In Fascism and the new far right, Racism, Russia, Ukraine, Ukraine Elections 2019, Vladimir Zelensky

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine April 21, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Anti-semitism is a historical issue in Ukraine; seen as a land of programs, Nazi collaborators and Holocaust revisionism. For some, it may be a surprise therefore that the president in waiting, Vladimir Zelensky, is of Jewish heritage and that the above allegations are exaggerated or no longer the case. Certainly there have been a flurry of articles in the MSM with headlines such as “How a Jew Won Over the Land of the Cossacks”.

In this article, written exclusively for the New Cold War website, regular contributor Dmitry Kovalevich questions whether anti-semitism and fascism can necessarily be conflated, examines the situation in Ukraine and speculates on how Zelensky’s roots could impact on the county’s society and politics.

By Dmitry Kovalevich

Published on NCW, May 14, 2019

Some western commentators are showing a tendency to see the recent election of Vladimir Zelensky as Ukraine’s president as a rebuttal of ‘Russian allegations about fascists in Ukraine.’ This is due to Zelensky being of Jewish origin, as is the current prime-minister Vladimir Groisman.

However, before concurring with this premise, we should remind ourselves of a few important facts.

1. Fascism is not equal to anti-Semitism. The latter existed long before the emergence of fascist movements (rooted rather in religious strife) and manifested itself in Ukraine in mass pogroms in the 18thcentury and during the nationalists’ rule in 1918-1919. At the same time, some fascist movements, such as the Spanish Francoists, were not openly anti-Semitic and thousands of European Jews managed to escape from the Holocaust, migrating from areas occupied by the German Nazis via fascist Spain, even though the country was Hitler’s ally.

The Italian fascism of Mussolini in the early 1920s also declared during its initial phase that it wasn’t anti-Semitic. In 1923, meeting with chief Italian rabbi Angelo Sacerdoti, Mussolini claimed that “the government and Italian fascism had never intended to conduct and were not now conducting a policy of anti-Semitism’ [1]. However, history proved that these were just empty phrases: thousands ordinary Jews were eventually murdered in concentration camps. Nevertheless, there were rich people of Jewish origin who supported Mussolini. “From the outset, there were Jews in Mussolini’s inner circle. In 1922, 230 took part in the fascist march on Rome which resulted in his coming to power with the full approval of the king. The Israeli writer and academic, Dan Segre, recalled the image of his father dressed in the fascist uniform of fez with tassel, golden belt and silver dagger,” writes the Israeli ‘Jewish Chronicle’ [2]. Italian Jewish banker Guido Jung was a member of the Grand Council of Fascism and served as the Italian Minister of Finance from 1932-35 under Benito Mussolini [3]. Another Italian Jewish banker, Ettore Ovazza [4], also was a committed fascist and strong Mussolini supporter.

Furthermore, modern fascist movements may also not be anti-Semitic; instead targeting other categories of people such as, Muslims, communists, Russians, Catholics, socialists, trade-unionists, feminists, Africans, Roma people. In other words, fascism and anti-Semitism are different things, though they may intersect and, most surely, both are deplorable.

2. Historically, Ukrainian nationalism is rather anti-Semitic in character. Mass pogroms unleashed by Ukrainian nationalists during the civil war (1918-1920) took the lives of thousands of Ukrainian Jews. According to historian and Holocaust researcher, Peter Kenez, “before the advent of Hitler, the greatest mass murder of Jews occurred in the Ukraine in the course of the Civil war.” [5]

The leader of the Ukrainian nationalists, Symon Petliura, was assassinated in Paris in 1926 in revenge for those pogroms by a Jewish avenger, Sholom Schwartzbard [6]. During the trial, surviving victims of the pogroms in Ukraine testified in defence of Schwartzbard and the French jury acquitted him for the assassination. After the Maidan coup, Petliura’s statue, was unveiled in Ukraine in October 2017, an act that was denounced as disgraceful and deplorable by the World Jewish Congress [7].

