Beyond the Cusp

February 23, 2014

Anti-Semitism; the Ugly Underside of the Ukraine Uprising

Amid the claims of good news and the distinct possibility that the uprising in the Ukraine may be on the cusp of a resolution and to be forming an interim government which will be composed of representatives of the various political parties, there are some sobering reports of increasing anti-Semitism. The most disturbing portions of these reports has been that both the police and security personnel of the former government of President Yanukovych as well as enforcers from various segments from among the rebellious demonstrating parties have been threatening Jewish residents in Kiev. There have been reports which imply that Ukrainian radical movements are working with and have very close ties to the Hungarian Fascist Jobbik Party, a reputed neo-Nazi nationalist party. Furthermore, there have been accusations of protesters reaching Jewish areas of Kiev and vandalizing shops. Many of Kiev’s Jewish population have fled the Ukrainian capital city escaping to safer regions where there are no protests and the police are not acting as enforcers of a hated regime stamping out those who they consider to be a source of the country’s problems. With the validation of the police threatening the remaining Jews claiming the uprising was orchestrated by Jews attempting to take control of the Ukraine government and also validating that some members of the extreme right-wing nationalist parties are also denouncing the Jews as supporters of President Yanukovych and his criminal governance, it becomes clear that both extremes are attacking the Jews in order to make them responsible for both sides of the civil strife setting the grounds for potential persecution of the Jews regardless of which side prevails. Such accusation of Jewish manipulation of governance in order to pit one sector of the society against the rest in order to gain influence is an old and vicious blood libel.


Twenty-five years ago, in 1989, there were almost a half a million Jews in Ukraine, now a mere 70,000 Jews are citizens of Ukraine according to official statistics. The cause of this radical decline in the Ukrainian Jewish population was a direct result of slowly growing anti-Semitism which had been steadily worsening well before the uprisings. The truth is that the uprising allowed for additional opportunities to blame the “other” for the financial, social, political and other ills that were affecting the Ukrainian peoples. As has been the case historically in the Ukraine, as in much of the rest of the world, that “other” singled out to carry the blame for all that was wrong in the society were the Jews. Recent examples of Ukrainian anti-Semitism have included a teacher of Talmud Torah in Kiev was brutally attacked by three locals requiring medical treatment at a local hospital, the stabbing a Hareidi man in Kiev this last January and the failed attempt to assassinate Vadim Rabinovich, President of the Ukrainian Jewish Congress, as an unknown assailant hurled a bomb at his car. With the renewed and escalated threats against Jews living in the Ukraine, especially in Kiev, Jews have taken precautions by not wearing Yarmulkes or other clothing and jewelry which might indicate their Jewishness.


Meanwhile, President Yanukovych has raised the issue that he is the victim of a coup and that the vote by the Ukrainian Parliament calling for him to vacate the Presidency was illegal and made under duress from outside forces. He has also gone to the extreme of comparing the current situation in the Ukraine to the Nazi takeover of pre-war Germany from the democratically elected Weimar Republic. President Yanukovych was quoted claiming, “We see the repeat of the Nazi events, when in the 1930s in Germany and Austria the Nazis came to power. This is a repeat of that. They banned parties. The same is happening now. They are banning the Communist Party of Ukraine, the Party of Regions, putting labels on it, chasing, beating people, burning houses, offices.” These statements came as President Yanukovych had fled Kiev taking refuge in the countryside in the northeast of the Ukraine, an area which supports his position of preference for close ties with Russia rather than with the European Union and other European nations.


On the brighter side of events in the Ukraine, Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been released from the prison hospital where she was serving a seven year sentence resulting from a controversial verdict on her actions as Prime Minister. Many had contended that her trial and conviction were politically motivated by President Yanukovych as he saw her as posing the greatest threat to his being reelected president in the future. She was ordered released by a vote of the parliament on Friday. Yulia Tymoshenko was warmly received by the crowds celebrating their apparent victory in Liberty Square in Kiev. Unable to stand, she addressed the cheering masses from her wheelchair proclaiming, “You are heroes!” She further stated, “Until you finish this job and until we travel all the way, nobody has the right to leave, because nobody could do it, not other countries, nobody could do what you have done. We’ve eliminated this cancer, this tumor.” Ms. Tymoshenko is rumored to be the most likely person to assume the Presidency once Mr. Yanukovych has been officially confirmed to have stepped down.


