Historically, Ukrainian anti-Semitism is legend for its crudity, ferocity and
intrinsicality. The Ukraine’s reputation for ongoing racism and ever-virulent
intolerance is equally well-earned. Jew-revulsion never quite went out of
fashion among broad segments of the population there.
So it was not too
shocking to learn last week that the extreme nationalist Svoboda (Freedom)
party’s fortunes had risen dramatically in the recent elections and that it now
controls 41 out of the parliament’s 450 seats.
But there is a far more
disturbing aspect to this development. Svoboda did not do equally well in
all parts of Ukraine. It garnered most success in the western Ukraine, the parts
ripped off Poland after World War II.
In the city of Lviv (which was
one-third Jewish before the Holocaust and which Jews know as Lvov or Lemberg),
it gained a whopping 50 percent of the vote. In June and July 1941 Ukrainian
marauders rampaged through Lvov’s streets and butchered thousands of Jews in two
The Svoboda party now fetes these murderers as patriots, along
with the Nazi-accomplice Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
Svoboda’s leader, Oleg
Tyagnibok, repeatedly rails that Ukraine is occupied by “Yids and Russians.”
Svoboda candidates have been reported to have urged party loyalists to resort to
“Hamas methods,” to have characterized the Holocaust as European history’s
“heyday” and to have denigrated Israel “an illegitimate state.”
ideological roots, however, are hardly out of sync with the country’s
mainstream, where it is still de rigueur to equate (if not justify) WWII’s
Jewish bloodletting with the Stalin-instigated 1932-33 Ukrainian famine. The
rise of Svoboda thus may attest to atavist proclivities, which go deeper than
the election results indicate.
Ukraine unfortunately hadn’t cleansed its
citizenry of endemic anti-Semitism. Most often this expresses itself in
vandalism, vituperation and vilification. Occasionally, though, subterranean
sentiments surface more violently.
Thus earlier this year Jewish student
Alexander Goncharov was sadistically beaten –within an inch of his life – by
Ukrainian skinheads in Kiev. In April 2010, 25-year-old Kiev yeshiva student
Aryeh-Leib Misinzov was kidnapped, murdered and dismembered by a skinhead gang
on Hitler’s birthday.
Outpourings of abuse on the fringes of Ukrainian
society are matched only by establishment antipathy. Outright callousness
produced the Kiev Municipality’s 2009 plan to erect a hotel precisely where the
Babi Yar memorial is located.
Nearly 34,000 Jews were machine-gunned
there by the Nazis in 48 hours on September 29 and 30, 1941. Yevgeny
Yevtushenko’s 1961 epic poem shamed the Soviets into erecting a monument at the
Kiev’s blueprint for that monument’s removal was only scrapped
after loud protests that official Ukraine originally greeted with unabashed
resentment. That the desecration could have at all been considered – indeed
obstinately insisted upon – signifies disdain. Such undercurrents of aversion
increase the probability of attacks on people.
The latest one occurred
this month in Lviv, shortly before the elections. Dr. Leon Freifeld, a Jewish
surgeon and university professor who headed the city’s largest hospital
emergency department, was beaten to death. But this may not be the handiwork of
Ukrainian neo-Nazis. Local police have charged disgruntled Arab medical students
with the homicide.
Ordinarily Europe’s Muslim fanatics and neo-fascist
youths are hostile to one another. But there is one pernicious common
denominator that these fixated elements share – their animus toward Jews. This
is scarcely the exclusive preserve of Ukraine, though its particularly noxious
brand of anti-Semitism provides a fertile breeding ground for what is admittedly
prevalent throughout Europe these days. In this sense the Ukraine is not
fundamentally different from the rest of Europe, but is in essence more Europe
than Europe – presenting a more unbridled manifestation of what thrives
throughout the continent, typically in more genteel guise.
context, little has changed. The anti-Semitism that was unfashionable in postwar
Western Europe is burgeoning again in the shape of anti-Zionism, whereas in
Ukraine it is vulgar and in-your-face – as it was before the Soviets temporarily
held the genie in the bottle.
Such phenomena should have been unthinkable
after the Holocaust and today’s Europe should regard them as a badge of