Jewish-Ukrainian historian Vitaliy Nakhmanovich: “Open Address to the Jews of the World”
Vitaliy Nakhmanovich, historian; Kyiv
03.02.2014, Xenophobia and anti-Semitism
Vitaliy Nakhmanovich (photo by DJC.com.ua)
Over the last month there had been a total of three attacks on worshippers attending a Podil synagogue in Kyiv. Two were unsuccessful, one left its victim, a yeshiva student, wounded. The modus operandi and the circumstances leave us no doubt as to who is the culprit. It is certainly not a spontaneous upsurge of aggression from “Maidan’s anti-Semites,” as there is a far closer synagogue in the very center of Kyiv. Besides, only a madman could try to plan something like this consciously in the middle of Maidan today, as this would mean throwing away any hope for help from the West with their own hands. But the other side… First of all, the act has an air of cheek and complete impunity about it. The worshippers themselves caught an “observer” who had been drawing the routes of yeshiva students to and from the synagogue; he went to the police quite calmly and was never seen or heard from again. Second, the police itself, which hasn’t found anyone – and seems to not have even started looking. It’s a familiar scene for Kyiv today: hired thugs protected by the “agents of law enforcement” burn cars, attack passersby, and disappear into the night. Their expectations are simple: either the Jews believe that they have become victims of the “Bandera followers” and call for a stop to the Maidan “outrage,” or the Jews understand that they were chosen by the government for a scare and… call for a stop even louder, afraid of things becoming worse.
We have long lived on this land. The Jewish communities of Crimea have existed for over 2000 years. Kyiv was first mentioned in a letter written in Hebrew. But our modern history in Ukrainian lands began only 500 years ago. It had been a very diverse history: great and insignificant, happy and frightening. The “Golden Age” and Hasidic Judaism; Zionism and Haskalah; pogroms and the Holocaust; Communism and the “fight against cosmopolites” – this is all part of our history here. And it always happened that we have always lived side by side with the Ukrainians but very rarely with them. This was due to their land belonging to anyone but them. Lithuania and Poland, Austria and Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia, the USSR and the Third Reich – empires and republics, monarchies and tyrannies, they had all been united in one thing: that the people of this land must remain silent and obedient. And we had followed our natural instinct of self-preservation and tried to always be on the side of the strong, on the side of the government, and that meant – never on the side of the Ukrainians. However, that also meant that whenever they attempted to finally break free of the foreign yoke, we became one of the first channels for instinctual hatred or targeted propaganda. Then we once again asked for help and protection from the current government, and the cycle repeated itself. Perhaps if at least one Ukrainian attempt to achieve independence turned out differently, we would have had a different relationship.
The last attempt, made a little over twenty years ago, has seemingly succeeded. The last empire of Europe broke into pieces, and on its remnants arose or were restored new independent states, including Ukraine. This entire time the young country sought its own way and its own place in the family of free peoples, and it has been a difficult search. The Baltic peoples were lucky: they had been accepted into the European family right away. Civil wars were imposed upon the Moldavians and the Georgians, and their countries broke apart. The Ukrainians demonstrated miracles of composure and stamina, solving ever more political crises with no blood spilled. But today the time of reckoning has come. The forces of imperial recoup outside and inside Ukraine have openly placed their stakes into the hands of the most odious politician of the pro-Soviet camp, who combines a petty criminal past, a lack of schooling, and a provincial outlook. Over less than three years of his rule he managed to become insanely rich and make a host of enemies, all while destroying Ukraine’s national economy and its hope for integrating into Europe.
Two months ago, the citizens of Ukraine, who have snatched a few breaths of the air of freedom over the last twenty years, went out to a square with one demand: to stop the country from becoming a dictatorship and to return hope for a brighter future to its people. Since then they have been standing at Kyiv’s Maidan and many other squares all over the country. It is not just Ukrainians who are making the stand, but also Russians, Armenians, Belarusians, Crimean Tatars. And the Jews are standing as well. The government threw special police forces and the internal military at them, hired thugs and frightened government employees – all those who still carry within them the Soviet-bred indifference to their own future and a fear to lose the piece of stale bread that they are fed with by the almighty bureaucrat.