There are still a number of potential slips and falls threatening a peaceful transition as Yanukovych is still refusing to abdicate despite the protesters having gained uncontested possession of the Parliament building and much of the capital of Kiev. There is currently a tentative peace, or at least a lull in active violence between protesters and police. This would be the third agreement to halt hostilities thus far just in the last few days. The Parliament has fallen in line completely backing the calls for new governance including a new constitution which will place stricter limits of Presidential powers stripping it of much of the privileges and dictatorial powers usurped by Yanukovych since he ascended to the Presidency. The Ukraine appears to be close to a new lease on life, so to speak, yet the path ahead is neither sure nor easy. The one conclusion which can be taken is that the nationalists will have vastly increased power going into the new governance. The Ukraine also will be economically better off after removing the criminal influences and thuggery that accompanied President Yanukovych’s terms in office. Still, there is a definitive possibility that any new government could prove to fall under the influence of xenophobic purists who will call for cleansing the Ukrainian society of those who are considered to be foreigners or parts of accused subversive elements. This was part of the poisonous anti-Semitism which has been on the rise in the Ukraine as well as much of the rest of Europe as has been made overtly evident by the protestations and accusations in Hungary by the Jobbik Party and in Greece by the Golden Dawn Party.  The Ukraine will require close observation going forward and any signs of xenophobic influences should be pointed out and denounced. It is very probably too late to save and ensure a healthy Jewish population in the future of the Ukraine as the decimation of the Jews over the past twenty-five years has reduced their once significant Jewish population to a dwindling remnant more likely to be erased than it is to thrive and grow. It is a sad end to what had been a vibrant and dynamic Jewish center and an example of what is currently occurring across Europe and, I fear, soon to become all too real in the United States as well. It is this exact situation which makes Israel a necessity as otherwise the Jews would have nowhere in which to take refuge leaving them victim to the full force of unbridled hatred such as what has led to the murderous intentions so many times through the ages since the Roman dispersion. There is currently an exodus of Jews from the nation with the third largest Jewish population in the world behind Israel and the United States respectively, and that tragedy is befalling the Jews of France. Today, every Jew in France is being accused of treasonous tendencies and may as well carry the name of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. And France is far from alone, they are just the leading example with Britain, Sweden and across Europe in general everywhere that nationalist extremists are gaining in power and popularity. This too is a situation which deserves inspection and exposure to the light of day.


Beyond the Cusp


December 4, 2013

What is Behind the Ukrainian Violent Protests?

The news reports all agree that the entire protests are solely about the Ukrainian leadership’s decision not to sign an agreement which would have aligned the nation to ties favoring the European Union and further from Russia. What makes this violence a possible first incidence of more troubles to come spreading across the former Soviet Republics is the background behind the results. Russian President Putin is playing hardball in forcing these former satellite nations to make a cold and hard choice of either trade with Russia, which makes out the majority of their current trade, or choose to place their nations economic health in a future with the European Union, a future that in the current state of the European Union’s financial problems is less than a promising guarantee. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich initially turned down the offer from the European Union under the duress of threats made by Russian President Putin which made the decision an all or nothing choice but the question still persists of whether this is the whole story or is there more.


Reasons for doubts that the increasing unrest is solely over trade policies is worth investigating as it is doubtful that hundreds of thousands of demonstrators would virtually control the entire central city area of the Ukrainian Capital City of Kiev over simply a trade deal. This could be more about the people’s desires to break once and for all from their Soviet past and they see this decision by President Viktor Yanukovich as a sign that their fears that he was simply a puppet of the Russians was valid. Suspicions and anger surrounded his imprisoning of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko soon after taking office as she had many supporters and was a political rival of President Yanukovich. There were also suspicions that President Yanukovich might have ties with Russia that would affect his decisions and thus making this decision to cause even greater doubts and anger than many might have expected. The main problem will be if the decision to side with retaining close ties with Russia will cause the same difficulties for other former Soviet nations resulting in a spreading wave of discontent similar to the uprisings which spread across many Arab nations in the recent past and is still causing massive unrest in the majority, if not all, of those nations. If this proves to be the case it makes the world just that much more unstable and dangerous.  Any spreading of the kind of unrest ongoing now in the Ukraine will simply add to the economic woes in the world and that is something nobody needs as the entire world is only slowly working its way out of difficulties.


What cannot be argued is that the unrest in the Ukraine is a cause for concern and the decision by Russian President Putin to force former Soviet nations to choose their future as an all of nothing venture will only make for more disruptions and problems going forward. Where the reasons for President Putin making any move to increase trade and ties with the European Union are obviously his response to try to prevent the loss of any trade to the Europeans as Russia needs to retain these nations favored trade relations for their economy. President Putin may be overreacting or he may simply be grasping to hold on to the former Soviet nations and keep them directly tied to Russia in as many ways as possible and trade is simply one more tie he is making his stand upon. Putin does not ever take conciliatory positions nor does he play anything other than a hard game which often appears to be forcing an all or nothing choice. Until one of the former Soviet countries decides to test Putin’s ultimatums and signs an agreement with the European Union we will not know for sure if his threats to end trade relations is a bluff or an actual consequence these nations will need to include in their decision processes going forward. Should one rely on logic, that when push comes to shove, that President Putin would not give up on whatever trade benefits and good trade relations would still exist after one of the former satellites decide to ally closer to the European Union or that President Putin would cut off trade relations even at Russia’s own detriment just to punish those who challenged him. This cannot be an easy choice for the leadership of these nations and even more so for President Yanukovich as he was suspected of having too close of ties with Russia which was part of the campaign used against him.


Part of the problem also rests with the European Union who are also making the deal more difficult than is necessary. They are driving a bargain that favors the current European Union members over the new applicant nations which also makes the decision more complicated. Will the future with the European Union pay off sufficiently in the future to compensate for the lost trade with Russia. There are also numerous other concerns that breaking away from Russia could possibly entail which simply serves to muddy the waters further and there may exist some concerns which we in the West either are insensitive to simply completely unaware of as relations with the former Soviet Union was likely far different than the relations in the West. All in all, the situation in the Ukraine should be watched carefully and what we learn from their difficulties should temper decisions going forward. Unfortunate that this is occurring during a period when the United States has basically gone into hibernation as far as taking an up front and active role in international affairs. This leading from behind attitude has basically left American allies out on their own without the cover of her usual influence and protection. Let us hope that America returns to fulfill her role, as had been considered historically normal, in the near future as her steadying influences are sorely needed in a world quickly spinning out of control and sprouting fiery hot spots with an increasing rapidity.


Beyond the Cusp


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