UK Says Sorry for Listing Ukrainian Trident as Terrorist Symbol, But Sorry’s Not Enough for Ukraine
21 January, 2020
The Ukrainian trident appears over the dome of the Ukrainian parliament building on October 29, 2015. depositphotos

Extremism is on the rise, according to governments and political scientists around the world. Rising inequality, long-running armed conflict, and geopolitical great games have ratcheted up tensions around the world. But the U.K. – or more specifically, the Counter Terrorism Police – have cast a wide net in their definition of extremism, including in a new guide on recognizing terrorist symbols the Ukrainian coat of arms, the trident, or “tryzub” in Ukrainian. The appearance of the Ukrainian trident in this guide immediately triggered wide-ranging condemnation from the Ukrainian government and citizens.

The Ukranian government has made its displeasure clear regarding the tryzub’s appearance in what is ostensibly a counter-terrorism guide. Following the publishing of a Guardian article that revealed the guide’s existence on January 17, the Ukrainian embassy in London posted a tweet on January 19 calling the tryzub’s inclusion in the guide “beyond outrageous.”

And on January 20, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called for the symbol’s removal, lodging a complaint with the U.K. Foreign Office and U.K. law enforcement bodies. And despite an apologetic statement from the U.K., posted to the Facebook page of the U.K. embassy in Kyiv, the U.K. did not indicate that it would move to remove the tryzub from the guide.

“We are aware of and regret the insult caused by the appearance of the Ukranian tryzub in the visual guide of the British police. As previously stated by the police, this document specifically states that many symbols found in it do not represent a counter-terrorism interest,” says the statement. 

But that apology hasn’t placated the Ukrainians – they did not miss the fact that the British police have not retracted the appearance of the tryzub in the guide.

The tryzub, or trident, a tattoo of which appears in the guide, captioned nationalist, right next to a swastika tattoo, has a long and storied history in Ukrainian culture. First adopted as part of the short-lived Ukraine People’s Republic during Soviet consolidation following the Russian civil war, it was based on the seal of Volodymyr the Great, the ruler of Kyivan Rus in the 10th century. 

An excerpt from the guide, with a tattoo of a tryzub listed alongside a tattoo of a swastika.

Following Ukraine’s annexation by Russian Soviet government, this symbol of Ukrainian peoplehood was replaced by the hammer sickle of the Communist government. This lasted until 1992, after Ukraine’s independence, when Ukraine adopted the tryzub as its coat of arms. It’s served as the national symbol of Ukraine since then, found on government documents, in jewelry, clothing, and many, many other cultural artefacts in modern Ukraine.

For their part, the Terrorism Police justified the tryzub’s inclusion in the guide by saying that “unfortunately, far-right groups have a history of misappropriating national symbols as part of their identity and this is the reason why some national flags and symbols appear in our document,” in a comment to BBC News. 

The document also includes many nonviolent left-wing protest symbols, and includes environmental and other policy activist groups, such as Greenpeace and PETA, alongside extreme right-wing groups like National Action. 

/By Romeo Kokriatski