15.06.2009 | Halya Coynash

A Politician afflicted


Psychologists’ experiments back in the 1950s showed how easy it was to turn children belonging to competing teams into bitter enemies. Within a matter of days they sincerely loathed each other and were hell-bent on «teaching the other team a lesson». With politicians it’s at once similar, and quite different, and not just because the word «sincerely» would be wildly out of place.  Like children they know no pity to their opponents and don’t balk at any means. The question, however, is whether they themselves are in the team, or cleverly manipulate the players, setting them against each other.

People are finding it hard because of the crisis and they’re not up to complicated choices. They want to be told who’s to blame and for some saviour to promise that once they’ve dealt with the «enemy», they’ll set about rescuing people. According to the long established principle that we’re not to blame, such «saviours» offer their team a package of answers, that is, culprits – the ones that hit you in the eye, so that it’s us and them.

That all this has long been poisoning the media and the very air we breathe is only half the problem. When the bacchanalia of hatred transcends all limits and the authorities do nothing, it is not surprising that citizens should doubt who precisely their Constitution was written for, and questions are raised abroad as to the worth of phrases about commitment to democratic values.

For around a year now Serhiy Kirichenko, Deputy of the Kherson City Council, has been spreading a mixture of hysteria, hatred towards a political opponent and virulent anti-Semitism via the media and Internet.

It’s difficult not to suspect that all of this is directly linked with a fight for power and Kirichenko’s attempts to set voters against a political opponent. The fact that his efforts were in vain, and the opponent was re-elected Mayor, can hardly have had a beneficial effect on his psychological state or, seemingly, his ability to think rationally.

However what led to this bizarre metamorphosis of an apparently quite sane former National Deputy (MP) I will leave to political colleagues to consider - or psychologists.

It seems much more important to fathom how an elected representative of Ukrainian citizens can be allowed with effectively no obstruction to infect people with his diseased hatred for an entire ethnic group. It does happen that a person suddenly begins behaving in a thoroughly inadequate manner. For a while you ignore it but there comes a moment when it can simply no longer be endured. I imagine something similar happened in Kherson, since most of his former colleagues have broken off relations with Kirichenko and flung him out of their ranks.

However we cannot confine ourselves to fastidiousness or half-measures. What is in question is a current politician who in one way or another represents the country and its citizens, this including all Ukrainians who are Jewish. No less important is the fact that he is most actively spreading his poison via a media outlet under his control (the «Vik» newspaper and radio station, and the website  We have no right to wince and look away, assuming that everybody understands that these are diseased ravings. With his foul anti-Semitism, he insults all Ukrainians and can only bring shame upon the country.. Moreover, in conditions of crisis, when a person is so dementedly accusing any ethnic group of deliberately creating the problem and of being responsible for the ills which have supposedly befallen «Slavs», the possible consequences are so terribly foreseeable that inaction is tantamount to a crime.

Rabbi Wolf and appalled members of the public have been trying for almost a year to get the authorities to understand how dangerous and unacceptable the situation is. There is a whole saga to be told of efforts to pass the buck. We have heard so many fine-sounding words over recent years from the country’s leaders and the management of various departments. They are all unanimous in their condemnation of xenophobia and anti-Semitism and all are supposedly taking decisive measures. Plenty of working groups and special departments have been created and a number of impressively-worded documents drawn up. And yet what is the point if, when confronted with a real problem, all these departments demonstrate just one burning desire, that being to offload responsibility for dealing with it onto somebody else? It’s not that they’re denying the problem. Who could deny it when the offender is bellowing at the top of his voice and one text would suffice to feel concern and react – and there are a fair number.

With such a volume of toxic substances, one is baffled by the decision by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council which in February considered complaints about anti-Semitic utterances made by Mr Kirichenko in a «Vik» broadcast. The Broadcasting Council concluded that the TV and radio company could not be held liable for utterances made in a live broadcast. It therefore refused to apply any sanctions and suggested …. approaching the courts. Where the courts would tell us to go is not known, but it is clear that it is difficult for one person, whether Jewish or not, to prove in court what at the end of the day is staggeringly obvious.

And how can one file a suit in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation if the author abuses an entire ethnic group?

There is basically only one article – 161 – of the Criminal Code which punishes for incitement to racial enmity. This however applies to individual offenders and a criminal investigation is needed which the Prosecutor more often than not doesn’t initiate, or terminates almost immediately, because of the difficulty of proving intent to incite hatred.

You could understand the Broadcasting Council’s logic if some chance passer-by had made the comments or at least a person quite unconnected to the specific media outlet. However «Vik» is effectively controlled by Serhiy Kirichenko, and the utterances in no way differed from hundreds of others which he pours out in the printed version of «Vik» and on the Internet. Bearing all this in mind, it would have been appropriate to at least suggest cancelling «Vik’s» registration. It must be said, however, that a similar attempt in 2002 to close down a newspaper publishing anti-Semitic texts failed at appeal level.

There is, by the way, one extremely interesting detail. It would appear that the National Expert Commission on the Protection of Public Morality also took part in the given saga, only to pass the buck to the Kherson regional prosecutor’s office. If this was indeed the case, then the conclusion seems warranted that the Commission’s members consider that it is better to defend an extremely small circle of readers from the «pornography» they managed to perceive in the novel by well-known author Oles Ulyanenko, than the broader public against flagrant propaganda of hatred. I would beg to differ.

Are we to conclude that there is no protection and nobody is particularly bothered? The mechanisms are extremely flawed yet surely it is better to attempt to apply them than to simply pretend that we don’t notice. If our once normal enough acquaintance behaves in a strange manner, we can avoid unpleasant confrontation on condition that he poses no danger to anyone. Here, excuse me, the danger – both to citizens and to Ukraine’s international reputation – is glaringly apparent and shameful inaction is not an option.



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