Telling the Truth About Ukraine’s Rising Anti-Semitic ‘Svoboda’ Party: An Eye-Opening Experience – With Portents for Ukraine’s Future

June 21, 2013 9:23 am 22 comments

Actress Mila Kunis. Photo: Gage Skidmore

On May 24, my commentary, “Svoboda Fuels Ukraine’s Growing Anti-Semitism,” was published in The Algemeiner, raising concerns about growing anti-Semitic political forces in Ukraine. In it I noted the overtly anti-Semitic, anti-Russian and anti-Polish rhetoric of Svoboda (“Freedom”) party. The rich history of Nazi-like symbolism and glorification of Ukrainian collaborators with the Third Reich did not stop the supposedly more responsible elements of Ukraine’s political opposition, the Batkivshchina (“Fatherland”) and UDAR parties from joining forces with Svoboda.

My article, which unbeknown to me, was translated and published in Russian, generated interesting comments both on The Algemeiner page and elsewhere. Some supported while others attacked me.

A supportive message, posted on The Algemeiner site from “Aleks,” included a piece of news:  a Svoboda member of parliament, Mikhail Golovko, met in Germany with representatives of the (neo-Nazi) National Democratic Party (NDP) of Germany. In Germany, the NDP is shunned by other parties, has no seats in the Bundestag, and even has to hold their party conferences in a tent because conference halls will not rent to them. In Ukraine, by contrast, Svoboda’s political rise and entry into the parliament has been abetted by Opposition politicians and parties hailed by western governments as the standard-bearers of democratic values.

Another supportive letter was from Maria Zubareva, president of a group called All-Ukrainian Association “Journalists Solidarity.” She attributes the high level of anti-Semitic attacks in Ukraine to the virulent campaign that landed Svoboda with almost 10% of the votes at last year’s parliamentary election. Svoboda legitimized racial and national intolerance, which led to increasing violence on the ground, she argued and concluded, “Svoboda [is] a real threat to the Jewish community of Ukraine.”

Matthew Lina of the conservative-leaning Center for the Study of the Former Soviet Socialist Republics aptly called Svoboda “fascists (‘racist xenophobic national socialists’…)” and even suggests I was too easy on Svoboda’s partners in the Opposition: “Ehrenfeld is either too kind to Tymoshenko or naive on this count — there is no chance at all that Tymoshenko had not blessed the union with Svoboda….  It is time for the world to call them to account.”

More illuminating and troubling were comments by supporters of Svoboda and its message.

“JameSmace” claims, “Svoboda is nothing more than the leading anti Russian Imperialist party in Ukraine and they will make no special accomodations [sic] if the thug oligarch is Jewish instead of Christian – after all Kagonovich [sic] killed 10 million Ukrainians.” The reference is to what is among the greatest of crimes of the communist regime, the starvation of millions of peasants (“kulaks”) to enforce collectivization of agriculture. Alas, Lazar Moiseyevich Kaganovich was not the first or the last Jewish Bolshevik who successfully implemented the policies of Stalin and his successors in the USSR.

For the record, “JameSmace,” Stalin was a Georgian.

Then there is Michael Brytan who writes: “The problem which Rachel does not seem to understand OR does not want to is there are Jews are a divergent peoples.” (Emphasis added) Really!

Another supporter of Ukrainian anti-Semitic Svoboda, identified as “J” explained the “facts.”

“If you look at the mafia rulers in Ukraine – you’ll see that they are Russians and Jews – that’s why Tiahnybok said ‘Moscow-Jewish mafia’ .…About incident with Mila Kunis – she said that she is Jew but not Ukrainian (she is Ukrainian-born but her parents was both Jews). And word Zhyd in Ukrainian language means the same as Jew (and this is not abuse word). Russian language uses Zhid as abuse name of Jews (and Hebrew for other case) – that’s why Russian-spoken Jews thought that that was abuse words.”

These and similar comments show clearly what Ukraine’s Svoboda led opposition represents.

Even more telling than the individual perspectives behind these bigoted comments is what they portend about future dangers in Ukraine. Ukraine is far from the only country that needs to struggle with atrocious episodes from its past and face disturbing influences on its future.

America has its own struggles with racism and anti-Semitism.

