28.05.2013 | Halya Coynash

Anti-Semitic Mindsets


Fights in parliament are brutally physical, but the political struggle outside parliament is considerably more manipulative

Problems, like prices, have a tendency to rise.  Not always, however, and as well as decreasing, they can also mutate.  This makes anti-Semitic mindsets of any kind especially dangerous and easily manipulated. 

Perhaps evidence from other countries points to the “worldwide rise in anti-Semitism” widely reported from the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2012.  It does not in Ukraine and it is frustrating that a different impression is created from media publications, all of them citing the US State Department. 

When the statements about a worrying increase are backed with examples of anti-Semitic desecration of graves or memorials in Ukraine, the conclusion seems obvious. 

Any such conclusion is, firstly, wrong.  During the same 2012 period Viacheslav Likhachev who has been monitoring anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine for the past 10 years reported a decrease in anti-Semitism.  Particularly because of the public statements following repugnant but isolated remarks by certain rightwing VO Svoboda Party members, Likhachev made a point of showing trends over the last 10 years.  These were clearly downward. 

It should be stressed that Likhachev’s report in no way speaks of bigotry and prejudice having been overcome, quite the contrary.  However concentration on anti-Semitism misses the point and hides from view the large number of victims of xenophobic or discriminatory treatment both from certain members of the public and, unfortunately, from the authorities.   

This increases victims’ vulnerability, while playing straight into the hands of those who are pushing for all it’s worth the line that Ukraine is seeing a surge in anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism. 

This would seem to be worth a lot to those seeking to distract their own disgruntled electorate and fight the political opposition.  Such forms of political struggle are not new in Ukraine, where both the Party of the Regions and the Communists have long tried to present their opponents as fascists, Nazi collaborators, etc.  However the drive to push these stereotypes over the last six months at least has been enormous, both within Ukraine and abroad.  VO Svoboda’s 10% win in the elections is presented as somehow reflecting Ukrainians’ bigotry, innate anti-Semitism, etc.  This is surely as unjustified as to believe that the 10% of the population who voted for the Communist Party (also a considerable increase) were drawn to its Stalinist rhetoric. 

In times of hardship and political ferment voters hanker for easy answers which are willingly offered by parties who can make populist promises with relative impunity. It is also likely that VO Svoboda’s relative victory had a great deal to do with the measures weakening the position of the Ukrainian language since Yanukovych became President. 

There is quite simply no evidence to suggest any increase in anti-Semitism or xenophobia, while the ruling Party of the Regions and VO Svoboda have shown equal enthusiasm for thoroughly homophobic legislative initiatives.

The above is confirmed by Josef Zisels, former political prisoner and Head of the Association of Jewish Organisations and Communities [Vaad] who has told Radio Svoboda that while anti-Semitism and xenophobia exist, they are by no means as bad as they are being painted by those trying to discredit the opposition. He says that Vaad will be contacting the US State Department to express their disagreement with inclusion of Ukraine in any list of countries where anti-Semitism is on the increase.

The warnings issued both from Vaad and from the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine of the danger of artificially inciting ethnic enmity and anti-Semitism should be heeded – both in Ukraine and beyond. 

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