia for the ever first presidential and parliamentary votes in the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk 'People's Republics.'

by Harriet Salem
Nov 6 2014, 11:10am

Image via Reuters

What unites a Hungarian neo-Nazi, a Bulgarian nationalist and the American lawyer of an evangelical Russian author? Well, obviously, a rebel election in east Ukraine. VICE News brings you the lowdown on some of the wackier members of this motley crew who illegally crossed the border from Russia into the rebel-held territory to "monitor" the ever first presidential and parliamentary votes in the breakaway "People's Republics."

Ewald Stadler

A former member of the European Parliament (MEP) and career politician, Ewald Stadler, born 1961, joined the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) in the early 1990s. In 2008 he joined the Alliance for the Future of Austria, a splinter of the FPO, but was expelled in 2013 for criticizing the party's campaign platform.

Ewald Stadler speaks in the Austrian parliament in 2009

Founded in post-World War II Austria, the FPO's first leader was a former Nazi minister of agriculture and SS officer, Anton Reinthaller. The party went through several ideological incarnations but during the period of Stadler's membership it was considered Austrian nationalist, anti-immigration, anti-Islam and Eurosceptic in orientation. In 1999, after the party was incorporated in a governing coalition, the European Union introduced sanctions against Austria stating that the FPO's inclusion "legitimized the extreme right in Europe."

In 2006 Stadler delivered a long tirade in Austria's parliament against Turkish immigrants. In the speech he railed against the "illiterates of Anatolia" criticized "romantic tolerance of religious freedom" and suggested that Turks should get "on the Orient Express and go back to Istanbul." A video of the rant was posted on the US white supremacist website "Stormfront" where it received praise from the group's supporters.

The night before the rebel-held "election" in Donetsk, Stadler spoke at a bizarre press conference for a make-believe organization he called the "Association of Security and Cooperation in Europe" (ASCE). Asked by journalists where the ASCE was registered, Stadler admitted: "It does not yet officially exist, but I do. I definitely exist because I am here… and I will be monitoring the election".

The now-retired Austrian politician criticized western reporting of the Ukraine crisis as "fantasy" and "hysterical" and said that countries should join the ASCE in protest against the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, which he insisted was "following the policy of the US" and had "strayed from its central competency" in its decision not to act as an observer during Sunday's votes in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics.

Stadler also acted as a "monitor" during an illegal referendum in Crimea earlier this year.

Frank Abernati

American businessman Frank Abernati is the legal councillor of the Spiritual Diplomacy Fund that is purported to try and "resolve conflicts between nations and within state borders by relying on the peoples' spiritual values."

The president of the Spiritual Diplomacy Fund, Mikhail Morgulis, is a Russian writer, Christian theologian and a born again evangelist. In 1982 he moved from the Soviet Union to Chicago, where he set up the Slavic Gospel Press which printed more than 100 works in Russian, including the Bible. His autobiographical novel Russia: Between Cross and Sword details his Communist childhood, how he defied the KGB and once led the last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in prayer.

Both Abernati and Morgulis have reportedly met with the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, on several occasions. In a blog post Morgulis describes the man known as the "last dictator in Europe" as "bright straight and talented in his ability to accurately express thoughts." Morgulis also claims to have to met the former prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, and to have prayed both in front of the Knesset and Palestinian leaders.

The Ukrainian service of the Voice of America (VoA) reported Abernati paid the sum of $11,500 for an article, identified as paid advertising, to appear in the Washington Times in July 2013. The article in question detailed pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych's meeting with Native Americans in Ukraine; photos show that Morgulis was also present at the event. VoA also reported that Abernati believes most US coverage of Ukraine is negative and that he has opposed economic sanctions on the eastern European country.

In a column for the US-Ukraine Observer during Yanukovych's rule. Morgulis wrote that "Ukraine is headed by a decent man with good heart." In contrast he called Yulia Tymoshenko — imprisoned by Yanukovych on charges deemed by the West to be politically motivated — "a sinner."

According to his LinkedIn page, Abernati studied history, political science and economics at Brown University before graduating from Columbia School of Law. Since 2007 he has owned a company called EFS Investment Partners LLC specializing in management of privately held funds, real estate and construction.

Frank Creyelman

A Belgian Flemish nationalist politician, Frank Creyelman has served in the Flemish parliament and senate since 1995. He was a member of the extreme-right party Vlaams Blok (VB) until a Belgium court banned it in 2004 for promoting racism and xenophobia. In the final ruling the Ghent Court of Appeal concluded the party: "Treats foreigners as criminals, evildoers, profiteers, inassimilable fanatics and a threat to their own people."

Shortly after the ruling the VB's leadership announced: "We will change our name but not our stripes." Crelyman joined the rebranded version of the party, Vlaams Belang, which appeared back on the political scene with most the same faces just a few months after its original formulation was outlawed.

