The war of words between Russia and Ukraine over the issue of anti-Semitism heated up this weekend, with Moscow condemning the former Soviet republic, as well as the US and Canada, for voting against an annual UN resolution condemning Nazism.
The draft, which was approved by a vote of 115 to 3 in the UN’s Third (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) Committee on Friday, condemned the “glorification” of Nazism, neo-Nazism and “other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” It was backed by Russia, with support from Pakistan, Cuba and Rwanda, among others. Fifty-five countries abstained from the vote.
It is “highly regrettable” that the US, Canada and Ukraine opposed the measure and that members of the European Union withdrew from the vote, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.
Russia was particularly “depressed and alarmed” over Kiev’s opposition, the ministry said, as Ukrainians “experienced the full brunt of the horrors of Nazism and contributed importantly to our common victory over it.”
Russia has consistently asserted that Ukraine’s post-revolutionary government, which took power after popular demonstrations pushed out pro-Moscow President Victor Yanukovich, is composed of fascists and anti-Semites.
“It could never occur to anybody that radicals and neo-Nazis could come to dominate Ukrainian politics,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told deputies in Russia’s parliament last week.
Ukrainian Jews have come out strongly against accusations of state anti-Semitism, with several prominent leaders actively accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating anti-Jewish provocations for propaganda purposes. While several members of extremeright- wing parties became part of the interim government immediately following the revolution, the far Right has since lost significant ground politically and the government has come out publicly against anti-Semitism.
In explaining her opposition to the resolution, Terri Robl, US deputy representative to the UN Economic and Social Council, said the Russian government had thrown around terms such as Nazi and fascist for its own political ends.
“We believe Russia’s efforts at the General Assembly, via this resolution, are aimed at its opponents, rather than at promoting or protecting human rights,” she said.
By seeking to “limit freedom of expression, assembly and opinion,” a representative of the Canadian delegation told The Jerusalem Post, Russia has taken steps that are “counterproductive” to the goal of eradicating Nazism.
The Ukrainian delegation attacked Russia over the resolution, accusing Moscow of actively supporting neo-Nazism at home and of supporting “nationalistic, xenophobia and chauvinistic policies” in the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine earlier this year.
The delegation evoked the memory of the Holodomor, a massive famine brought about by forced collectivization of farms that killed millions of Ukrainians from 1923-33 and which is generally viewed in the country as a genocide planned by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
While Ukraine is committed to fighting the glorification of Nazism, “Ukrainians equally condemn Hitler and Stalin as international criminals for what they have done to us. We have always demanded that Russia should stop glorifying Stalinism and neo-Stalinism, because of their misanthropic and xenophobic nature. Until and unless the notions of Stalinism and neo-Stalinism are equally condemned along with Nazism and neo-Nazism and other forms of intolerance, Ukraine will not be able to support the draft presented by Russia,” the delegation explained.
Marking Holodomor Remembrance Day last week, the White House deemed the “man-made famine” to be “one of the gravest atrocities of the last century.”
The issue of the rehabilitation of historical figures that collaborated with the Nazi regime is a serious one in the former Soviet Union, explained Dr. Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi-hunter who heads the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office.
“There is a very strong tendency in post-Communist Europe to try to rewrite the narrative of World War II and the Holocaust and to try and minimize crimes by local Nazi collaborators, to equate Communist crimes and suffering of Communist victims with Nazi crimes during the Shoah and to glorify local heroes who fought against the Communists even though some of them were actively involved in collaboration with the Nazis and mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust,” he said.
As a consequence of this, former Soviet countries, especially in the Baltics, have engaged in a systematic campaign to revise history, with Ukraine being “the worst of them,” Zuroff told the Post.
Victor Yanukovich’s predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko, engaged in an effort to rehabilitate figures such as Stepan Bandera, a leader of the Ukrainian national movement during the period of the Holocaust who actively collaborated with the Nazis and was involved in pogroms against Jews.
Yushchenko’s posthumous award to Bandera of the title of “Hero of Ukraine” in 2010 riled the Jewish community and brought widespread condemnation abroad.
“We condemn the revisionism and the myths of the new heroes of all these countries and we are worried about the use of this issue in the political fights of our days,” Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior figure in the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, told the Post.
Politicizing history and anti-Semitism can be “very dangerous,” he added, calling drawing equivalences between Soviet and Nazi crimes a “vulgarization of the Holocaust.”
Yaakov Dov Bleich, Ukraine’s chief rabbi, asserted that his government does not consider the Holodomor and Holocaust to be equal.
“They are very much trying to promote the Holodomor as a genocide. There were millions killed there by Stalin who orchestrated the crime,” he explained, adding that Ukrainians were pushing back against Russia’s “propaganda machine” and denial of responsibility for the famine.
“One can sympathize with the exasperation expressed by the representative of Ukraine on the Russian draft resolution,” said Hebrew University Prof. Robert Wistrich, one of the world’s foremost experts on anti-Semitism.
“The Russian resolution reminds me of the notorious propaganda techniques of the Soviet Union in blackening Zionism and Israel with the Nazi label... Jews should try as much as possible to avoid being used as a football in this manipulation of anti-Semitism for political ends whether in Moscow, Kiev or in the Western world,” Wistrich said.
Russia’s focus on “this historical chapter often masks its own inability to recognize the uniqueness of the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
“The old Soviet formula of subsuming Jewish Shoah victims under the general category of ‘Soviet citizens murdered by German fascists’ is still very much the norm in Russia,” Baker said.
Asked to comment on Ukraine’s response to the measure, the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv said that “the vast majority of members of the international community, including the government of the State of Israel...supported the UN resolution.”
Maya Shwayder in New York contributed to this report.