Anti-Semitism in Ukraine today
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                  Anti-Semitism in Ukraine today

                  Josef Zissels

                  Anti-Semitism in Ukraine today

                  10.11.2014, Xenophobia and anti-Semitism

                  The active surveillance, monitoring, and analysis of anti-Semitic manifestations in Ukraine over the last 25 years allows us to elucidate important tendencies in the dynamic of how this particular brand of xenophobia manifests itself.

                  First of all, it must be noted that, as in other Eastern European countries, Ukraine lacks two important factors which define the current significant manifestations of anti-Semitism in Western Europe. These are the radical wing of the Muslim diaspora and the anti-Israeli rhetoric that has been fashionable in the last dozen years among European left wing intellectuals, who base their position on alleged systematic violations of the rights of Palestinians. In Ukraine, and in Eastern Europe in general, these factors are largely absent.

                  It is also important here that after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the population of the new Eastern European countries and former USSR moved from essentially living under colonial rule to life in independent countries. This meant the disappearance of the Soviet Union’s state-sponsored anti-Semitism and an influx of new modes of coexistence for peoples and ethnic groups in the aforementioned states - which, in turn, led to a signficant decline in the number of manifestations of anti-Semitism.

                  Nonetheless, a multitude of social and political currents manifested as civic institutions developed in Ukraine. These included certain radical right-wing and ultra-nationalist fringe groups with neo-Nazi and racist ideology.

                  This led to two distinct consequences. First of all, after 10 years of Ukrainian independence, the leaders of these groups attempted to actively take part in politics and make it into the Parliament. Secondly, the post-Communist government and the Russian government which supported the Ukrainian regime, began systematically foisting propaganda and forms of provocation aimed at representing the entire Ukrainian opposition, which was trying to steer Ukraine in a democratic pro-European direction, as ultra-nationalist and Nazi.

                  An example of one of these fringe groups that became a political party after a number of transformations in the early 1990s is the Social-National Party of Ukraine, known today as All-Ukrainian "Svoboda" Union, which became notorious for its anti-Semitic rhetoric in the 1990s. It was one of the parties in the Ukrainian parliament in 2012-2014, with 37 MPs out of 450, but then lost many of its voters due to its ineffectiveness in the government and parliament. It did not pass the electoral threshold in the most recent pre-term parliamentary elections. 

                  Several radical groups that came to prominence during EuroMaidan and half a year of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine also need to be mentioned here. These include “Right Sector,” the “Social-National Assembly” and “Patriot of Ukraine” led by Andrei Biletsky, who became an MP in the last election, and Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party, which gained approximately 7% of the votes. 

                  Despite the fact that the aforementioned groups’ ideology includes radicalism as well as – in particular cases – neo-Nazi and racist motives, our experts did not find anti-Semitic elements in their rhetoric and action either during EuroMaidan or the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

                  Over the last several years, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine has been steadily declining*. The number of anti-Semitic incidents peaked in 2005-2007:
                  Violent hate crimes

                  Incidents of vandalism, graffiti, and arson

                  Publications utilizing hate speech
                  Not reported.
                  (9 months)
                  Not reported.
                  It should be noted that, thankfully, none of the attacks in the years given above were fatal.
                  Over the course of the protests – from November 2013 to February 2014 – there were thousands of speeches given at the open microphone on Maidan. Out of all of these, our experts noted only one that was clearly anti-Semitic and one ambiguous speech.

                  According to our experts, it is quite probable that over half of the anti-Semitic incidents of the past year have been deliberate provocations aimed at propping up the powerful propaganda campaign of the former Ukrainian and current Russian government against the democratic, pro-European movement in Ukraine. We believe that monitoring and analysis of anti-Semitic incidents in 2014 should be able to divide the real manifestations of anti-Semitism from the provocations. Naturally, this division is sketchy at best without court decisions.

                  Even now, Russian propaganda does not pay any heed to the contradictions in its own words as it baselessly accuses the new Ukrainian government of ultra-nationalism and neo-Nazism in one breath, and then follows that up in another with no more justified attempts to explain Ukraine’s problems as due to ‘Zionist scheming’. Zionists have, according to them, taken power in Ukraine. Those responsible for the propaganda use the fact that the current leadership of Ukraine includes several people with Jewish roots.

                  The low popularity of radical right parties and groups is also confirmed by the May 2015 presidential elections, where two leaders of the aforementioned radical groups ran. Oleh Tyahnybok (“Svoboda”) and Dmytro Yarosh (“Right Sector”) got 1,2% and 0,7% respectively, while a candidate with a very obviously Jewish surname got 2,25%. A similar trend was seen at the recent parliamentary elections, which resulted in decreased parliamentary representation for these parties.

                  Representatives of the new government – both the President and the Prime Minister – have repeatedly stressed that they will not allow anti-Semitic or other xenophobic manifestations in Ukraine. The new government has appointed an authorized Representative on Ethnic Policy attached to the Cabinet of Ministers and special offices and departments in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Security Service [SBU]; the Prosecutor General’s office and the Interior Ministry, thus confirming its determination to counteract xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

                  It is, of course, possible that the decline in anti-Semitic and, incidentally, other xenophobic activity in Ukraine over recent years is temporary and due to, first and foremost, a massive reaction to Russia’s attempts to stop Ukraine’s movement towards Europe, the further democratization of the country, as well as anti-corruption and other reforms.

                  However, I believe that the positive charge of the Maidan and the selflessness of the Ukrainian volunteer battalions, who stopped the advance of the Russian army in the summer of 2014 and localized the conflict in the south-east of Ukraine, as well as the active participation of Ukrainian Jews in all these events and processes, will determine a lower level of anti-Semitism in the near future of Ukraine. 
                  *According to Vyacheslav Likhachev, head of the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group.
                  October – November 2014.