Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jews in eastern Europe between a rock and a hard place

During a recent press conference, Russian president Vladimir Putin alleged that Ukrainians decked with swastika armbands were among anti-Russian mobs, “suggesting” that anti-Semitism and anti-Russian sentiment was one and the same. In this way he has repeatedly excused Russia’s military threats against the Ukraine by charging that its government is a “fascist” or neo-Nazi regime which a threat not only against ethnic Russians but Jews. Presumably the West, much more self-conscious about its anti-Semitic past that Eastern Europeans seem to be, would “understand” such “noble” motives as the Russians have.

Of course, it would be helpful to Putin’s “cause” if his own country’s hands were “clean.” While there is no doubt that anti-Semitism is strong in the Ukraine and always has been, this is a fact of life throughout the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe. I’ve been acquainted with a Polish and a Romanian woman during my working life, and while I got along with them well enough and harbored no ill-will toward them, they both had one major character flaw: They hated and detested Jews, and blamed them for many if not all of the trials and tribulations suffered by non-Jews in everyday life in their respective countries.

Both of these people were made aware immediately that such hate talk would not elicit a sympathetic response in mainstream American society, and they abstained from further such comments; however, it was unlikely that knowing that their attitude toward Jews was perceived as unacceptable bigotry altered their views. While in the West anti-Semitism is for the most part a fringe extremist occupation, in the East it seems that most people scapegoat Jews for most everything that is discomfiting them, and that this is “understood” to be their everyday “reality.” So entrenched are they in their anti-Semitic assumptions that they expect us to actually accept it as they do. I don’t personally subscribe to the belief that all Russians immigrants to this country to this country are anti-Semites; in fact I am sure that they are here because they believe in the ideals of equality that this county stands for (or claims to). 

But now comes reports that in the pro-Russia controlled city of Donetsk in east Ukraine, Jews exiting synagogues have been handed leaflets demanding that they report to the “Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration,” and submit to a registration process, which sounds eerily similar to Nurnberg Laws imposed by the Nazi regime against Jews in Germany. The leaflet accuses Jews of being the enemies of “Slavics,” and because of this alleged crime, they and their property must be reported and kept on file. Failure to “register” means confiscation of property and expulsion from the country. 

There has been, of course, charges and counter charges between the Russians and the Ukrainians concerning their treatment of Jews, and this latest accusation is all part of the game. Some, like Fox News’ sarcasm-is-not-an-argument bimbo Katie Pavlich, who being of Slavic extraction (like “birther” fanatic Orly Taitz) is naturally self-conscious about charges of anti-Semitism—although she apparently doesn’t mind being accused of racism. In a recent post, Pavlich implies that it’s all a hoax to make Russians look bad; but then again, Pavlich’s “credibility” doesn’t go much beyond her short skirts for Fox News’ junkies to ogle, as her continuing failed efforts to manufacture Obama administration scandals demonstrate. Pavlich hasn’t commented on reports that anti-Semitic activity has found fertile soil in the now Russia-controlled Crimea, and or why the pro-Russian government recently driven from power in the Ukraine had taken to accuse their opponents as being “Jewish.”

Europe in general has a shameful history in regard to its treatment of Jews, and fortunately for Eastern Europe, the Nazis’ work has helped overshadow its own more than sordid past—and present. Unlike the West, where demonstrations of anti-Semitism and discrimination is officially frowned upon, in the East Jews are a barely tolerated presence, and frequent scapegoats both publically and privately. Slavic women in particular are remarkably “candid” about their bigotry. Ulyana Skoibeda, for example, is one of the most infamous political “commentators” in Russia today; in the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda—basically a shameless Kremlin propaganda organ—she wrote “Sometimes you're sorry that the Nazis didn't turn the ancestors of today's liberals into lampshades.” This unrepentant racist has publicly supported euthanasia for “undesirables,” policies supporting racial “purity,” and banning blacks from the country. “Liberals” is a euphemism for Jews and opponents of fascist-style nationalism—and these attitudes are not uncommon in Russia today. 

Throughout the 19th century, “pogroms”—organized, violent mob riots targeting Jews for alleged crimes against the Russian people and state—were a regular occurrence, usually with the connivance of government officials and the police. But the pogroms of the early 20th century were particularly bloody despite widespread official protest in the West. Massacres in the thousands—including in the Ukraine—shocked the world, particularly countries like Britain who suddenly found Jewish immigrants from Russia arriving by the thousands on their shores.

The fall of czarist Russia did not end the pogroms; thousands of pogroms over a five year period led to the killing of thousands more Jews. Low-level pogroms continue today, although the victims are just as often other non-Slavic ethnicities. The few blacks in Russia report frequent physical attacks and continuous racist slurs, and soccer matches in Russia are almost universally the scene of fascist sloganeering and racist chants.

Besides frequent murders of ethnic peoples, anti-government journalists and human rights activists in Russia are frequent targets of violence and even assassination. There is apparently no desire to build healthy relationships in a diverse society. The nationalism in Russia is so extreme that anyone who speaks out against racism or government and media deception and corruption are often assumed to be Jews, because every right-thinking Russian believes their country must be purged of all “impurities.” Still, one gets the impression that if Jews were less successful at overcoming discrimination, they would hardly merit as much attention as they receive. In January 2006, a crazed Russian fanatic burst into a synagogue in Moscow and stabbed eight people, claiming that he was “jealous” of Jews and their perceived “better living standards.”

Although some Jewish leaders in Russia and the Ukraine have attempted to downplay anti-Semitism in those countries in the hope to avoid inflaming passions further, there is very little effort by authorities to stop the dissemination of racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric both in the media and in written, which obviously seems to “justify” the actions of violent extremists, who are seen as Russian “patriots” acting to preserve the national character. This is hardly surprising, given the anti-West attitude today that mirrors Cold War paranoia and self-consciousness.

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