Despite this, when in power during the civil war, Ukrainian nationalists didn’t declare their anti-Semitic views openly, in order to get support from the Entente (British, French, US) forces. Quite often they did not target rich Jewish businessmen in Ukraine; instead, they tried to obtain their financial support. Some Ukraine bankers of Jewish origin gave financial support to the nationalist anti-Semitic troops, fearing more for their property – which was to be nationalized by the Bolsheviks – than the fate of the masses of poor Jews killed by Ukrainian nationalists. This form of anti-Semitism, as favoured by the Ukrainian nationalists, can be seen as opportunistic and hypocritical. Highly aware of their financial dependency on external support, they tended to say what they believed their foreign paymasters wanted to hear, while doing at home what their local supporters (mostly anti-Semites) wanted them to do. They required the support of armed gangs to stay in power and they needed money from the sponsors to pay the gangs. During the civil war, Ukraine’s nationalist leaders didn’t even try to discipline their gangs or prevent pogroms; realizing that their gangs would sooner depose or kill their leader, replacing him with another figure.

“In 1919, Ukraine was considered a cemetery for the Jewish people. Ukrainian nationalism was the worst enemy of the Jews. And the presidency of a person of Jewish origin after a hundred years is not the end of the story. It is necessary to follow the hopes and anxieties. Zelensky must solve existential problems in a country where people tend to blame Jews for everything, ” writes [8] Israeli edition of The Globes, commenting on Zelensky’s election.

3. Voting for Zelensky during recent elections in Ukraine may prove that some 73% voters are not anti-Semites and that is good news, but there is bad news too: Ukrainian policy (at least internal) is being determined by an aggressive minority of radical nationalists and anti-Semites. The Ukrainian government is weak enough and is unable to disband the unleashed neo-Nazi armed groups. Moreover, Western partners are turning a blind eye to the armed neo-Nazi groups while they are largely engaged in fighting against ‘pro-Russians’. Similarly, Western Entente forces turned a blind eye to Petliura’s anti-Semites 100 years ago as they for the most part fought against revolutionary forces (Bolsheviks and N.Makhno’s anarchists). The weakness at the core of the Ukraine’s post-Maidan government is in its coup origin: any government that comes to power without the approval of the majority is weak and can rely only on military force. Any government installed via coup, regime change or direct West military intervention, remains weak (for example like the recent governments of Libya, Afghanistan or Somalia) and tends to collapse as soon as the West withdraws its military and/or financial support.

A president of Jewish origin may serve for Ukrainian nationalists, even as a convenient cover for practicing anti-Semitic assaults or the public praising of Nazis. Let us not forget that the election of an Afro-American as US president didn’t help much to solve the problem of racism in some strata of American society. The number of Afro-Americans, killed by police during Obama’s presidency, only increased, triggering the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Modern Ukrainian nationalists and neo-Nazis rely more on their extralegal powers than representation in government. Their policy is to lobby (bully) the government and force it to accept the decisions they demand. In particular, this applies to the policy of sharing budget finances for their nationalist structures and activities.

Regardless of his personal views, elected president Zelensky would not be able to do anything with them. Moreover, he would be a somewhat nominal president, while internal policy will be determined by the Prime-minister. Recently, the oligarch who stands behind Zelensky and promoted him, Igor Kolomoisky, said [9] that the Prime-Minister should be current Internal minister Arsen Avakov. And, it should be remembered that the notorious Nazi regiment ‘Azov’ is run by Avakov (as it is integrated into his National Guard). Even Western media and international human right groups recognize that they are neo-Nazis and pose a serious threat because the Kiev government loses its ‘state monopoly on violence’ [10]. Azov recruits neo-Nazis from all over Europe and beyond [11]. A few days ago they openly placed [12] the flag of the Nazi Third Reich on their positions in Donbass. They do not care who the president of Ukraine is, as long as they get their financial support (including Western financial aid going to Ukraine). Nevertheless, the figure of the elected president may help them even more, by whitewashing their actions, making a so-called ‘international community’ persuading outsiders to believe that there is ‘no fascism in Ukraine’. Western and Ukrainian policy-makers may see neo-Nazi armies as just a tool against Russia, but neo-Nazis also see the western and Ukrainian policy-makers as a tool to raise funds and get arms.


