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Trends in anti-Semitism in Ukraine at the beginning of the XXI century: reality and stereotypes

Viacheslav Likhachev
The author has been carrying out monitoring for several years which makes the empirical data here of the greatest interest

Articles about anti-Semitism in Ukraine, both in the domestic and international press, usually begin with a worried assertion that “anti-Semitism has been on the increase of late”. “The rise in anti-Semitism” in Ukraine concerns observers from Russia, Israel, Europe and America. I won’t even give specific examples since I suspect that all those who take an interest in the subject and from time to time (or regularly) read material about anti-Semitism in Ukraine have had enough of hearing that claim. This assessment is typical not only for the media:  in many foreign monitoring or analytical reports, as well as in statements from public figures, it gets repeated in cliché mode. Over recent years one has observed a positive “autumn spurt” timed to coincide with the anniversaries of the Babi Yar Massacre and the founding of the Ukrainian Resistance Army [UPA] in September and October and events connected with them. Interest increases in public discussion about “Ukrainian – Jewish relations” and about how the situation is with “anti-Semitism in Ukraine”.  In a recent statement from a respected Ukrainian Jewish organization it is asserted that “attacks on Jews have become an everyday thing in Ukraine”. Yet as a rule such statements are not confined to simply saying that the situation is catastrophic, but suggest that it is getting worse.  For the reader of one specific publication, such assertions can seem entirely logical, yet when they are repeated year in, year out, one does want to find a way of measuring this supposed increase. <…>

In fact, I do have such statistics. Over recent years, supported by and in cooperation with a number of Ukrainian and foreign civic organizations, mainly the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine, Vaad Ukraine [the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine), the Euro-Asiatic Jewish Congress and the Union of Councils), I have been monitoring and analyzing various forms of xenophobia, including anti-Semitism.  The information accumulated makes it possible to draw cautious conclusions about how the situation is developing, based on hard facts, and not on emotions and feelings. <…>

In order to check the validity of claims about a rise in anti-Semitism, it is in my view enough to examine changes in four key areas: anti-Semitic crimes; electoral success of xenophobic political forces; propaganda in the media and the level of anti-Semitism in the public consciousness.

Anti-Semitic crimes

We are mainly talking here of assaults and vandalism. Strangely enough no systematic monitoring was carried out in the 1990s therefore we can only substantiate comments about changes over the last few years.

According to our data, there was a small rise in the number of attacks on Jews at the very beginning of the 2000s.  The situation stabilized by 2005-2006, and in 2007 and 2008 the figure has even slightly fallen.

Although it is too early to give definitive statistics, according to preliminary monitoring, from January to November 2008 three people suffered from street attacks. Another two received light injuries as the result of the so-called “pogrom” of the Jewish Education Centre in Lviv in July (the two elderly neighbours who carried out the attack, also suffered as a result of the resistance shown, however this does not negate the fact that it was they who were the aggressors and initiated the confrontation).

In 2007 there were five anti-Semitic attacks in which eight people suffered (if we include one case which was not fully confirmed then we are talking of six attacks and nine victims).

In 2006 five incidents were recorded in which eight Jewish people suffered, as well as a passer-by who interceded.  In one of the cases (an attack with the use of weapons on Hitler’s birthday in Dnipropetrovsk) it was a miracle that the victim was not killed. There were also two other questionable cases where we were unable to receive reliable information.

In 2005 more than eight people suffered in six incidents (it is difficult to be more exact sine one of the cases was an attack on a group of school students in Simferopol). As a result of one of the attacks the victim, brutally beaten by skinheads, a Kyiv yeshiva student received life-threatening injuries.

We would note that neither in 2007, nor in 2008, were there any such serious cases.

One cannot therefore assert that in 2007 – 2008 there was any particular increase in anti-Semitic violence; on the contrary, there was a slight fall. Yet it is precisely in the last two years that we most often hear public statements about an increase in the number of anti-Semitic crimes.

If we look at changes in the number of hate attacks as a whole around Ukraine, we see a sharp increase in such attacks from the end of 2006. The victims of such attacks are most often people from Africa, Middle Eastern countries and Asia. According to our information, in 2006 14 people suffered as the result of xenophobic violence (with two killed).

In 2007 there were nearly 90 victims (the exact figure cannot be given since some cases were not clear-cut). 5 people (or 6, if we count one of the unclear cases) people died.  According to preliminary information, from January – September 2008 there were 69 victims of hate attacks. It should also be borne in mind that the public are much worse informed about manifestations of racism in relation to people with black skins, or those from Asia, than about cases of anti-Semitism, and therefore the statistics may be far from complete. These figures help to understand the real level of hate violence in Ukraine and the place held by anti-Semitic crimes in this context.

Vandalism (mainly desecration of Jewish cemeteries and memorials, as well as damage to synagogues and other Jewish infrastructure buildings)

We did indeed record a rise during 2006-2007 (which may partly be due to a normal system of monitoring in different regions of the country having been set up).  However, according to preliminary findings for 2008, there has been a steep reduction in such crimes. In the first ten months of 2008 there were half as many as during the same period for 2006 and 2007 (10, 21 and 20 respectively).

