29.01.2007 | Zinoviy Antonyuk

“In Ukrainian” must not descend into primitivism


“Gazeta po-ukrainsky” [“Newspaper in Ukrainian”] has been one of the decent new media outlets which was cheering. Cheering, that is, until recently, until the obviously coordinated anti-Semitic publications in some parts of the media about the purely spontaneous, civic and nationwide, campaign proposing Yevhen Zakharov as candidate for the post of Human Rights Ombudsperson. The publications are totally in the primitive style of those on Russian anti-Semitic websites.

My first reaction was that “gpu” [the website of “Gazeta po-ukrainsky”] had also been influenced by this descent into anti-Semitism.  That led to a first heated and not quite correct reaction, specifically because of the fear of such a descent. Today I studied the material in “gpu” more carefully and saw that what there is does not yet constitute such sliding into anti-Semitism. The public danger of this remains, however, when you see how the virus is attacking even old acquaintances. The question therefore arises: why over the last decade has the virus of people – hatred become so active?

The blame can clearly be attributed to our disregard for the deterioration in the moral level in society. And to the impunity with which over several years cynically overt and vile anti-Semitic provocations have been perpetrated by the notorious “three-faced” Janus in its Ukrainian cloned version (“Personnel” – MAUP [= the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management] – the “Ukrainian Conservative Party”]. Nor has this been without the support of certain individuals in power who, for their own self-aggrandizement, still continue to at very least allow the incitement of xenophobia in Ukraine so as to hamper the development of civic society. This “Janus” is presently formally working within an anti-Semitism “in Ukrainian” mode, although it began at the outset of Ukrainian independence with an overtly anti-Ukrainian policy. Then the latter became ineffective, and the new – old regime succeeded in changing the model of country – society – state to a state – regime model, with the regime presented as the sole representative of the new state. At that stage the old pro-empire anti-Ukrainian policy became camouflaged as “Ukrainian patriotism”, and specifically in the shame of anti-Semitism.

Every form of xenophobia inevitably destroys the moral foundations of society. This, however, is especially true of anti-Semitism since the Jews are linked with the vital Moral Covenant between Abraham “as father of many peoples” and God which established the spiritual foundations for our mighty European civilization. Anti-Semitism destroys the moral foundations of any society which allows it to develop. It destroys the moral and legal foundations of any state even when the latter is guilty only of looking the other way. And however much the Soviet regime may once have tried to link its anti-Semitism with Ukrainian identity, it undermined first of all the foundations of the Soviet state itself, becoming one of the decisive factors in its collapse.

It is strange that in such a naïve way young journalists, even from the new media outlets, can so light-heartedly join the ranks of anti-Semites.  And this is often under the deceptive banner of “thinking in a Ukrainian way”! Not in a European, modern, morally responsible way, not using commonsense, but specifically “in Ukrainian”. And that, in fact, means that you can do it somehow or other, or even simply badly.

Once, forty, thirty or twenty years ago, and not only in the political labour camps, acting “in a Ukrainian way” meant something quite different. At that time also the imperial regime constantly stirred up xenophobia reactions. However at that time, being consciously Ukrainian and acting in a Ukrainian way meant showing solidarity and all-sided support for others, feeling responsible for all those next to you. Including for Jews – both those who wanted to leave Ukraine, and those who wanted to stay there as equal citizens.  For this reflected the deep awareness of the undying force and the immediate significance of the historical rallying cry “For your freedom and ours”.

Then, acting as a Ukrainian meant showing solidarity with all people in Ukraine: with Russians, Jews, Poles, Armenians, Georgians and Crimean Tatars. It was thanks to this that a spirit of solidarity then reigned in Ukrainian society and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine was able to pass a decree that marked an epoch for post-imperial mentality.  This was the decree abolishing the notorious Fifth point [“nationality” in Soviet passports – translator] which only Soviet imperial hypocrisy could have devised.

The sense of civic solidarity was then indeed dominant. It exists in society now also, however those “new Ukrainians” who are foisting the “model of the cool guy” on society are not very attuned to moral thinking, and consider it sufficient to proclaim themselves and their actions to be in keeping with their understanding of what “in Ukrainian” means.. They fail to realize that their understanding of all of this “in Ukrainian manner” is really the understanding of “in primitive mode”. Do they not notice that each anti-Semitic “in Ukrainian” will inevitably turn into “in anti-Ukrainian”?

The media outlets which have become caught up in this anti-Semitic campaign will deny elements in their material about Yevhen Zakharov written not only with anti-Ukrainian intent, but with anti-Semitic, claiming that they have the right to “another point of view”, and specifically such a view regarding the candidacy for the Human Rights Ombudsperson. However if those people presenting such excuses have even a modicum of decency and culture, they will not be able to ignore, the elements of if not downright primitivism, then at least lack of intelligence in such an approach to Zakharov and to any socially important issue. Even if they really don’t, for some reason, like a person’s “too prominent nose”.

I have known Yevhen Zakharov since 1992, from the initial period of discussion on the extremely important issue for post-Soviet society of creating effective civic human rights structures and of uniting them at grassroots level into a democratically coordinated network which would be closely linked with the public.

I well remember, from the very first steps, the whole difficult road and incredible level of commitment in carrying out that ambitious and purely civic goal. And not even a professional anti-Semite could deny the crucial role which Yevhen Zakharov played in bringing these plans to fruition. Nor could they deny his truly monumental practical experience in human rights defence gained over those years.

This experience has in no way destroyed a remarkable level of personal tolerance and goodwill towards others. Towards friends and opponents.  Nor his innate capacity to think analytically and responsibly.

Yevhen Zakharov’s huge experience of human rights work and his profound understanding of the specific issues of human rights defence in Ukraine are highly valued not only in civic human rights organizations in Ukraine, but also in Europe, Russia and North America, as well as in international European institutions for human rights.

In my view, the situation around the entirely civic initiative to put forward Yevhen Zakharov as candidate for Human Rights Ombudsperson is entirely clear.

In actual fact, the point is not that some media outlets infected with anti-Semitism don’t want to see as Human Rights Ombudsperson somebody proposed not by political forces or parties, but by that real civic society which since Maidan (the Orange Revolution) has become a moral worldview phenomenon.

They don’t in fact want to see him in that post precisely because he is a representative of Ukrainian civic society. If he was a member of some political force, all would be well for them, for he would remain in one way or another vulnerable to the influence or pressure of a political force. It is those members of the old – new regime wanting to maintain their monopoly for speaking in the name of the people who don’t want to see Yevhen Zakharov in the role of independent, specifically civic (and not party-affiliated!) representative. And the media implicated in this dirty campaign with their absurd attacks on Yevhen Zakharov, whether consciously or unknowingly, are allowing themselves to be used by those forces, perhaps not even understanding that it will not be so easy to clean themselves of this anti-Semitic mire. Each media outlet and each journalist will gain themselves the reputation of being a primitive anti-Semite.

The main thing is that freedom of choice be adhered to … so that there is nothing that Jews could be blamed for in this stupid personal choice. Since the “folly of each individual must be visible” as Peter the First once commented.

Zinoviy Antonyuk

Society of Former Political Prisoners and Victims of Repression

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