4. Claims about rising fascism and far-right terror come as a rule not directly from Russia, although western politicians tend to interpret them as ‘Russian claims’ and ignoring the threat, in order to avoid ‘echoing Putin’s propaganda’. But Russia doesn’t have its journalists working in Ukraine – Russian reporters are not allowed to enter Ukraine and Kiev has banned (blocked) most Russian media since 2014. Most claims about far-right and fascist threats come from within Ukraine. Many people in Ukraine have been reporting such incidents since 2014. The difference is that Russian media gets hold of their claims and pass them on, while most of the Western media rejects them because ‘Russia said this’. Assuredly, most Ukrainians can speak Russian fluently (but not English or German) and it easier for them to report using the Russian language. However, when some of them appeal to West MSM, their reports and claims are often rejected on the same ground: ‘because Russia said the same thing’. One day, this ridiculous approach may lead to the denial of the world being round, merely because Russians say the same thing.

5. The director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Eduard Dolinsky, makes daily posts on his Facebook page [13] about the realities of anti-Semitism in Ukraine: vandalism, assaults and the lionizing of the Ukrainian Holocaust perpetrators at government level.

In 2017 he wrote for the NYT:

“Virulent right-wing nationalist groups have found new prominence in Ukrainian politics in recent years. Although extremist political parties make up only a small minority of Parliament, far-right groups have violently clashed with the government on a number of occasions. Many Jews fear that the government will never repudiate the cult of the O.U.N.-U.P.A. for fear of provoking a far-right backlash. As the historical revisionism has ramped up, so has the desecration of Ukraine’s Holocaust sites and memorials. Babi Yar’s commemorative memorial was vandalized nine times in 2015 and 2016, with everything from painted swastikas to an attempt on Rosh Hashana to burn down a menorah at the site. More recently, a Holocaust memorial in the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil was painted with a swastika and SS runes. To the great distress of Ukraine’s Jewish community, these cases remain unsolved. In fact, law enforcement here often denies that a problem exists. On Jan. 1, a torch-lit march through central Kiev in honor of the O.U.N. leader Stepan Bandera rang out with cries of “Jews out.” [14]

Currently he continues to report on the spiralling anti-Semitism taking place in Ukraine but western observers tend to ignore even neo-Nazis openly brandishing SS uniform during official events [15] as they have a convenient pretext to whitewash Ukrainian Nazis because of the ethnicity of the newly elected president.

6. One of the Maidan leaders and the current secretary of the National Security and Defence Committee, Olexander Turchinov, was the main initiator of the civil war in Donbass. He was a head of the interim Maidan government five years ago. And he has sent Ukrainian nationalist volunteers battalions to suppress Donbass protesters – their clashes grew eventually into the civil war which continues until today. Turchynov is still one of the main proponents of radical Ukrainian nationalism and anti-Russian sentiments in Kiev government. But Olexander Turchynov is in fact an ethnic Russian himself. Paradoxically, Ukrainian far-right nationalists were sent by an ethnic Russian to fight against ‘pro-Russians’ in Donbass, while many of those ‘pro-Russian separatists’ were fellow ethnic Ukrainians, although with different political views. This reveals that ethnic belonging in modern politics matters much lesser than class or business interests. To a greater extent, Ukrainian policy is decided by western masters (US in particular). And the aim of that US policy is to provoke and weaken Russia. Since most ordinary Ukrainians are not war-mongering nationalists, there remains only an aggressive minority of radical neo-Nazis and anti-Semites to pursue this policy. Would Vladimir Zelensky be able to reverse this policy? No, he could not: neither armed nationalists nor the US will allow him to do it. And he claimed after election that the internal and external policy of Ukraine will remain the same, promising only to ‘fight corruption’ as all former presidents promised to do.



[1](Jews in Mussolini’s Italy: from equality to persecution)

















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