One of Ukraine’s most powerful politicians has refused to denounce a leading Ukrainian newspaper for publishing a virulently anti-Semitic article asserting that 400,000 Jews joined the S.S. during the Nazi invasion of Ukraine in 1941. In an exclusive interview with JTA, Aleksandr Moroz, leader of the Socialist Party of Ukraine and a candidate for president in elections scheduled for Oct. 31, said he was in no position to determine the veracity of the notorious opinion piece in Silski Visti, or Village News.
“I have defended Silski Visti and will continue to do so,” Moroz said. “I personally think the argument of the author of the article, Vasily Yaremenko, citing 400,000 Jews in the S.S. is incorrect, but I am not in a position to know all the facts.”
Moroz’s comments, along with statements by other leading Ukrainians, indicate a worrisome acceptance of a surge of anti-Semitism in the mass media as Ukraine gears up for the! elections.
Although Moroz is unlikely to win the election — he is currently drawing about 10 percent of the vote — his refusal to condemn Silski Visti is significant because he is a respected figure here who has led the charge in accusing the government of corruption and complicity in the murder of an opposition journalist.
The article, “Jews in Ukraine Today: Reality Without Myths,” was published last fall as a paid advertisement in the newspaper, which with 500,000 readers is one of the most widely circulated newspapers in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, in an interview with JTA, the paper’s editor, Vasily Gruzin, defended the newspaper’s decision to publish the piece.
“Although we published the Yaremenko article as a paid advertisement and not as a position we ourselves endorsed, I happen to believe the figure of 400,000 Jews taking part in the German invasion of the Ukraine is not far from the truth,” he said.
“I personally have nothing against common Jews, but r! ather against a small group of Jewish oligarchs who control Ukraine bo th economically and politically. I believe the point of Zionism today is Jewish control of the world, and we see this process at work in Ukraine today.”
Not long after the Yaremenko article appeared, Moroz, Victor Yuschenko — a pro-Western presidential candidate who is believed to be favored by the Bush administration — and another prominent opposition leader, Yulia Timoshenko, issued a statement headed “Hands Off Silski Visti,” opposing an effort by the government to shut down the newspaper on grounds of inciting ethnic discord.
The statement further cited the need for freedom of the press from government control.
With a few exceptions, nearly all of the mass media here are tightly controlled by the government of President Leonid Kuchma, who balances between Russia and the U.S. and has allowed Jewish life here to flourish.
At present, the government’s case against Silski Visti is being considered by an appeals court and the newspaper continues to publish thre! e times a week.
Following the opposition leaders’ statement, an outcry from Jewish community leaders spurred Yuschenko to issue a statement criticizing the Silski Visti article as anti-Semitic and urging the newspaper to apologize, which Gruzin, the paper’s editor, has ruled out.
Nevertheless, many Jews remain concerned about Ukrainian nationalism and anti-Semitism in both right- and left-wing opposition parties and appear to be leaning toward supporting Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, a protege of Kuchma, in the elections.
This comes despite the government’s tendency toward repressing opposition media and political parties and frequent allegations of its involvement in mafia-like business activities.
The wave of anti-Semitic agitation in the Ukrainian media began in 2002 with the publication of defamatory articles in the magazine Personnel, published by the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management, a university-like institution offering leadership train! ing to 35,000 students on more than 10 campuses across the country.
Although the school’s board includes such respected figures as former President Leonid Kravchuk and former Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, its academic leaders have taken a strongly anti-Western political line, fostering close ties with Russia and the Islamic world.
The academy’s president, Georgi Schokin, has addressed three conferences in Saudi Arabia, and the American anti-Semite David Duke has appeared at three of the school’s conferences in Kiev.
The Interregional Academy, which financed Silski Visti’s publication of Yaremenko’s article as a paid advertisement, has published his books and aggressively promoted his writings.
The school’s rise has come during a period in which the Kuchma government has sought to promote a positive image in the West, even as official relations with the United States have deteriorated.
At the same time, there has been an ongoing attack by government agencies on freedom of speech in Ukraine, with the secret services and tax ! police exerting pressure on many editors and journalists who do not toe the government line.
Silski Visti is one of the few largest publications to have consistently criticized the government — which was the reason cited by Yuschenko, Timoshenko and others for their initial defense of the paper.
Some in the Jewish community here believe that the rise of the Interregional Academy has been covertly engineered by Kuchma’s government as a means to discredit the opposition as nationalistic and anti-Semitic. At the same time, they acknowledge that the opposition, including the Ukrainian intelligentsia, has played into the government’s hands by not more forthrightly denouncing the academy and Silski Visti.
According to Josef Zissels, chairman of the Va’ad of Ukraine, a leading Jewish organization, it is important to understand that the school was created by prominent representatives of the Ukrainian authorities, which now try to present the situation as though it is part! of the opposition.
“I think this is a provocation by the governme nt,” he said.
Semyon Gluzman, a Jewish intellectual who heads the Ukrainian-American Bureau for the Protection of Human Rights, commented that, although Moroz is at fault for not criticizing Silski Visti, “We intellectuals are also guilty for not speaking out sooner.”
Late in 2003, the Ukrainian Anti-Fascist Committee, then headed by Alexander Shlayen, a prominent Jewish community leader who died here suddenly last month, sued Silski Visti in a Kiev district court for inciting ethnic discord. It was widely assumed Shlayen acted with the encouragement of the government.
On Jan. 28, 2004, the court ruled that Silski Visti should be shut down for inciting ethnic discord, but the paper has yet to be closed.
Edward Dolinsky, executive director of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, accuses both the government and the opposition of tolerating open displays of anti-Semitism here.
He asserted that his organization has “appealed to both the president and prime mi! nister many times to state categorically that there is no place for anti-Semitism in Ukraine in the way Chirac did recently in France. But they have not done so.”
Dolinsky granted that Ukraine’s deputy minister of foreign affairs made a statement condemning anti-Semitism at the Berlin conference on anti-Semitism hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but said the government fails to speak clearly on the issue to its own population here at home.
However, he added, the opposition is even worse on anti-Semitism.
Evheniy Chervonenko, a prominent Jewish member of Parliament who is supporting Yuschenko’s election, expressed concern that the efforts to close down Silski Visti could backfire on the Jewish community.
“The problems of anti-Semitism cannot be solved by closure of one newspaper. I believe the court decision on the closure of Silski Visti is an accurately planned provocation of people who work against Our Ukraine in the Administr! ation of the President of Ukraine.”
However, Chervonenko believes that “anti-Semitic publications in the large-circulation newspaper should be barred and from this point of view the decision of the court can be considered just.”
Zissels, who has been critical of the government on the issue of anti-Semitism, pointed out that scurrilous anti-Jewish newspapers, pamphlets and books including “Mein Kampf” and the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are being sold openly on Kiev’s main square every day by nationalistic vendors under the watchful eyes of the police.
“Unfortunately, there is little evidence to indicate that the authorities are serious about a struggle with anti-Semitism,” Zissels said. “Their decision to go after Silski Visti is clearly connected with the fact that it is the largest opposition publication.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.