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One example came in February, when party member Igor Miroshnichenko shimmied up the towering statue of Vladimir Lenin in the town of Akhtyrka, threw a rope around the communist leader’s head, tied the other end to a truck and brought down the monument.
In December, the same man said Mila Kunis, a Ukrainian-American Jewish actress, was “no Ukrainian, but a kike.” Asked by a newspaper if Miroshnichenko could be prosecuted for making a racial insult, a Justice Ministry official said the word he used – “zhydovka,” a feminized version of kike – was permissible and part of the official vocabulary.
“This was another Svoboda success in poisoning the public sphere,” Likhachev says.
Svoboda officials declined several JTA requests for comment for this story. In February, Likhachev signed a letter along with several other Jewish Ukrainians asking the Jewish Agency for Israel to cancel plans to hold its board of governors meeting in Kiev in June. The letter, which several Jewish leaders dismissed as overblown, said that poor democratic standards and Svoboda’s ascent made Kiev an ill-suited choice.
“Svoboda are riffraff – nothing comparable to Jobbik, which has its own militia and coherent policy,” said Yaakov Bleich, a Ukrainian chief rabbi.
“Svoboda is troubling as a symptom of the main challenges facing Ukrainian Jewry: the economic recession and political uncertainty,” Bleich said. Still, he added, “because Svoboda is a mob, it’s less predictable than Jobbik. Svoboda’s leaders may be unable to control anti-Semitic displays.”
Despite the disagreements, many Jewish leaders seem to agree that Svoboda’s success owes more to frustration with the establishment than to its anti-Semitic statements. Likhachev pointed specifically to the discontent that emerged in the wake of the Orange Revolution, the protests following the 2004 election that brought former president Viktor Yushchenko to power on a platform of greater government accountability.
Bickering and disunity cost Yushchenko the presidency in 2010. He was succeeded by Viktor Yanukovych, the man whom protestors accused five years earlier of election fraud. That development strengthened Svoboda in two ways, Likhachev says.
“First, it radicalized disgruntled voters,” Likhachev says. “Second, the opposition allies learned they needed to stay united to win. So they are willing to overlook Svoboda’s anti-Semitism – to the detriment of Ukrainian society and its Jewish population.”