KRAKOW – The Ukraine’s parliamentary elections in October 2012 brought bad news
to the Jews living in the country. For the first time since it took part in the
general elections, the far-Right Svoboda (“Freedom”) party had won a number of
parliamentary seats – surprising even its biggest fans.
established in 1991 and became an official political party in 1995.
the first moment, it carried the banner of nationalism and anti-Communism,
playing on the patriotic feelings of the Ukrainians.
campaign was based on frightening the people, especially those of lower
economical status, by describing Jews and Russians as enemies of the state and
accusing them of controlling Ukrainian politics and economics.
year’s election, Svoboda surprised everyone when it won 10.44 percent of the
national vote and 38 out of 450 parliamentary seats. Shortly thereafter, Svoboda
leader Oleg Tyagnibok tried to change the anti- Semitic image of the
Eleanor Groisman, president of the Ukrainian Independent Council
of Jewish Women, said Tyagnibok assured her that his party is not anti-Semitic,
and that the Jewish women in the Ukraine should not worry. That same day, she
said, he reiterated that statement at a public briefing, in response to a
question put to him by a reporter for the Kiev Jewish media.
few weeks later, the nationalist tone of party members became more extreme.
Svoboda MP Igor Miroshnichenko sparked a scandal when he called Mila Kunis, an
American actress of Jewish descent born in the Ukraine, “Zhidovka” – an
offensive word used to degrade Ukrainian citizens of Jewish nationality.
Tyagnibok and other Svoboda members defended the statement and argued that
“Zhyd” is the correct word to use in describing Jews.
then led Ukranian Jewish community leaders to publish a public appeal to the
international community regarding the rising anti-Semitism.
In the open
letter, Groisman described the fear among the Jewish citizens of Ukraine since
the rise of Svoboda, and expressed their concern about the growing anti-Semitism
and accompanying rhetoric by Svoboda’s leaders. The letter then called upon
leaders in the international community to take steps before the situation
Yuri Syrotyuk, a senior member of Svoboda, claimed the party is
not anti-Semitic and that Jews in the Ukraine have no reason to
“This is absolutely not true. Svoboda spreads nationalism with love
for our country and respect for other nations,” he said.
never been any anti-Semitic calls or actions by Svoboda. Many representatives of
your people [the Jews] are in the Ukrainian parliament and among the richest
citizens of Ukraine.”
“Could that happen in a country where anti-Semitism
is widespread? Svoboda is a parliamentary party and its intention can be judged
by its actions and appeals in the parliament.
Can someone cite at least
one xenophobic bill or performance? Obviously not,” he asserted.
stated that Jews can feel safe living in the Ukraine, as other minorities
“Ukraine is still a safe country for all those living in its
territory. Every citizen has the right to decide where to live, and no one has
the right to dictate to anyone regarding this issue. Our common objective is to
eliminate anti-Ukrainian, undemocratic regimes, and to build an independent,
law-abiding state, where all feel good about themselves as Ukrainians or ethnic
minorities living in Ukraine,” he says.
“By the way, Svoboda supports the
right of all ethnic minorities to participate in government, education, language
and more,” Syrotyuk added.
When asked about using the word “Zhyd” as a
slur, Syrotyuk claimed that there is nothing offensive about it.
word ‘Zhyd’ is a common Slavic definition for Jews in most European countries,”
“Another definition simply does not exist in the Slovak,
Czech or Polish language. This word has never had a negative or offensive
connotation in any Slavic language.”