Is Anti-Semitism In Ukraine A Real Threat?

Apr 25, 2014
Originally published on April 25, 2014 12:59 pm

Transcript

CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. Michel Martin is away. Now to Ukraine where tensions remain high. Today, the Ukrainian prime minister reportedly accused Russia of trying to start World War III.

In the midst of all this political chaos, there are also concerns that anti-Semitism is taking root in Ukraine. It's a serious enough matter that Vice President Joe Biden addressed it when he visited Ukraine this week. Take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Injustice, corruption can have no place in a new Ukraine. Neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry. Let me say that again. Neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry. No place. None. Zero.

HEADLEE: Russian officials have been accused of overplaying the level of anti-Semitism among Ukrainian nationalists in order to justify an intervention. But our next guest says there is a cause for concern.

Richard Brodsky is a senior fellow at the public policy group Demos and member of the international organization World Without Nazism. He recently wrote about all of this for the Huffington Post and he joins me from Westchester County, New York. Welcome.

RICHARD BRODSKY: Nice to be with you.

HEADLEE: So without commenting on whether or not the Russians should intervene in Ukraine, how serious and real is this claim of growing anti-Semitism there?

BRODSKY: Well, it's real and it's real not just in Ukraine but in Russia itself and of course, Europe. There is a growing resurgent set of Nazi and neo-Nazi movements that is very difficult for Americans to absorb as real. In fact, across Europe, these parties are now part of the political mainstream.

In Ukraine, the right sector and Svoboda political parties have explicit elements not just of anti-Semitism, but of antigay sentiments, anti-Russian sentiments, anti-Romanish (ph), anti-immigrant sentiments. In a vocabulary in iconography that looks, sounds and feels like some of the things we saw years and years and years ago.

HEADLEE: Look, here in the United States, we tend to call people Nazis or compare them to Hitler probably a little bit too much. I think people get inured to that particular claim. Can you give me a specific example of what you're talking about?

BRODSKY: Yeah, there have been documents published by Svoboda and Svoboda members that talk about things like the protocols of the Elders of Zion and the international Zionist conspiracy. There have been racial criteria for joining parties - political parties - like Svoboda. You have to be fully Ukrainian. They pick at even visitors like the Russian patriarch as not sufficiently Ukrainians.

It's a nationalist as well as anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant movement. It's real. It's complicated. It's very hard to know when these things tip over from fringe crazy people to mainstream political movements. But the evidence across Europe, in Russia and particularly in the Ukraine is that this stuff is real, it's growing and it's got to be first identified and then spoken about in ways that prevent what would be the ghastly repetition of the ghastly events of 70 years ago.

HEADLEE: Obviously, people are talking about this in Ukraine because of all the political chaos and the intervention of Russia. But where in Europe is - are we seeing the worst examples of this?

BRODSKY: Well, probably Greece and Hungary, Russia and Ukraine and the Baltic states are the most obvious. In Greece, for example, you have a political party, the Golden Dawn, which holds 10 percent or so of the seats in the national parliament and which is consistent with this sort of anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, old-style right-wing bigotry.

Same is true in Hungary where there are members of the national parliament there. In Riga, Latvia where I actually attended one of these meetings, there are political parties supporting tensions for the surviving members of Hitler's Waffen-SS, and they hold an annual march, which I visited. And it's terribly disturbing to see the survivors of the elements of society that committed murders honored as part of a political movement in the contemporary political structures of these nations.

I don't want to make too much of this, but you can't say that these societies are dominated by these social and political forces. But you can say that something real is going on. It has echoes of the '30s, '40s in Europe and very little attention is being paid to it. But when these movements and these outbursts morph from fringe acts into mainstream political movements, as they have in the Ukraine and Russia and Hungary and Greece, you know, I'd rather be a little bit over concerned than a little bit under concerned. The evidence is there. If you look at the reports, it's real and it's frightening.

HEADLEE: Richard Brodsky is a senior fellow at the public policy group Demos and senior fellow at NYU's Wagner School of Public Service. Thank you so much.

BRODSKY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.