The Donetsk anti-Semitic leaflets – what should not be overlooked
Google the words “anti-Semitic leaflet” and the first pages will be only about Ukraine following the appearance this week of scandalous anti-Semitic leaflets purporting to be from the self-styled pro-Russian "Donetsk People's Republic". Most accounts mention “separatists” and then consider who could hope to gain from them. Since not all reports demonstrate due skepticism, and many go on to repeat unsubstantiated claims about supposedly rising anti-Semitism in Ukraine, the likely fall-out and inevitable mileage to be gained by the Kremlin seems clear. Nor is this mileage only in the future. The Joint Diplomatic Statement on Ukraine signed on April 17 by the EU, US, Russia and Ukraine successfully avoids mention of Crimea at all, but does strongly “condemn and reject all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism”. A gift to the Russian propaganda machine.
Whoever was behind the leaflets, the Jewish people who saw them outside the Donetsk Synagogue on April 15, the eve of Passover, must have been distressed by clear echoes of the text posted around Kyiv on 28 September 1941. That had ordered all Jews to assemble near Babi Yar, then a ravine near Kyiv. Over the following days Nazi Einsatzgruppen and local collaborators stripped naked and murdered 33 thousand Jewish men, women and children.
The website Donbas News cited the Donetsk Jewish community as reporting that three men in balaclavas with a Russian Federation flag had pasted the leaflets near the synagogue. “They believe that this was an attempt to provoke them into conflict in order to then blame them for attacking the separatists”.
The leaflet addresses “citizens of Jewish nationality” and is purportedly from the headquarters of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic. It states that since the leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish community supported the “Banderite junta in Kyiv” and are against the republic, all over the age of 16 are ordered to register with the Donetsk Republic Commissar on Nationality Issues, with this costing 50 USD. They must also bring passports where their religious affiliation will be recorded, as well as documents about their families and property. If they refuse to register, they will be stripped of their citizenship and expelled from the “republic” with their property confiscated.
The supposed signatory, Denis Pushilin, and other “republic” representatives have denied any involvement in producing the leaflets. Even people with the far-right views of many of the pro-Russian activists, such as Pavel Gubarev and Alexei Khudyakov, would be likely to understand how damaging such an undertaking would be to the "republic’s" reputation. This would not, of course, preclude various motley individuals from an amateur attempt to extort some money.
The Daily Beast spoke with the Chief Rabbi of Donetsk, Pinhas Vyshedski who said he could not imagine that “anything as “cynical” and “anti-human” could ever happen to his community”. He believes it to be a provocation, but does note that Alexander Kryakov, press secretary of the “republic” is a notorious anti-Semite.
Vaad Ukraine [the Association of Jewish Organizations and Associations] has reposted a Forumdaily.com article on the subject of these and other leaflets. If they had not been produced by the self-proclaimed republic then it seemed possible that they were the work of individuals or official bodies with an interest in discrediting the pro-Russian activists.. Forumdaily.com spoke to a political analyst familiar with the activities of the Security Service [SBU]. The analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the text might be the sort of thing the SBU could be responsible for, however in the present situation security service officers have far more immediate problems and all the necessary specialists were in any case removed when Viktor Yanukovych was president. “Such operations were carried out “on commission” in Russia or by FSB [Russian Security Service] people brought to Ukraine.” It could be groups fighting the separatists who hoped to thus discredit them. He believes it possible, however, that the Russian FSB are continuing to milk the subject of anti-Semitism from a different angle.
On the other hand, he does not at all rule out the possibility that it has come from the separatists and says that it’s entirely in their style. He mentions that some are permanently high on alcohol or drugs and that they had raided a vodka factory on Monday. “You can expect anything from them”.
Primitive but literate?
Forumdaily.com points out a crucial detail which has been ignored so far. From April 14-16 some young men in camouflage gear and weapons went around shops in Donetsk handing out leaflets addressed at local businessmen. The same paper, purportedly from the “republic” headquarter demanded a “tax” from the businessmen of 70 USD each month to fill the republic’s reserves.
Both leaflets clearly hearken back to a play by the Strugatsky brothers written in 1991 “Jews of St Petersburg, or gloomy conversations by candlelight”. The leaflet addressed to Jews, and modeled on the order from September 1941, and that to “the rich men of St Petersburg” are close to those circulated in Donetsk from April 14-16.
There are certainly no grounds for suspecting the pro-Russian “republic” activists of being closet intellectuals. The authors therefore conclude that they cannot be behind the provocative leaflets and believe the creator of these is a person inclined to original and theatrical gestures who has decided to repeat the Strugatsky brothers’ scenario in real life and not on the stage.
Whether or not this is correct can be questioned, however the concluding comment is well worth heeding. “A real information war is raging and the very fact that the Jewish card is being used is extremely dangerous, whether this is by supporters of a united Ukraine or supporters of Russia and the pro-Russian separatists. The grubby provocation with the leaflets could result in real pogroms, especially considering the level of conflict in the Donetsk region and the fact that a possible anti-terrorist operation by Kyiv against the Donetsk separatists could lead to bloodshed in the coming days.”
Since Russia’s invasion of the Crimea began on Feb 27, the attempts to provoke civil war have been overt. They were consistently thwarted, as were all efforts to present EuroMaidan and the new government in Kyiv as rabid anti-Semites. Events of the last weeks have demonstrated that Russian troops, “tourists” and local titushki or hired thugs can be used where “civic strife” is otherwise unconvincing. Anti-Semitism must not be manipulated in the same way.