This reduction would seem to be due to some unexpectedly harsh sentences (including terms of imprisonment of several years) against anti-Semites proved in court cases to have taken part in acts of vandalism.  Previously such crimes had practically always gone unpunished or the punishments had been of a symbolic nature.

Anti-Semitism in political life: electoral movement

The Ukrainian political situation in the period of interest to us presents an ambiguous picture. On the one hand people known for their anti-Semitic (or more broadly, xenophobic) rhetoric are active in very different political forces and neither the public nor the political elite have the sense that the very presence of such figures on the electoral candidate lists is anything compromising or unacceptable. Anti-Semitism is seen as not being significant. The only case when the leadership of a political force took disciplinary measures with regard to a politician publicly making xenophobic statements was the expulsion of Oleh Tyahnybok from the “Our Ukraine” faction after remarks in the summer of 2004.  And that was in the specific circumstances of a presidential campaign.  Anti-Semitic utterances by, for example, the patriarch of the Ukrainian national movement Levko Lukyanenko did not stop him being a respected member of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) during the last parliamentary term (and it did not disturb him in any way to be in the same faction, for example, as Oleksandr Feldman).

On the other hand, radical right-wing political forces, especially those which focus on anti-Semitic rhetoric face crashing defeat in election after election. Moreover as the political analyst and specialist on ultra-nationalist political movements Andreas Umland states, Ukraine is the only Eastern European country where, despite a low electoral threshold, no parties or blocs from this political spectrum have got into parliament.  There is nothing like the Russian “Rodina” [“Motherland”] party, or “Great Romania”, or the League of Polish Families in Ukraine’s parliament, and there wasn’t even in the 1990s when the national-patriotic discourse was perhaps relevant for our country (at least, in single mandate areas, some radicals were trying to get into parliament).

In the 2007 snap parliamentary elections, there was only one radical rightwing political force running - the ultra-nationalist “Svoboda” (“Freedom”) party, led by former National Deputy [MP] and now Deputy of the Lviv Regional Council Oleh Tyahnybok. “Svoboda” which espouses a racist policy of ethnic proportional representation gained 0.76% of the votes in 2007, this doubling its result in the 2006 elections (0.36%). It would seem that this improvement can be explained by the lack of any radical nationalist competitors in 2007. During the 2006 elections there were other parties: the radical rightwing Ukrainian National Assembly; the People’s Movement of Ukraine for Unity; the overtly anti-Semitic Ukrainian Conservative Party; the Bloc “Sontse” [“Sun”] with its religious messianic rhetoric. Altogether they received less than 1% of the votes.  It should admittedly be kept in mind that a certain number of votes from the radical national electorate were “siphoned off” by the Ukrainian People’s Bloc of Kostenko and Bloc, and partly by PORA – PRP.

Of particular interest is the fact that the general volume of anti-Semitic propaganda during the election campaign in 2007 was on a different, considerably lower scale, than in 2006 when the vast majority of such material was circulated by the Ukrainian Conservative Party which is linked with the International Academy for Personnel Management [MAUP]. Despite considerable activity, at least in Kyiv, the Ukrainian Conservative Party only received 0.09 % of the votes.

One can therefore confidently assert, on the basis of the last parliamentary elections, that anti-Semitism is not in any way a popular subject in electoral rhetoric. Efforts to bet on the anti-Semitism card end in failure. Rightwing radicals, gaining relative success, can on a personal level experience negativity towards Jews, however they prefer not to focus on this subject, at least do not actively use anti-Semitic rhetoric and their electoral support is due to other reasons. In any case there can be no question of any rise in popularity of anti-Semitic political forces.

Anti-Semitic Propaganda: the fountain has dried up

“Unpunished and untrammelled anti-Semitic propaganda”, the scale of which is supposedly also on the increase is another clichés doing the rounds from publication to publication. I suggest that here too we turn to exact figures.

According to data from Vladimir Mindlin, who carries out monitoring of anti-Semitic propaganda in the central print media for Vaad Ukraine, during 2007 542 anti-Semitic publications were identified. The monitoring undoubtedly encompasses far from all publications which is clear given that it is not impossible to follow the huge number of Ukrainian newspapers (for example, regional, party, religious, as well as campaigning papers during elections, etc). One can therefore hardly claim that these results are to be interpreted as the exact number of anti-Semitic articles published in the Ukrainian media during the reporting period. They are nonetheless invaluable since they enable comparison with analogous figures from previous years (also gathered by V. Mindlin).

Thus, in 2006 676 anti-Semitic publications were identified; in 2005 – 661; in 2004 – 379; in 2003 – 258 and in 2002 – 179. In 2001 there were slightly over 100 such publications.

What processes are reflected in these figures? At the very beginning of the 2000s anti-Semitic material was mainly published in marginal publications, in general, monthly ultra-nationalist newspaper with a print run of around one thousand. From 2002 a new phase begins with a sharp rise in the scale of anti-Semitic propaganda.

