Anti-Semitism in Ukraine
Author of this article - Vladimir Matveyev, an American journalist (born in USSR).
Recently he visited Ukraine and wrote a commentary to situation in the country in as-pect of inter-national relations.
Several American newspapers rejected the article – maybe, because it didn’t answer to the redaction politics, which is mostly favorable to Ukraine now.
So Mr. Matveyev proposed the article to our site.
The Holocaust and several waves of Jewish emigration from Western Ukraine have left many once numerous communities virtually without Jews but not without xenophobia and hatred.
«In spite of a small group of Jews in the region, xenophobia is on the rise and anti-Semitism is at «stable» high level», said Boris Komsky, Jewish activist and editor of Lvov Jewish publication «Shofar».
On the eve of WWII Jewish population estimated hundreds thousands Jews in Galicia but only hundreds survived in the Holocaust organized by Nazi and local collaborators.
After the war Jews from different regions returned slowly to Western Ukraine and mostly supported Soviet power. Anti-Soviet sentiments are still strong in this part of the coun-try and thus Jews are still not wholly accepted. «The region was and still is totally anti-Bolshevik», said Boris Dorfman, a prominent Jewish activist from Lvov.
«There is a traditional Judeo-phobia in Western Ukraine because many Jews were in power and/or served with the KGB during the Soviet period, and they persecuted the local populace. This built up hatred towards the Jews and the term «Judeo-Bolshevizm» - which continues to be used today, was coined», said Maxim Martyn, curator of Judaica Department in Lvov Museum on Religion».
Elderly Jews remember how, during and after WWII, some Ukrainians took revenge on Russians and Jews for their alleged or actual role in brining communism to Western Ukraine. «The roots of Galicia anti-Semitism lies partly in identification of Jews and Bolshe-viks, who, they consider, destroyed their statehood» said Aleksandr Nayman, scientific secre-tary of Ukrainian Academy of Jewish History & Culture in Kiev. «And they transfer this from generation to generation».
The divide between western and eastern Ukraine still is still a significant problem. Western Ukraine has no industrial infrastructure and many people traditionally work in other regions and abroad, in Italy, Portugal, Russia, the USA, for example, while the Eastern region is industrially highly developed.
«These regions have different lifestyles and have different types of culture, including their work culture; many western Ukrainians make money abroad», said Aleksandr Pashaver, economic expert. «Western Ukraine is the most backward part of Europe while eastern Ukraine is Euro-Asia, but economically the most highly developed region, with an industrial type of thinking».
Western Ukraine has close historical ties with Europe, particularly Poland. Ukrainian ultra-nationalist sentiment is traditionally strongest in the westernmost parts of the country which became part of Ukraine only when the Soviet Union expanded after World War II.
Important roles in the formation of the Ukrainian mentality were played by the «ur-ban» character of Eastern and «peasant» mentality of Western Ukrainians», said Vladimir Malinkovich, a political expert.
Today Jewish life in the area seems rather calm and Jewish communities estimated only 500-700 mostly elderly Jews in Lvov, Ivano-Frankovsk and Rovno. Only about 10-15 Jews regularly attend synagogues or prayer houses.
Jewish activists say that local authorities «neither support no prevent our activities», said Mikhail Yuris, Jewish activist and businessman from Ivano-Frankovsk.
«Our Hasidic city community can develop, and I personally have no problems with my business», said Rafail from Lvov shul. Yuris echoes him, adding: «From my own experi-ence I know that some local officials ask us for a larger bribe».
But Jewish activists and experts say that the unstable and difficult economic situation, including unemployment and corruption, are grounds for the continuing xenophobia and anti-Semitism in the region.
During WWII several Greek Catholic (and Roman Catholic Churches as well), which continue dominate in the area, helped Jews to survive. But many Greek Catholic priests blessed the Nazis and collaborators for their struggle against Bolsheviks and Poles.
«At the same time, most of the clerics tried to convert Jews to Christianity. That is why it is so difficult today to find those children who survived thanks to Cardinal Sheptiztky and were probably converted», said Nayman.
Some Jews consider expansion of Christianity also increases some manifestations of «village anti-Semitism». «When I greet Ukrainian Greek Catholic in villages «Good after-noon», they answer «Glory to Jesus!» said Boris Dorfman, Jewish activist from Lvov. «Local don’t like Jews and say that «Jews crucify Jesus Christ», said Yuris. Ukrainian engineer from a neighboring village, who came to Ivano-Frankovsk to work, agrees: «I have no any personal attitude towards Jews, but our village doesn’t like Jews because «Jews crucify Christ».
