O P I N I O N
by Eleonora Groisman
The author is president of The Ukrainian Independent Council of Jewish Women, and edits the newspaper Jewish Kiev. Authorized translation into English provided by the author is by Mr. Valery Novoselsky (executive editor of Public Diplomacy Network and of Roma Virtual Network). See:
Appeal to the representatives of international governmental and non-governmental organizations by a group of social organizations and citizens of different countries concerned about the growth of antisemitism in Ukraine:
In the 2012 elections to the Verkhovna Rada the far-right nationalist Svoboda party passed. To date, the Svoboda fraction has 37 parliament members, within the total of 450 parliament members.
For many years, Svoboda has actively used antisemitic and xenophobic rhetoric to attract voters. So, in 2004, Oleg Tyagnibok, the party leader, while praising the Ukrainian Insurgent Army soldiers, said that they were fighting “against the Muscovites, Germans, Zhids (Yids) and the other demons that wanted to seize the Ukraine.” Tyagnibok later said he was not going to apologize to the “occupiers” for saying that. Other Svoboda party members made similar expressions, as there is ample evidence in the media, demonstrations’ videos, and torchlight processions of party members, chanting xenophobic and antisemitic slogans.
On October 29, a few hours after the elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the leader of the Svoboda party Oleg Tyagnibok assured Eleanora Groisman — the President of the Ukrainian Independent Council of Jewish Women all-Ukrainian public organization, founder and editor of the Kiev Jewish media project — that his party is not antisemitic, and that the Jewish women in Ukraine should not worry. The same day, he reiterated that statement in public at a briefing for the media, in response to a question put up by the Kiev Jewish media project reporter.
Less than a month after the election to the Parliament, Svoboda party MP Igor Miroshnichenko provoked a loud antisemitic scandal in Ukraine. He called Mila Kunis, an American actress of Jewish descent, born in Ukraine , “Zhidovka.” The whole statement by the nationalist was clearly negative: “She’s not a Ukrainian, she’s a Zhidovka by birth. That’s what she can be proud of, and let the star of David be in her arms. But there’s not a word, not a single positive about the country she was born. Therefore it is not possible to consider her our own. Let her love America and Israel , and one shouldn’t glue her to Ukraine.”
Immediately following the announcement, Eleanora Groisman, the president of the Ukrainian Independent Council of Jewish Women all-Ukrainian public organization, founder and editor of the Kiev Jewish media project, formally requested the MPs from the Svoboda party and the majority MPs who consider themselves nationalists asking them not to call the Jewish women “Zhidovka” since that word is offensive and degrading Ukrainian citizens of Jewish nationality. Eleanor Groisman urged the newly elected MPs not to use the bad words “Zhid” and “Zhidovka” because having been given the status of the people’s deputies of Ukraine, they became public servants of a highest rank. And that makes their responsibility much greater. The appeal, in particular, said, “Ukraine for centuries has been a home to a minority – the Jews. The men are Jews, the women are Jews. There are no “Zhids” and “Zhidovkas” nationality in Ukraine. Out of your mouth, the word “Zhid” sounds like an antisemitic insult. And being told by a government official, it is an expression of antisemitism at the state level. On behalf of the Jewish women, I strongly urge you to remove the word “Zhid” from your vocabulary, since it both offends Jewish women, and negatively characterizes and disgraces you and Ukraine as a whole.”
In response to the Jewish Women’s appeal, the Svoboda party members not only refused to stop insulting the Jews, but tried to bleach the dirty word “Zhid” by all means. Irina Farion, a Svoboda MP, told the TSN reporters that “Zhidovochka” (a little Zhidovka) – is a gentle and kind word. A people’s deputy nationalist Mohnik said that even the term “Moskal-Zhid invaders” is not offensive. The Svoboda members claim that the use of the word “Zhid” is a necessary step for moving into Europe. And it is a catalyst for the Ukrainian language revival too.
The leader, ideologist and the people’s representatives from the Svoboda party continue to claim in numerous interviews to the media that “Zhid” is the right word for the Jews in Ukraine . They allegedly do not know another suitable word. As if they did not grew up in the USSR and in Ukraine and do not know that the Jews are Jews. Since 1917 in all official documents, birth certificates and passports of the Ukrainian SSR, the Soviet Union and in the nationality column of the Jews, the words “Jew” and “Jewish” were written. That is the official name of the nationality of grandparents, parents and all those who were born before Ukraine became independent.
