Jewish Candidates Vying for Ukrainian Parliament

Jews are active participants in the Ukrainian elections scheduled for Sunday — as candidates, as voters and as targets of anti-Semitism.

For the first time in post-Communist history, voters in Ukraine have a wide variety of choices, as 30 political parties have registered for the elections.

Experts say that seven or eight parties and blocs have realistic chances to earn parliamentary representation in the 450-member Rada.

Municipal and mayoral elections are also slated for Sunday.

There are Jewish candidates on virtually every party’s list — from the relatively weak pro-presidential and reform groups to the stronger Communist Party and the nationalist Rukh Party — but no specific Jewish party.

“There are many Jews among the candidates, but they are not running on behalf of the Jewish community,” said Arkady Monastyrsky, chairman of the executive committee of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, an umbrella organization.

The former Soviet republic, which has a population of 52 million, is home to 600,000 Jews.

The list of Jewish candidates running for the Rada includes Ukraine’s former prime minister — and current member of Parliament — Yefim Zvyagilsky and businessman Grigory Surkis, who owns the nation’s most popular soccer team.

“The Jewish community has much riding on the elections,” said Mark Levin, executive director of the Washington-based National Conference on Soviet Jewry. “This is an important test in the stability of democratic institutions in Ukraine.”

Several Jews are expected to earn a seat in the Rada.

Both Jewish and non-Jewish candidates are courting the Jewish vote. In several regions, candidates addressed Jewish communities and attended Purim celebrations.

In a show of minority solidarity earlier this week, Jewish leaders, along with 12 other minority communities, issued a joint statement urging voters to go to the polls. Minorities account for a third of the population.

Young voters, Jews and non-Jews alike, are expected to support reform-oriented parties, while older citizens — including some Jews — are expect to cast their ballots for the Communists and other leftwing candidates.

Monastyrsky said that for the organized Jewish community, the success of pro- presidential and liberal forces would be the most desirable outcome of Sunday’s vote.

“We know these forces well,” he said.

But Jewish leaders were not fearful of any outcome the election might bring.

“The elections will not change the situation for Jews,” said Iosif Zissels, chairman of the Va’ad of Ukraine, the former Soviet republic’s oldest Jewish umbrella group.

But anti-Semitism has played a role in the campaign.

In a letter last week to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Dmitri Dvorkis, the mayor of the central Ukrainian city of Vinnitsa, urged the president to intervene to stop anti-Semitism he claimed was being used against him and other Jewish candidates in electoral campaigns.

“The ethnic terror should be stopped to give the citizens of Jewish origin who consider Ukraine their motherland the opportunity to work for its benefit and not to force them to emigrate,” he wrote.

Jewish officials, however, are downplaying the importance of anti-Semitism in the campaign.

“Dozens of Jews are running in the parliamentary and municipal elections and I don’t see any reason for special concern,” said Ilya Levitas, who heads the Jewish Council of Ukraine, another umbrella group.

NEXT STORY