There are other manifestations of religious xenophobia. «During the last Pesah we proposed to our Orthodox Christian friends to taste matza but they refused saying that «it con-tains infant blood», said Irina Gutnik, a Jewish activist from Rovno.
Anti-Semitism is stimulating by MAUP and ultra-nationalist political parties. Such ul-tra-nationalistic parties like the Ukrainian Conservative party, Svoboda and Kostenko-Plyusch Ukrainian People’s Party won 1 percent, 0,4 percent and 1,9 percent of the votes during par-liamentary elections in 2006. Svoboda and Ukraine people’s Party received the most votes in the western region and the most places at the regional councils.
«Jewish-Ukrainian relations are bad because such politicians like Oleg Tygnibok are rather influential in the region», said professor Yakov Khonigsman, Jewish historian from Lvov.
Tyagnibok, MP from the Lvov oblast, and leader of the political party Svoboda was expelled in 2004 from the parliamentary faction Our Ukraine, after he addressed a meeting at the grave of the Ukrainian Rebellious Army Commander in the Ivano-Frankovsk region using anti-Semitic slogans.
Tyagnibok denies his anti-Semitism. «I personally have nothing against common Jews and even have Jewish friends but rather against a group of Jewish oligarchs who control Ukraine and against Jews-Bolsheviks (in the past)», he said to JTA in an interview in Lvov.
But at the meetings in Lvov and Ivano-Frankovsk, he openly stated that «Kikes and the Russian Mafia», - who now rules Ukraine», are to blame for Ukraine’s problems.
Some Jewish historians in the region were recently threatened. «Some people have asked me not to debate such issues because I could be murdered like professor Vitaliy Maslovsky, author of the book «The Tragedy of Galicia Jewry». Maslovsky was killed in a doorway of his building in Lvov in 1999 and police have no found the murderer. «I am afraid», professor Khonigsman admitted to JTA.
Nayman joins him in his concern: «It is impossible to publish serious book on Ukrain-ian-Jewish relations during WWII and about pogroms in Western Ukraine. Local people will try to conceal the truth».
Meanwhile others consider that one of the main reason for anti-Semitism is the Rus-sian language and the cultural orientation of most Jews. «The political party «Svoboda», headed by Tyagnibok, supports Ukraine for Ukrainians because they consider that Jews pro-mote the Russian language and culture in Western Ukraine», said Dorfman.
Whereas there are language and cultural differences between Western and Eastern Ukrainians, such evident differences between Jews are absent. Galicia Jews who spoke Yid-dish and Polish were killed in the Holocaust and most Jews all over Ukraine today speak mostly Russian v the Jewish language has been lost.
«There are no Galicia Jews. After WW II Jews from Moldova, the Baltic countries, Central Asia and other regions of the former USSR came here instead of them», said Dorfman. «Ukrainian Jews have lost their Jewish language and speak Russian and publish newspapers mainly n Russian». Rabbi Yakov Dov Bkleich, one of the Chief Rabbis of Ukraine, agreed: «There is no significant difference between Jews in Western and Eastern Ukraine v they all speak mostly Russian».
Many Jews say xenophobia during Yuschenko’s reign is on the rise including stable anti-Semitism because people got more freedoms and also poverty. Anti-Semite violence ex-pressed in attacks on Jews and Jewish community facilities and desecration of synagogues and Jewish graves. «The number of collaborators was very high and many local community members continue threatening us today. When they see religious Jews they say: «Look, Kikes are coming!» and ask us «What are you still doing here?» said Mordekhale Yerusalimsky, ac-tivist of Ivano-Frankovsk community, adding that some Ukrainians periodically try to attack religious Jews, saying they want the Jews out.
«All Jewish monuments in Lvov have been vandalized and there are many anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas on the walls» said Rudolf Mirsky, Holocaust researcher from Lvov.
«I see hatred of local citizens towards Jews», said JTA correspondent Ada Dianova, Director of Lvov Hesed Arie. «Neighbors of our Hesed asked our children not to visit the ter-ritory of their yard, because they didn’t want to see them, and a fence was built». «They hate us only because we are Jews».
