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European Gathering Assesses Rights of Minorities in Ukraine

July 3, 1998
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A recent international symposium here focused on the fate of minorities in Ukraine.

The three-day meeting, “The State of National Minorities and the Evolution of Democratization in Central and Eastern European Countries,” drew dozens of community leaders and intellectuals from across Europe and Israel.

The situation for minorities in Ukraine is not the worst in Europe, said Serge Cwajgenbaum, the secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, one of the co-sponsors of the conference. “Nonetheless, many prejudices toward certain minorities do exist in Ukraine, and the situation requires constant monitoring,” he said.

The conference here was an effort to call the attention of Ukrainian officials to the problem of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.

Seven years after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of state- sponsored anti-Semitism, Ukraine is much safer than it once was for its Jewish community, officials here say.

Somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews live in this country of 52 million.

“The climate is quite favorable for Jews,” said Leonid Finberg, head of the Institute for Jewish Studies in Kiev. “Jewish issues, Israel are on constantly in the news and are receiving a highly favorable coverage in the mainstream media.”

The leader of Ukraine’s largest Jewish group agreed that in spite of popular anti-Semitism and the existence of several anti-Semitic newspapers, the climate for Jews has improved.

“It’s impossible to compare the anti-Semitism of the state with popular anti- Semitism,” said Vadim Rabinovich, one of Ukraine’s most influential businessmen and president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, an umbrella group created last year.

But conference participants pointed out that some of Ukraine’s other minorities are experiencing more difficulties.

According to a public opinion survey by the Ukrainian Institute of Sociology, more than one-half of Ukrainians do not want to allow Gypsies as Ukrainian citizens.

Government officials and Jewish leaders at the symposium said Ukraine needs to revive its economy as a first step in dealing with cases of abuse of minorities’ rights.

“Anti-Semitism and ethnic non-tolerance are direct consequences of social and economic crisis and poverty,” said Grigory Surkis, a leading businessman and vice-president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress.

In addition to the EJC, the event was co-organized by the Paris-based European Center for Research and Action on Racism and Anti-Semitism, and the All- Ukrainian Jewish Congress.

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