Ukraine 'Euromaidan' Protests Must Shun Anti-Semitism

Nationalist Parties and Offensive Skits Must End

By Oleksandr Feldman

Published January 15, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

(JTA) — From the moment of its spontaneous combustion on Nov. 21 and for weeks thereafter, the mass pro-European Union encampment in the center of Kiev appeared to represent the epitome of 21st-century European values.

The activities of the vast, multi-ethnic crowd in Maidan Square quickly came to be called Euromaidan and celebrated themes of democracy, pluralism and an end to government corruption. But the uplifting mood began to change in early December when Ukraine’s three main opposition parties – Fatherland, UDAR and Svoboda – began to take control of Euromaidan.

Activists of the ultranationalist, anti-Semitic and grotesquely misnamed Svoboda (Freedom) soon came to the fore, giving the protests a progressively darker and more violent edge. A turning point came during a mass march through the center of Kiev on Dec. 10, when a group of Svoboda activists, led by members of parliament, toppled a statue of Lenin while chanting an ominous warning to the president: “Yanukovych, you’ll be next!”

Ever since the breakthrough success of Svoboda in the 2010 elections, leaders of Fatherland and UDAR repeatedly have declined entreaties from myself and many other supporters of democracy in Ukraine to break their electoral alliance with Svoboda, apparently seeing the party and its leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, as essential partners in the coalition to topple President Viktor Yanukovych.

Yet during the last days of December, as momentum slipped from the demonstrators with news that Yanukovych had buttressed his position by accepting a $15 billion loan package from Russian President Vladmir Putin, Fatherland leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk and UDAR chief Vitali Klitschko must have become acutely aware that Svoboda’s growing profile was tarnishing the protesters’ claim to membership in the camp of modern-day Europe and not the fascist Europe of 70 years ago.

This became crystal clear during a cringe-inducing vertep, a comedic skit based on Ukrainian folk tradition, performed on the main stage at Euromaidan on New Year’s Eve. Based equally on the birth of Jesus and contemporary Ukrainian politics, the lead role was played by a Svoboda parliamentarian named Bogdan Benyuk, who donned black garb and sidelocks to play a stereotypical Orthodox Jewish wheeler-dealer character called Zhyd (Kike). Explaining to the crowd that he is involved in various occupations – including banking, stock market speculation, loan sharking and hosting a talk show – the Jewish oligarch character sings gleefully, “East and West belong to me; our people are everywhere.”

Zhyd creates problems for the newborn Jesus and contemplates taking a bribe from a character evoking both Yanukovych and King Herod to help him crush the protesters. Fascinatingly, the Jew switches sides and joins the opposition when he learns that on orders from the king, the regime’s forces are preparing to kill Jewish firstborns. The audience is given to understand that the shift in loyalty is due not to a belated outburst of conscience, but rather because Zhyd is worried the regime may turn on his own people.

The bottom line of the supposedly all-in-good-fun skit – it was followed by a solemn singing of the Ukrainian national anthem and congratulatory speeches by Yatsenyuk, Klitschko and Tyahnybok – appeared to be that while perfidious Jewish oligarchs care only for the welfare of Jews, given their supposed power and influence it’s preferable for the opposition coalition to have them inside the tent pissing out rather than the other way around.

Even more jarring imagery came to the fore the following day when 15,000 opposition members greeted the new year by marching in a Svoboda-sponsored torchlight parade down Central Kiev’s Kreshatik Boulevard in commemoration of the 105th anniversary of the birth of Stepan Bandera, an ally of Nazi Germany whose followers participated in massacres of Ukrainian Jews. Marchers carried red and black nationalist banners and shouted nationalist slogans as they cheered Tyahnybok and expressed their undying love for Bandera.

On Jan. 7, the U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the Ukrainian authorities to refrain from the use of force and maintain a national reconciliation dialogue with the opposition, while calling on all parties to refrain from hate speech and anti-Semitic actions. Clearly, while still sympathetic with the declared democratic aspirations of the opposition, neither the United States nor the European Union will long tolerate the growing ascendancy of Svoboda.

To salvage their remaining credibility, Yatsenyuk and Klitschko must immediately denounce the neo-fascist drift of recent weeks and break off their alliance with Svoboda. Then they should sit and negotiate with the Ukrainian government and leaders of the country’s vibrant civil society, including all the religious communities, to find a solution to the protracted standoff in Kiev that gives hope for a democratic future for Ukraine based on rule of law.

Oleksandr Feldman is president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee and a member of the parliament of Ukraine.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.