Jewish activists divide their opinions concerning the level of manifestations of anti-Semitism in different regions of modern Ukraine, primarily because there are no exact statis-tics. «All such kind of differences between Ukraine’s regions are in the past and the most in-fluential center of anti-Semitism in the country is MAUP, with the branches in all regions of Ukraine», said Josef Zissels, leader of Vaad in Ukraine and a Yuschenko supporter.
Others disagree. «Such ultra-nationalistic organizations like UNA-URA have support-ers only in Western Ukraine. Many streets in lvov, Ivano-Frankovsk, Rovno and Ternopol renamed to honor famous Ukrainian nationalists, such as Shuhevich, Bandera, Galichina divi-sion only there», Nayman said.
«The reasons are specific mentality of local people and influence of modern Polish anti-Semitism», said Nayman.
Ultra-nationalist publications in Western Ukraine «Za Vilnu Ukrainu plus», «Idealist», «Svoboda» and «Volyn» publish anti-Semitic articles. Several famous Ukrainian singers, dur-ing their concerts, have also contributed to the spread of xenophobia. The most popular slogan is: Ukraine for Ukrainians!» Statement like this was made by Taras Petrynenko, a popular singer, at the concert in Ivano-Frankovsk in last December.
At the site of the Lvov’s Lychakivske cemetery great memorials and monuments have been erected, all devoted to SS Galichina division, Ukrainian Galytska Army, URA and other combat units who also killed Jews and Russians up until 1953.
Many Jews are nervous after the Ukrainian president recently signed a decree calling for a law recognizing Ukrainians who fought alongside the Nazis.
The Jewish community has also become anxious about the Ivano-Frankovsk decision to grant members of the SS Galichina division rights equal to those of Soviet Army veterans, as well as recent request to the president to bestow the rank of «Hero of Ukraine» to General Roman Sukhevich, commander-in-chief of the UPA from 1943 to 1950 and battalion Nachti-gal. «These alarmed Jewish community very much because he was Nachtigal officer and was awarded by Nazi», said Yakov Berezin from Ivano-Frankovsk shul.
Many elderly Jews believe that life under Soviet power and in Eastern Ukraine was better for Jews, young Jews believe for democracy, life in Western Ukraine would give them more European and democratic opportunities.
Meanwhile young Jews today don’t seem to be afraid living in the former Galicia, but they also prefer not to advertise the fact that they are Jews. «I like life in European style Lvov and I’m not afraid to be a Jew here», said Mikhail, 25, and added that he doesn’t wear kipa in Lvov’s streets.
«I feel pretty good in Lvov but I communicate mostly with Jews from the Sochnut club», said Aleksandr Nazar, 22, from Lvov Sochnut youth club. «But I also do not flaunt that I’m Jew because many Ukrainians have a bad attitude towards Jews and when they don’t know that I’m Jewish, they denigrate». «We are eye-witnesses to mass propaganda of xeno-phobia and anti-Semitism at meetings and media, which is all propvoked by some officials», «In the city I’m okay. But I also feel a specific attitude from local Ukrainians: not aggressive but not friendly», said Maxim Markus, 22, a member of Ivano-Frankovsk Jewish community.
«I see more tolerance in Eastern Ukraine and in Rovno, more hatred. Many people tra-ditionally are less open and more intolerant here», said Yefim Barbaumov, 86, a musician and citizen of Rovno.
«I can’t find any really serious threat of anti-Semitism at the state level today but some regional interethnic and interfaith conflicts still exist and some of them were provoked by officials, like Vasyliy Chervoniy, former governor of Rovno region (in 2005-2006)», said Nayman.
In spring 2006 Ukrainian rabbis called on authorities to ensure the safety of the coun-try-s Jews and to adopt legislation against anti-Semitism. «Unfortunately we do not see any adequate or unequivocal response toward manifestations of xenophobia from the Ukrainian authorities», said JTA rabbi Azriel Chaikin, Chief rabbi Of Ukraine. «And this worries the Jewish community most of all».
The solution to xenophobia and anti-Semitism lies in economic improvement, adop-tion legislation against anti-Semitism and correct ethnic and cultural policies in the country of 47 million, which includes representatives of many ethnic and religious groups.
Most experts believe that the best soluiton to support tolerance and unity is the forma-tion of an ethnic cultural or multicultural civic state.
«Ukrainian politicians and officials should take into account the specifics of the re-gions, languages and cultural differences, and the rights of all citizens of Ukraine to unite the people», Malinkovich said.