For nearly a hundred years the word “Zhid” has only been found in the literature penned by the authors who did not want or did not have time to pass to the word “Jew.” An important role in the transition from the word “Zhid” that has received a negative connotation to the neutral word “Jew” was played by Hrushevsky, a prominent Ukrainian historian, social and political activist. He noted that the Ukrainians, who were trying to get rid of the name “Russin” or “Maloross” (little Russian) and be called the “Ukrainians” must understand the feelings of their Jewish fellow citizens. Many writers such as Michael Drahomanov, Paul Grabowski, Michael Kotsjubinsky, Lesya Ukrainka rejected the ethnonym “Zhid” in favor of the word “Jew.”
In Ukraine today the word “Zhid” is archaic, and the use of the words “Zhid,” “Zhidovka,” “the Zhids,” “Zhidyara” and the like have a negative connotation only and offend the dignity of the Jews. And everyone knows it.
For nearly a century, since 1917, the Jews in Ukraine are called Jews only. It was during the Nazi occupation during World War II only that the Nazis used the word “Zhids.” It is “the Zhids” that were ordered to come for registration, to be placed in a ghetto, for the mass shootings at Babi Yar and other yars in Ukraine . The word “Zhid” is inextricably linked to the Holocaust — the tragedy of the mass extermination of the Jewish people. After Ukraine ’s liberation from the Nazi invaders, the word was no more used. It is the word that was used by the Nazis that the Ukrainian nationalists decided to revive now.
In response to the request made by Eleanora Groisman, the president of the Ukrainian Independent Council of Jewish Women, regarding valid names for the Jewish citizens in Ukraine, the Ministry of Culture announced the following. “The list of nationalities, developed by the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine is used for the nationwide census. The word used officially for the Jewish people who live in Ukraine, according to the above document, is the word “Jew.”
The Ministry of Culture of Ukraine to fulfill its statutory powers, in particular in the state policy implementation in the sphere of international relations, religion and the protection of minority rights, uses that very list of nations, developed by the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.” As follows from the official letter by the Deputy Minister Yuriy Bogutsky, it is legitimate to denote the Jewish population of Ukraine by means of the word “Jew” that has been formally decided upon. That is exactly the word that was recorded in the birth certificates and passports of the Jews in the Ukrainian SSR, which was succeeded by the independent Ukraine.
Since 1991, since Ukraine has obtained independence, there is no “nationality” column in the Ukrainian citizens’ passports.
Ukrainian nationalists from the Svoboda party are actively campaigning for the return of the “nationality” column in Ukrainian passports. In 2011, legislation was introduced, offering to write the nationality at will. The insistence of Svoboda members to impose on all the “nationality” column is something totally different. In their ideology it is only the ethnic Ukrainians that are the first class citizens. Hence, the desire to make the “nationality” column obligatory is a way to divide the citizens of Ukraine into different sorts.
To date, the deputies-nationalists are publicly and straightforwardly humiliating the Ukrainian Jews. They are calling them “Zhids.” And they cause the Jews to name themselves “Zhids.”
Ukrainian MPs want to officially rename the Jews as “Zhids.” They have already prepared a relevant linguistic expertise. That is, the nationalists want to officially deprive the Jews of their nationality name, and make them to be called by the offensive naming “Zhids.”
Svoboda considers amendments to the law on national minorities to be one of the first and important bills to pass, allegedly to extend the national minorities rights.
To date, the representatives of all ethnic groups in Ukraine have equal constitutional rights. This includes the right not to be offended because of the ethnicity. Through the example of the Jews, Svoboda party has manifested its true antisemitic nature and a complete lack of respect for the Jewish citizens of Ukraine.
Now many of the Jews in Ukraine are seriously thinking about emigrating because of the growing antisemitism in the country.
In many cities in Ukraine and even in Kiev in the city center and near the synagogues there are constantly written antisemitic graffiti depicting Jews, over which the Nazi swastika is marked and the calls to “Kill the Jews,” “Death to the Jews” etc. These graffiti, despite numerous statements of the Jewish community, are not eliminated for weeks and months by the city authorities. The authors of hate drawings are never found by the law enforcement or they do not even try to find them. As a result, the antisemites feel they can act with complete impunity.
The scandal regarding the “Zhidovka” Kunis has sparked and fueled an unprecedented wave of antisemitism on the Internet. The comments by readers of publications show open hatred to the Jews and openly call for Jewish pogroms. And that with absolute impunity too.
