One of the most recognizable figures of Ukrainian Jewish descent, the beautiful and talented actress Mila Kunis, recently fell victim to the hatred of a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament from the far-right Svoboda Party – a party which is notoriously known for regularly injecting anti-Semitism into their speeches and public pronouncements. He sneeringly proclaimed that she was not “Ukrainian but a zhydovka.” This deeply hurtful slur for a Jew was an alarming gutter effort to inject Jew-hatred into the acceptable bounds of mainstream Ukrainian discourse.
Despite the widely accepted notion that we live in an ever-more globalized world, too many people are skeptical that what happens in the halls of some far-off parliament on the other side of the world bears any impact on our way of life. On the contrary, I fear that events now developing here in Ukraine should remind us that our world is now inextricably intertwined. Every person who dreams of a more tolerant and peaceful international community is obliged to sit bolt upright and take notice.
I speak directly to this growing trend, wherein an anti-Semitic collection of hate-mongers are abusing the democratic Parliament of Ukraine to spew messages and incite violence, in ways that we had hoped were relegated to the distant past. In our recent elections, I was horrified to witness Svododa gain over 10 percent of the national vote. Like all ultra-nationalist parties, they campaigned and were elected on a message intended to inject fear into society. They shrilly warn that foreigners and minorities are positioned to take over the country. Idolizing some of the most virulently anti-freedom icons of generations past, including most prominently the architect of Nazi propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, Svoboda works hard to make hatred commonplace— and acceptable — throughout Ukrainian society.
Regrettably, Svoboda Party leaders realize that they have fertile ground on which to harvest such a dangerous agenda. While it has been on the decline in recent decades, there is no disputing that anti-Semitism, particularly among the less educated sectors of our society, remains ingrained in the minds of all too many. Svoboda has rallied behind this recognition and exploited mistrust of Jews to gain popularity among some in the lower class who painfully welcomed the chance to be a part of campaigns of hate.
I am wholly aware of the fact that if Svoboda’s growing popularity goes unnoticed outside of my country’s borders, we may quickly reach a point of no return. At that time, the idea of the party enjoying broad legislative powers to limit freedoms of expression amongst those who think unlike them would serve to reduce or prevent completely any immigration from nations they view as un-Ukrainian. All this could happen despite the decisive steps of the current government in Kiev to staunchly oppose inroads made by Svoboda. One would have to be utterly ignorant of the history of this region to be unaware that campaigns born ostensibly in the guise of populism and democracy can quickly decline into mass chaos, violence and yes, even genocide.
Thankfully, we are not anywhere near that point and I don’t intend to call for panic. I am in fact confident that the international institutions in place in the 21st century are strong enough to notice the rise of this devil at an early stage. Once not long ago in history, the international community looked on in silence as Hitler and the Nazis deluded the world into thinking that their Jew-hatred was not worthy or “dangerous enough” to warrant global condemnation.
When the world finally did take notice, it was too late.
That is the lesson that I feel strongly IS worthy of taking notice. Anti-Semitism and xenophobia are the most insidiously contagious social diseases humanity has ever experienced. Civilized societies become infected with these sicknesses before they even pause and assess the damages that the illness is sure to impose.
This is an issue that cries out for the sincere attention of the international community, and most notably the leadership of the American Jewish community and the government of the United States of America. Ukraine and the USA have developed a strong alliance defined by economic partnerships and a specific diplomatic vision that there is much that unites us in how to work together to address threats and cultivate opportunities. Should Svoboda continue to expand, let no one deny this will harm regional and international agreements and impose instability on our mutual markets.
If history has taught us anything it is that hatred never ends with speech but will soon escalate to far more violent expressions. Nor can hatred be contained to any national borders, particularly in today’s world of social media and instant communication.
I appeal to all peaceful and caring leaders around the world to notice this phenomenon and join me in opposing everything that Svoboda represents. Because we all know that the stakes are far too high for the world to be able to say, “We did not know and therefore we did not act.”
Oleksandr Feldman is a member of the Parliament of Ukraine and President of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.
This article was originally published by the Gatestone Institute.