Ukraine: A Tale of Two Trips

Posted by Ira Forman
May 23, 2014
Men Prepare To Read Prayers at a Synagogue in Ukraine

In a March 18, 2014, speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his now oft-repeated claim that "nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites" led a coup in Ukraine that installed the current interim government.

It was not the first time the Russian government evoked a historical fear to justify their resistance to the mass protests in Ukraine. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made a similar argument a month earlier in the Russian daily, Kommersantand it is a constant refrain of the Kremlin’s powerful propaganda television.

And yet, Putin’s statement caught me -- the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism -- by surprise.  The reasons were countless, but one in particular stood out: When I last visited Ukraine in November 2013, the primary message from meetings with representatives of the Putin-allied Yanukovych government was that "anti-Semitism did not exist in Ukraine."

I was skeptical of the claim then, and even more confounded after Putin’s remarks.

And so, I returned to Ukraine last week to find some answers. During a four-day visit to Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk, I met with Jewish community leaders, Jewish citizens, and officials in the interim Ukrainian government responsible for the Jewish community's security.

In each conversation, the consensus message was patently clear: Members of the Jewish community in Ukraine do not see themselves as victims of Ukrainian government-sponsored anti-Semitism. And where those acts of anti-Semitism have occurred, they are often associated with pro-Russian provocateurs.

The same message has been relayed over and over to our Embassy, to other visiting U.S. government officials, and indeed to the international community. The unfortunate reality is that the situation in Ukraine is rife with misconceptions and misinformation peddled by a Russian government keen on pulling the wool over the eyes of their own citizens and the international community in order to rationalize their attempted illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula and to conceal the mounting suppression of rights in Russia.

Allow me, therefore, to briefly correct some misstatements of facts based on extensive conversations with Jewish community leaders and human rights activists in Ukraine, and reinforced by the reporting of independent international organizations such as the OSCE, the UN and the Council of Europe:

  • Local Jewish groups have reported few incidents of anti-Semitism in general across Ukraine: The Head of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine recently said that "since 2007 we have been seeing a gradual decrease in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine."
  • There has been a rise in attacks and threats against members of minorities, including anti-Semitic incidents, in parts of Ukraine where Russian forces and pro-Russian separatists are operating -- the Crimean peninsula and eastern Ukraine.  For example, the Chief Reform Rabbi recently fled Crimea following anonymous death threats. Ukraine’s Jewish community widely believes these and other provocations to be committed by pro-Russian actors, not by the Ukrainian government or even by Ukrainian right-wing nationalists.
  • The interim Ukraine government condemns anti-Semitism: The interim government officials have condemned all forms of intolerance, in particular anti-Semitism. They have stated their commitment to investigate and find perpetrators of crimes based on anti-Semitism, and they pledged to build an independent Ukraine that respects the many ethnic and religious groups that make up its population.
  • The interim Ukraine government is committed to providing security: Where the interim Ukrainian government is in control, there is a heightened degree of security and a keen determination to conduct a free, fair and transparent election on May 25, one in which all of the members of the country’s ethnic and religious groups can have their voices heard.

As I walked through the remaining makeshift tire barricades guarding the once-bustling tent city in Maidan, it was strikingly clear that much has changed in the six months since my visit in November.  It wasn’t merely the backdrop of charred buildings or the irrepressible desire for liberty expressed by those still encamped.  Rather, it was the overwhelming sense of support for a united, independent Ukraine free from corruption, free from disinformation, and free from the dictates of their neighbor to the East. Ukrainians of all stripes deserve nothing less.

About the Author: Ira Forman serves as U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

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Comments

William A.
|
Pennsylvania, USA
May 24, 2014
This should be publicized as there have been numerous reports of anti Jewish activities on the part of pro Ukraine government supporters. Ukraine in history to and including WWII did not have particularly friendly relations with its Jewish citizens so I continue to be suspicious. Obviously Russia itself has a similar history
Eric J.
|
New Mexico, USA
May 24, 2014

Prince Charles isn't the only one who can draw parrallels between Hitler's actions and Putin's...and in reality this goes way beyond the obvious parrallels of anexation of neighboring territory of other nations.