Sunday's rebel-held vote was not the first time Creyelman has overseen a controversial election. In March the Belgian politician observed the referendum in Crimea,  held less than a month before the southern peninsula was illegally annexed by Russia in March. According to a Channel 4 report, Creylman got so drunk the night before he couldn't stand up straight. Nonetheless he was still able to declare the vote a success the next day. "The elections were transparent and well-organized. The elections were conducted to the highest European level… I want to stress that Belgium has much to learn from Russia," he reportedly declared.

Jean-Luc Schaffhauser

French far right politician Jean-Luc Schaffhauser is a member of Blue Marine Rally, an umbrella political group joining Marine Le Pen's Front National (FN) with a number of other radical right wing fringe parties.

Schaffhauser embracing Front National leader Marine Le Pen in March while standing as the party's candidate for mayor of Strasbourg

Schaffhauser has called for an end to state funding of community organizations supporting immigrants from Algeria, Cameroon and Morocco, stating: "We help Africans in Africa." He has also been a vocal opponent of gay marriage and has spoken out against the building of mosques, claiming the "projects (are) supported by terrorist states, Turkey, Qatar (and) Saudi Arabia. When it comes to applying the Qur'an, which says to kill Christians, I cannot accept it! We also, like them we have the right to live!"

The politician, who previously lived in both Russia and Poland, was elected on a FN list as an MEP in 2014, after failing in his bid as the party's candidate for mayor of Strasbourg. According to French newspaper Le Monde, the adviser to the FN 's leader, Aymeric Chauprade, met with Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev and Ukrainian separatist leader Alexander Purgin, in a top-secret meeting in Vienna back in May. Alongside other far left and right wing European politicians, Chauprade reportedly discussed with the Russian nationalists ways to halt "European liberalism and homosexuality."

Marton Gyongyosi

In 2012 far-right Hungarian politician, Marton Gyongyosi, stirred up controversy when he echoed policies implemented in his country under Nazi occupation by calling on the government to draw up a list of Jews that he claimed "posed a national security threat." The comments, which Gyongyosi later said was a reaction to Hungary's position in the Israel-Palestine conflict, triggered outrage in country where some 430,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis with the support of local officials and police.

A defaced photo of Marton Gyongyosi at an anti-Nazism rally in Budapest in 2012

Since 2006 Gyongyosi has been an active member of Jobbik, a radical nationalist party that denies being a neo-Nazi organization despite its anti-Semitic, anti-Roma and homophobic policies. Supporters of the group, which is also Eurosceptical in orientation, have been filmed making "Sieg Heil" salutes at rallies. In 2010 Gyongyosi became a member of parliament and in 2014 was appointed the deputy leader of the party's parliamentary faction. Jobbik have moved out of the fringe in Hungarian politics in recent years, jumping from a 2.2 percent share of the vote in 2002 parliamentary elections to 20.3 percent in 2014.

At a rally protesting the hosting of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest Gyongyosi told gathered supporters that "Hungary is under Zionist occupation". At the same protest Jobbik's leader, Gabor Vona, told the crowd: "We are special here in Europe not just because we are the anti-Semitic nation but because even if all of Europe is at their (Jews) feet, even if all of Europe licks their feet, we will not do it even then".

Gyongyosi, a 35-year-old son of a diplomat grew up mostly in the Middle East and Asia — Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and India — and has been vocal in his support of the Palestinian people, often wearing the black and white keffiyeh for public appearances.

Speaking to Kremlin news agency TASS — Russia's central government news agency — Gyongyosi said the vote in the Donetsk People's Republic, held without proper electoral roles and under armed guard, was "well organized and met international standards."After the rebel-held vote, a statement released by Jobbik said: "Kiev has violated the fundamental rules of democracy by waging a war on its own citizens. Thus the Russian minority's demand to elect a leadership… can be considered rightful and justified."

Magdalena Tasheva

A member of parliament for the Bulgarian ultranationalist party Ataka, Magdalena Tasheva is also the editor of the party's newspaper, Vestnik Ataka, and has printed numerous articles calling Muslim refugees in the country - mainly Syrians - "cannibals" and "Islamic fundamentalists."

The far-right politician previously hosted a television show "In the Eye of the Storm" on Alfa — an Ataka operated channel that calls itself the "television of truth." Speaking on the program Tasheva labelled immigrants "terrorist scum" and compared refugees to savages and monkeys.

Formed in 2005 by Volen Siderov, the party is known for its shrill racist and xenophobic rhetoric. It has called the European Union anti-Bulgarian and accuses the Turkish government of a secret plot to recolonize the Balkans. The party also demands the return of the ethnic majority Bulgarian regions in Serbia, Dimitrovgrad and Bosilegrad.

Ataka has strong ties with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and has been vocal in its support of Russia. In an interview with the BBC in May Tasheva accused Brussels of Russophobia and praised Vladimir Putin for restoring "the dignity of the Russian people." Underscoring the point the party made a bizarre decision to begin its European parliamentary campaign in Moscow, even though Russians cannot vote in the election.

The party's leader, Siderov, reportedly personally gifted Putin an Ataka badge, plaque of the parliament and a copy of his book Fundamental Bulgarianism for his 60th birthday.

Ukraine's Separatist Rebel Republics Hold First Election. Read more here

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @harrietsalem