Ukrainian Jews now constantly feel insecure due to purposeful actions, inciting ethnic strife and insulting dignity of the Jews on ethnic and religious grounds. For the first time in many years, they’re now in front of a difficult choice. Should they continue living in their country, where antisemitism is growing, or emigrate? To emigrate from the country where they live their entire life, work, share all the difficulties and are raising their children.
Yet today, the Jews are citizens of Ukraine as well as Ukrainians. And they have the same constitutional rights. Why do nationalists create impossible conditions for further residence of Jews in Ukraine?
According to the first and second parts of Article 24 of the Ukrainian Constitution, the citizens have equal constitutional rights and freedoms and are equal before the law. There can be no privileges or restrictions based on race, color, political, religious or other beliefs, sex, ethnic or social origin, property, residence, language or other characteristics.
The Law of Ukraine “On Principles of Prevention and Combating discrimination in Ukraine” stipulates that a form of discrimination is an infringement — behavior unwanted by a person and / or group, the purpose or effect of which is the humiliation of their human dignity in some sense or creating of tense, hostile, offensive or disparaging atmosphere regarding such a person or group (paragraph 7 of Article 1 and the fifth paragraph of Article 5).
In addition, under Article 11 of the Ukrainian Constitution, the State promotes the consolidation and development of the Ukrainian nation, its historical consciousness, traditions and culture, as well as the development of the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of all indigenous peoples and national minorities of Ukraine.
Antisemitism existed in Ukraine at the household level. The antisemites have been calling the Jews as “Zhids” behind their backs. But now this antisemitic slang popped up from under the gate and out of the village club. Now these deviant words “Zhid” and “Zhidovka” entered the vocabulary of the Verkhovna Rada deputies and the deputy speaker. That is, the Ukrainian antisemitism began to grow from a domestic one to the state one.
Ministry of Justice replied to the request by Eleanora Groisman, the Founder and Chief Editor of the Kiev Jewish media-project, the President of the Ukrainian Independent Council of Jewish Women all-Ukrainian public organization, regarding legal norms for naming the Jews. As follows from the official response, legislative acts of Ukraine use the terms “Jews,” “Jewish,” “persons of Jewish nationality.”
The terms “Zhids”, “Zhid” and “Zhidovka” are not used. At the same time, the letter stated that the analysis conducted by the Ministry of Justice revealed no rules that would prohibit the use of those words. Thus, the Ministry of Justice, in fact, legalized the use of the words “Zhid” and “Zhidovka.”
The Ministry of Justice representatives stated that the use of the words “Zhid” and “Zhidovka” is not contrary to the applicable law, and therefore they can be used in everyday life. However, according to the officials, the word “Zhid” usage in official correspondence is unacceptable and it needs to be replaced with the word “Jew.”
The far-right nationalist Svoboda party MPs want to make the nationality column in the Ukraine citizens’ passports and fit the insulting word “Zhid” in the Ukrainian Jews passports’ nationality column.
Therefore the Ukrainian Independent Council of Jewish Women all-Ukrainian public organization sent out an appeal to several people’s deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, with a call to prepare and submit a draft law, which would determine the designation “Jews” as the only possible designation of “the Jews.”
Dear friends, the thinking and intelligent people of all nationalities and faiths both from Ukraine and from around the world!
The Svoboda party has put all of Ukraine on a very slippery slope. As Mr. Chechetov, the Party of Regions MP said, it “pushes Ukraine into an antisemitic swamp.” This is an antisemitic scandal, which extended far beyond the borders of Ukraine, and has shocked the progressive mankind.
The people’s deputies of the Parliament that introduce the word “Zhid” into everyday language and are going to establish that word legally — openly incite and promote antisemitism in Ukraine.
The MPs-nationalists are not ordinary citizens, but the Ukraine state officials of a highest rank. This means that antisemitism in Ukraine reaches a new level and transforms from the consumer one into the state one. Given the level of everyday antsemitism of hundreds of thousands of voters that have brought the nationalists to the Ukrainian Parliament – inciting antisemitism amid poor socio-economic level in the country can really turn into a storm. That should be stopped before it is too late.
Please protect Ukrainian Jews from the growing antisemitism, which is beginning to take threatening proportions, reaches the state level and becomes a real threat.
The Jews lived in Ukraine for centuries, they continue living here, raising children, working for the benefit of Ukraine . They do not deserve to be called names, humiliated and subjected to danger. Today, national and human dignity and the constitutional rights of the Jewish citizens of Ukraine need protection more than ever.
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