by Dovid Katz
Mainstream Western media has, it seems, finally begun to “notice a detail” that has been rather inscrutable to the wider public. Ukraine is a country where in 2019, 73.22% of voters chose a Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky in the second and final round of voting, a result verily impossible in any of today’s great Western democracies, including the United States and Britain. Indeed a Jewish president whose family boasts proud World War II veterans of the Holocaust-era Red Army’s and the Allies’ struggle against Hitler. That is no “pro-fascist” country. Period, full stop. Having been a regular visitor to Ukraine for a period spanning more than a decade (for Yiddish expeditions and sometimes delightful conferences), I can attest to the open, welcoming, multiethnic and multicultural tolerance and grand humor of this great country’s people.
What is the upshot? That just as elsewhere in pro-Western Eastern Europe, a small but disproportionately powerful coterie of far-right pseudo-patriotic history rewriters, among them highly educated and sophisticated historians, politicians and state apparatchiks, all Holocaust revisionists in their passion to have as national heroes Hitler collaborators, have done so much harm to their own countries. It’s enough to peruse Defending History’s sections on Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and more (see Countries). Incidentally, the motivation of these small, overly influential elites is (mis)guided by two forms of racism: inability to concede their nations’ leaders acted wrongfully during the Holocaust (what country’s history has no dark spots?), and the demented desire for a (supposedly) ethnically pure country (in other words, quiet satisfaction with the results of accomplished ethnic purification).
Each time a “Bandera Street” is inaugurated in Ukraine, glorifying the World War II fascist, whose hordes murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles of all ages and both genders on an ethnic basis (i.e. genocide), Ukraine and its prestige are dealt an unfair and undeserved blow. Frankly, it didn’t help, when former President Petro Poroshenko — let there be no misunderstanding, heroically and inspirationally remaining in Kyiv — in a recent interview on Fareed Zakaria’s acclaimed CNN weekly foreign affairs show, reported that Molotov cocktails are now called “Bandera smoothies” by some. As in the past, it did not elicit the needed polite question. And nobody could phrase it more elegantly and politely than the esteemed foreign policy scholar, author and broadcaster himself. Here’s a draft formulation that Fareed would improve upon dramatically: “But by allowing government resources and public-space glorifications of the likes of Stepan Bandera and other World War II fascists, isn’t the government, besides imposing a far-right view on a mainstream goodwilled population, simply feeding Putin’s despicable propaganda machine? After all, millions of Ukrainians gave their lives in World War II fighting against Hitler and his Banderist local fascist allies.”
The true friends of the splendid new East European democracies, including the Baltics and Ukraine, will speak out against state glorification of Holocaust perpetrators and collaborators not only grounded on the obvious ethical imperative, but on obvious self-interest and eminent common sense.
It is good to see the mainstream media taboo on all this being doubly broken in 17 March 2022. Anton Troianovski’s New York Times article, “Why Vladimir Putin invokes Nazis to justify his invasion of Ukraine” is a welcome start, and its author is to be congratulated by finally treating with fairness and dignity Ukraine’s truly patriotic “history dissident” (an important new concept in understanding post-Soviet Eastern Europe), Eduard Dolinsky, director general of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.
The same day, the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese published his report, “Jewish groups condemn Latvian parade to honor Nazis, warn it could be used for Russian propaganda” (as PDF). I was honored to be quoted at the end of the article, and just for the record, conclude here with the full quotation from which the citation was excerpted:
How utterly sad. At a point in time when the free and decent world unites in supporting all the people of heroic Ukraine against the barbaric and murderous invasion perpetrated by our century’s most deranged and dangerous demagogue to the east, the authorities in Riga, capital of a genuine EU/NATO democracy, should find both the wisdom and the courage to put the far-right Hitlerist glorifiers of the Waffen SS out of the public square and into the private hovels of shame where they belong. That they would this year again be gifted the historic center of the capital is a folly rife with poor judgment and even poorer ethics in an act of de facto state facilitation of a pathetic worship of Hitlerism. The day will come when those who speak up in protest will be duly recognized as the true friends of Latvia and all of democratic Eastern Europe in our times.