My sympathies to the Russian people, for they face the same dillema as the German people did when a socalist democracy marched to the tune of an ultra-nationalist agenda...and the stinking breath of nationalist socialism comes out of Putin's mouth every time he speaks, blaming others for exactly what he and his government are guilty of.

How can any Russian citizen take pride in their country when it's leadership actively supports ongoing genocide in Syria at the hands of Assad by arming him to the teeth, and blocks any referral in the UNSC to the ICC to hold the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity to account?

When gangs of "Putin's youth" attack protestors on the streets of Moscow?

Mark Twain once said, "history never repeats itself , but sometimes it rhymes." and that pretty well sums up the comparitive analysis between the two, but then Hiler didn't have nukes...which makes this a whole nother ballgame folks...with a guy who's gone out of his way, above and beyond, to destroy any good relations Russia might have with the US, all the while claiming to want good diplomatic relations.

By General Omar N. Bradley
Boston, Massachusetts
November 10, 1948

(excerpt from speech)

ARMED forces can wage wars but they cannot make peace. For there is a wide chasm between war and peace—a chasm that can only be bridged by good will, discussion, compromise, and agreement. In 1945 while still bleeding from the wounds of aggression, the nations of this world met in San Francisco to build that span from war to peace. For three years—first hopefully, then guardedly, now fearfully—free nations have labored to complete that bridge. Yet again and again they have been obstructed by a nation whose ambitions thrive best on tension, whose leaders are scornful of peace except on their own impossible terms.

The unity with which we started that structure has been riddled by fear and suspicion. In place of agreement we are wrangling dangerously over the body of that very nation whose aggression had caused us to seek each other as allies and friends.

Only three years after our soldiers first clasped hands over the Elbe, this great wartime ally has spurned friendship with recrimination, it has clenched its fists and skulked in conspiracy behind it secretive borders.

As a result today we are neither at peace nor war. Instead we are engaged in this contest of tension, seeking agreement with those who disdain it, rearming, and struggling for peace.

Time can be for or against us.

It can be for us if diligence in our search for agreement equals the vigilance with which we prepare for a storm.

It can be against us if disillusionment weakens our faith in discussion—or if our vigilance corrodes while we wait.

Disillusionment is always the enemy of peace. And today—as after World War I —disillusionment can come from expecting too much, too easily, too soon. In our impatience we must never forget that fundamental differences have divided this world; they allow no swift, no cheap, no easy solutions.

While as a prudent people we must prepare ourselves to encounter what we may be unable to prevent, we nevertheless must never surrender ourselves to the certainty of that encounter.

For if we say there is no good in arguing with what must inevitably come, then we shall be left with no choice but to create a garrison state and empty our wealth into arms. The burden of long-term total preparedness for some indefinite but inevitable war could not help but crush the freedom we prize. It would leave the American people soft victims for bloodless aggression.

BOTH the East and the West today deprecate war. Yet because of its threatening gestures, its espousal of chaos, its secretive tactics, and its habits of force—one nation has caused the rest of the world to fear that it might recklessly resort to force rather that be blocked in its greater ambitions.

The American people have said both in their aid to Greece and in the reconstruction of Europe that any threat to freedom is a threat to our own lives. For we know that unless free peoples stand boldly and united against the forces of aggression, they may fall wretchedly, one by one, into the web of oppression.

It is fear of the brutal unprincipled use of force by reckless nations that might ignore the vast reserves of our defensive strength that has caused the American people to enlarge their air, naval, and ground arms.

Reluctant as we are to muster this costly strength, we must leave no chance for miscalculation in the mind of any aggressor.

Because in the United States it is the people who are sovereign, the Government is theirs to speak their voice and to voice their will, truthfully and without distortion.

We, the American people, can stand cleanly before the entire world and say plainly to any state:

“This Government will not assail you.

“You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressor.”

---end excerpt

Ira, it's the same old conflict, just a different century with different actors on the stage, and a far larger audience at risk.

EJ 5/24/2014

Ernest C.
|
United States
May 25, 2014
The propaganda in these State Department blog posts is so heavy-handed and amateurish that it reminds me of reading Wikipedia.

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