“Civil” Discourse in Ukraine


by Jared McBride

I sent the following op-ed, “Euro 2012: Maydan of hate?” to the Kyiv Post in late December regarding the hate literature that is often sold on Maidan Nezalezhnosti. It was published on 21 December 2011. One can read the comments made on the Kyiv Post‘s website here (taken today from the Comments section following my op-ed).

In response to my op-ed I had my educational background questioned; I was deemed a supporter of Kaganovich, Tabachnyk, and Yanukovych in no particular order; I was given various history lessons that have nothing to do with the letter at hand (and nothing to do with history either); conspiracy theories were shared; and I was called names, not least “son of a bitch.” The last epithet was perhaps the most ironic bearing in mind that I am fortunate to have a mother who raised me to have enough dignity to not insult people on internet forums while hiding behind false names.

One should keep in mind the content of the letter when perusing these responses: I believe selling what any democratic nation would deem “hate literature,” not to mention the “work” of the American Nazi, David Duke, in Ukraine’s most famous space is bad for Ukraine and will give visitors the wrong impression during the Euro 2012. I wrote this because I have spent a lot of time in Ukraine and care very much about how it is perceived by outsiders. I would like nothing more than more than for the Euro 2012 to be a great success for this nation. But for sharing these thoughts,  I’m apparently a Kaganovich-loving son of a bitch.

I would like to believe the reactions to my letter do not represent the views of a majority of Ukrainians, just as I would like to believe that a majority of Ukrainians do not support such hate literature and conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, during my time in Ukraine I have witnessed this type of dialogue consistently, whether it be at public events or in the print media. It is one matter for Ukrainians to insult me, the foreigner who gets to go home at the end of a research trip, but when Ukrainians are brave enough to stand up against corruption, racism and xenophobia in their own communities, they face even worse responses and often physical threats are included. It is a plague on society that such “civil” discourse continues unabated and that a minority of antisemites and David Duke supporters are allowed to define the terms of dialogue.

The good news is that the Maidan hate literature is on the way out. For reasons unknown, the government has tried to remove all the souvenir tables on the Maidan, including the ones that sell such literature. If you go to the Maidan now you will find only a few of them left with signs of protest taped to their tables that bemoan what they view as a government crackdown on  Ukrainophilia. Of course, by making this argument with such literature sitting on the tables, they are linking the celebration of Ukraine’s culture with the hatred of Jews and Russians. And sadly, one can still find these books in many bookstores throughout Kyiv.

As for the Kyiv Post, proprietor Michael Willard recently wrote a column in which he declared that the newspaper “will be cracking down on online commentators who can’t be civil.” Apparently, the level of hatred and vitriol has reached a point where both editors and the owner of the Kyiv Post feel they can no longer allow such personal attacks, since the comments have “degraded” the website. (Incidentally, as of today the Post has still not taken down the most hateful of the responses to my letter.) My colleagues and I applaud this step and we hope other Ukrainian public outlets will soon follow suit. As I wrote in my letter, we need not “limit free speech” or outlaw views we don’t like. We simply need to take control of and set parameters for the space in which democracy should be practiced, in both a physical and figurative sense. If certain individuals cannot adhere to these parameters, they should be marginalized by the majority of rational and democratic citizens. Last time I checked, there were plenty of dark alleys and basements in Kyiv where they can peddle their hate and conspiracy theories alone and unwanted by the rest of us.

The Article Published in the Kyiv Post (21 Dec 2011):

Euro 2012: Maydan of Hate?

Dec 21, 2011 at 12:45 | Jared McBride

If the Euro 2012 started tomorrow, tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world would arrive in Kyiv. Most of them will come to the heart of modern-day Ukraine: Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square.

When visitors come to this place many of them will remember the courageous protests during the 2004 Orange Revolution and for some, even the student protests and hunger strikes during the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1990. Many others, perhaps not as well-versed in history, will come to the square simply because it is one of the nicest places in Kyiv to sit, rest, people-watch, grab a snack and buy souvenirs.

If the tourists peruse the souvenir tables lining the side of Maidan near the post office they might find some items among the chachkas, t-shirts, and magnets that will shock them.

On these tables they will find books with titles like, “Jews in Ukraine Today: Reality without Myths,” “The Jewish Syndrome,” and “The Worldwide Moscow-Jewish Problem.”

Some of these books describe how the Holocaust never happened and how Jews are trying to destroy modern-day Ukraine, while others illuminate the conspiracies of the Freemasons. If the visitor is not disturbed enough with the antisemitism and freemason fantasies, one can also find Russophobic publications too. Some visitors will be horrified to see the book of the infamous American racist and former Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, “The Jewish Question through the Eyes of an American: My Investigation of Zionism” being sold in Ukrainian.

The majority of this literature is published by the university press of the private Ukrainian university, the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP).

MAUP is well-known as the “University of Hate” in the West for its support of Holocaust deniers and its egregiously offensive publications and conferences. Over the past five years, MAUP’s despicable activities have been well documented by Western and Ukrainian academics and journalists alike, including Per Rudling and Oleksandr Naiman.

In 2005, a number of Ukrainian intellectuals here and abroad also wrote a letter condemning the activities of MAUP. Thankfully after this publicity some (but not all) of the literature has been removed from the main bookstores in Kyiv. Despite these courageous efforts by intellectuals, this hate literature still lines the bookshelves of bookstores throughout Ukraine, especially in Volhynia and Galicia.

Surely, visitors might ask themselves some of the following questions after seeing this display of hate. “Can I imagine this hate literature being sold in Times Square or Trafalgar Square or at the Brandenburg gate?” “What does this literature being sold in such a prominent place say about this country’s priorities and orientation?” “How would they feel if visitors came to their country and in the heart of capital at the main souvenir stands, hate literature was being sold?”

The scholar Anna Veronika Wendland, recently argued in a debate about Omer Bartov’s book Erased in a Ukrainian journal that until scholars can learn to set aside offensive stereotype that all Ukrainians were and are ubiquitous antisemites, only then can a real debate occur about Ukraine’s troubled past. While I can hardly think of a scholar local or foreign who does not agree that such stereotypes are harmful and unproductive, I’d counter that Ukrainians also need to start helping themselves. And the hate literature would be a great place to start.

Some may counter, as the president of MAUP, Heorhii Shchokin, has on occasion, that it is anti-democratic to outlaw literature of any sort and that giving neo-Nazis an outlet is, in fact, the essence of “democracy.” This literature need not be banned — it should simply be relegated to the dark basements and meetings of the societal outcasts who write and pedal them. Just as in the West, the owners of stores and public space (be it the government in this case) have a right to decide what is sold on their premises. Pushing out the hate need not take the form of repression and thus risk the martyrdom of the purveyors.

As a scholar who lived in Ukraine over the last year, I see the Euro 2012 tournament as a great opportunity for Europeans and the world to get to know Ukraine a little better and find out all the amazing things Ukraine has to offer. I and many of my Western colleagues who work here would like nothing more than for this event to be a success. Disturbing hate literature on the Maidan will send the wrong message to visitors. To continue to turn the cheek to the most hateful and destructive in their midst, albeit a minority, only hurts Ukraine on a whole. Please remove the hate and preserve the Maidan as a space for freedom and democracy.

Jared McBride is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California Los Angeles in the history department. He is currently a Fulbright-Hays scholar researching his dissertation on World War II in Volhynia in Ukraine.


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