The colossal increase in the number of anti-Semitic publications between 2002 and 2006 was caused by the activity of the International Academy for Personnel Management [MAUP]. MAUP publications contained up to 90% of the general amount of anti-Semitic material in the print media. From 2002-2005 the amount of anti-Semitic material increased each year by 1.5-2 times, with publications with a print run of tens or even hundreds of thousands of copies coming to the fore.

In 2006 the number of anti-Semitic publications rose only slightly against 2005. In 2007 for the first time since 2002 a reduction was observed in the amount of anti-Semitic propaganda. Furthermore, a detailed analysis indicates a reduction during the entire year but an especially sharp fall from autumn 2007 (183 publications during the first quarter; 137 – in the second; 147 in the third when elections were taking place to the Verkhovna Rada (parliament); and 75 in the final quarter.)

In autumn 2007 for a number of reasons MAUP curtailed its anti-Semitic campaign as dramatically as it launched it. Since September 2007, with the trend continuing in 2008, there has been a sharp fall in the number of anti-Semitic publications. According to the results of monitoring over the first nine months of 2009 we can speak of a tenfold (!) reduction in the number of anti-Semitic publications in Ukrainian regular issues in comparison with the same period in 2007.

We thus see that the claim about a constant increase in anti-Semitism in the Ukrainian media was justified from 2002-2006 however it is precisely in 2007-2008 that in this area we observe a fall, moreover one on a colossal scale.

Anti-Semitism in the public consciousness

In sociology there are various methods for assessing how widespread xenophobia is within society. Ukrainian researchers (in the first instance the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) and specifically Vladimir Paniotto) most often use the Bogardus Social Distance Scale which measures the social distance between different groups of the population. The respondent’s answer to the question of how they would be prepared to view members of another ethnic group (as members of their family, close friends, neighbours, colleagues, etc) makes It possible to determine the social distance which they would like to maintain with respect to people of that group. The accumulated number of various answers are used to give a mark on a scale from one to seven where the higher the figure, the lower the level of tolerance towards that group.

The last such survey was carried out in summer 2008.  Although the results have not been officially presented, preliminary figures were given by V. Paniotto at a conference on Ukrainian – Jewish relations held in Kyiv on 29 October.

According to the results of the study, for the first time in many years the social distance index between the Eastern Slavonic majority (Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians) and Jews decreased (from 4.6 in 2007 to 4.1 in 2008).

This is a reasonably significant change although, of course, the results of one study are not yet enough to speak of a steady trend. It should be borne in mind that previously, according to earlier KIIS studies, the social distance towards Jews was only rising (from 3.63 in 1994 to 4.6 in 2007).

Unfortunately the results of studies based on the Bogardus Scale are not in my opinion enough to draw conclusions about xenophobia (and anti-Semitism as one of its specific manifestations) in the mass consciousness. This scale determines precisely and only social distance, and interpreting it in terms of “tolerance”, “xenophobia” and “anti-Semitism” is problematical. The Bogardus Scale was devised back in the 1930s and first and foremost measures the level of integration into society (not to say assimilation) of ethnic minorities. It would hardly be justified to try to cover the whole diversity of inter-ethnic relations with this scale. One should therefore be very careful with any definite assertions like “such and such a number of respondents did not wish to see Jews as Ukrainian citizens” pulled out of the context of the study.

Furthermore, one should draw attention to the social context. I think that for a post-Soviet society a high level of social distance is on the whole natural, as is the “negative” development over the last 10-15 years. In conditions of a breakdown of the Soviet model of society, the role of ethnic identification increases with this being normal. At the same time, the boundaries between different groups become more fixed and the level of social distance accordingly rises. The role of religious identification also increases obstructing closer contact (including marriage) with members of different ethnic and religious groups. It is hardly justified to equate this process with a rise in xenophobia.

Finally, I would like to point out one not unimportant detail specifically relating to anti-Semitism. Jews are in the most favourable position in comparison with other ethnic groups – they are the minority closest to the Eastern Slavonic (Ukrainian – Russian) majority. The distance with regard to Jews is less than that towards Romanians, Hungarians, Greeks or Tatars, not to mention the traditional “leaders” in the xenophobia rating – Roma (gypsies), people from the Caucuses, South-East Asian countries, and people with dark skins. According to surveys over the last two years, only Poles have almost caught up with Jews – the social distance index with regard to them was 4.7 in 2007 and 4.2 in 2008.

*  *  *

We thus see that the assertions about a “sharp increase” in anti-Semitism “over recent times” are not borne out by the data we hold. The situation if of course far from ideal and in different spheres of public life one observes worrying features. We must acknowledge for example a sharp rise in the number of racist crimes over the last two years. One can also mention that a migrant-phobic discourse has gained topicality and demand in society, with this teetering on the edge or toppling over into xenophobia. However if we speak specifically of anti-Semitism, then there has on the contrary been a noticeable fall.

One would hope that in discussing such a delicate subject which undoubtedly requires particular attention, experts and publicists could be guided by facts, and not emotion.

(very slightly abridged for readers outside Ukraine, however no details from the monitoring have been omitted - translator)

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