Experts weigh in on rise of Ukrainian Svoboda party
The radical party has 41 seats in Ukrainian parliament and is expected to legitimize public displays of anti-Semitism.
Svoboda party activists Photo: REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
BERLIN – The radical right-wing Svoboda (“Freedom”) party, which openly admires
the World War II pro- Nazi Ukrainian Insurgent Army, has secured 41 seats in the
Ukrainian parliament and is expected to legitimize public displays of
In telephone and email interviews with The Jerusalem Post
on Monday, experts on Ukrainian xenophobia and anti-Semitism raised alarm bells
about the results of the election.
Irena Cantorovich, a scholar at Tel
Aviv University’s Moshe Kantor Database for the Study of Contemporary
Anti-Semitism and Racism, wrote, “This is the first time in the history of
modern Ukraine that a nationalistic party enters the parliament and it will
probably have more than one representative in it. Svoboda is known for its
racist and anti-Semitic views and several complaints were filed against its
leader, Oleg Tyagnibok, for his anti-Semitic comments.”
She noted that
Tyagnibok claimed that “Ukraine is being controlled by a Russian-Jewish mafia.
The party’s platform also includes support for the rehabilitation of Ukrainian
nationalists who collaborated with Nazi Germany.”
“Members of the party
took part in anti-Semitic incidents such as damaging synagogues, Jewish centers
and cemeteries. The party is also active against the coming of Jewish religious
pilgrims to Uman. In the previous election, the party received only 1 percent of
the votes and now about 7%, so we can see that their influence is growing,”
added Cantorovich, who has written about Ukrainian collaborators who worked with
the Nazis in their efforts to kill Jews in the country.
“However, it is
too early to determine whether this will have any effect on Jewish life in
Ukraine and on the number of anti-Semitic incidents in this
Svoboda was founded in 2004 and had previously named itself the
Social-National Party of Ukraine.
Speaking with the Post from Ukraine,
Vyacheslav A. Likhachev, an expert at the Eurasian Jewish Congress, said that
the “party has a very anti-Semitic core in its ideology.”
works for the Congress of Ethnic Minorities of Ukraine monitoring xenophobia in
the country, said Svoboda’s entry into parliament “means nothing on a practical
level” because “opposition forces cannot change the general situation in the
country. It will not lead to any changes in legislation.”
He noted that
the extremist party secured 41 members of parliament from 450 members, said that
while the number is large, it is not enough to provide a program and affect
Likhachev said the “leaders of the party are famous for
openly racist and anti-Semitic speeches” and that the party’s victory in the
election was a “symbolic legitimization of Neo- Nazis and anti-Semitic ideology
in the eyes of society.”
“Svoboda is composed of the same elements as
auxiliaries of the Nazis that committed mass murders of Jews, Russians, and
Poles,” Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for
international relations, told the Post.
He added that the vote
represented the desire for “a scapegoat for corruption“ in Ukrainian society and
that the focus was on the Jewish community in that regard. “Ukrainians have
hopes of association membership in the European Union and the election results
can only void any such prospects,” Samuels said.
“This is a very
disturbing development, but perhaps not surprising given Ukraine’s history of
vehement anti-Semitism. Svoboda did much better in Western Ukraine, a region
that even imagines it might breakaway from the rest of Ukraine and join the EU,”
said Tom Gross, a political commentator who has written about Eastern Europe and
“The party reportedly won over 50% of the vote in
Lviv and if this turns out to be the case, I believe it would mark the first
time since World War II that a majority in any city in Europe voted for a
blatantly anti- Semitic party. Lviv is a city that was historically over
one-third Jewish, but almost all the Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their
Ukrainian collaborators and yet in which today you will find very little by way
of Holocaust commemoration,” Gross continued.
The JTA reported in October
that “a Jewish doctor in Lviv, Ukraine, was beaten to death by an assailant
identified by some local news sources as a 26-year-old Arab.” The victim, 67-
year-old Leon Freifeld, was a member of the Lviv Jewish community.