On June 15, the Associated Press exposed Minnesota resident and Nazi war criminal Michael Korkac, who in 1949, was allowed to immigrate to the U.S. Korkac, who was involved in suppressing the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, is a former officer and founding member of the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion and later was an officer in the infamous SS Galician Division, which, as mentioned in my earlier article, was glorified by Svoboda. “The Galician Division and a Ukrainian nationalist organization he served in were both on a secret American government blacklist of organizations whose members were forbidden from entering the United States at the time.”

Ukraine’s strongest western well-wishers have urged the “respectable” Opposition to shun Svoboda. “The European Parliament [EP] has said it does not understand why opposition parliamentary factions Batkivschyna and UDAR cooperate with the Svoboda all-Ukrainian union, which the EP accuses of having anti-Semitic views. I can’t imagine that people like Klitschko, who position themselves as Europeans, and Yatseniuk, would willingly shake the hand of a person who in public states that Jews are the main threat to European civilization,” said Marek Siwiec, a Polish EP member.

But shake hands with Svoboda they do. In fact, they clasp hands in unity for the simple fact that they believe that working together in a united Opposition that includes Svoboda is the only way they can beat Yanukovych in the next presidential election in 2015.   Whether that will work as a political calculation remains to be seen.

In the meantime, it is imperative that Ukrainian authorities stand up to Svoboda’s rising power.  While Polish and German prosecutors announced they were looking into extradition cooperation with the U.S., Ukraine has thus far remained quiet. Unless Kiev decides to prosecute Korkac and ask for his deportation, he’s likely to live out the rest of long life (he’s 94 years old) in the U.S.

Maria Zubareva is right. “Svoboda [is] a real threat to the Jewish community of Ukraine.”


  • Anatolio Mamontow

    Hei, guy, that artificial famine is a hoax.

    • Anatolio Mamontow

      Ukraine will Split into four countries. Therea are 16 million russians, one million poles and hundred thosands of lithuanians ling there and they all want secede from Ukraine.

  • Anatolio Mamontow

    Oh, what a nazi sympatizer defending a nazi movement !

  • Jeana(Genia) West

    Btw, I love you Mila Kunis, you were AWESOME in Black Swan. You and Natalie Portman were magnificent and I love you both!!!

  • Both this and the cited article are simple and sensationalist.

    Condemning anti-semitism is a good thing, but it doesn’t make everything you say noble or correct.

    If you are going to condemn UDAR and BYT for joining with Svoboda, you pretty much have to condemn all proportional parliamentary systems of government, since the system invites extremism into government. This type of voting/representation system often requires strange bedfellows. And of course, while you mention the quasi-alliance between the main opposition parties and Svoboda, you say nothing of the strange alliance between the Party of Regions and the Communists. A political party supported by many oligarchs, together with communists, which by the way have much more sway in spreading ignorance in Ukraine than the far-right.

    Some of this ignorance is seen in the US. A popular bar at the sight of a former Ukrainian socialist club in NYC is called the KGB bar. Since the KGB was responsible for so much death and fear, I am not sure why this isn’t treated similarly to if someone wanted to name their establishment the “Gestapo Grill”.

    As far as WW2 history, I have had relatives, all passed on by now, on all sides of the war. Galicia division, soviet, ukrainian resistance after the war, people who were sent to siberia, people who died in Nazi concentration camps, people who were persecuted by Polish authorities before the war, a great grandmother who had to hide her jewish ancestry by faking her birth certificate and hiding inside for years, only later to have her family to be relocated by the Polish government as a forced resettlement of Ukrainians in Poland… its complicated. The Jewish experience was horrible, but it was a chaotic time where many people suffered, not only jews. Just because the far-right was more evil than the far-left, that does not mean that the far-left was not also evil.

    Ukraine struggles with understanding this, especially after being under Communist ignorance for decades. Many people in Ukraine still glorify communist history, many glorify the far-right. I am not sure what the solution is to bring people together and to reduce hatred, but simplistic articles like this are certainly not it.

    • Jeana(Genia) West

      Yuri, the fact of the matter is that anti-Semitics, communists, bigots, evil people in general do exist everywhere not only in the Ukraine.

      To say that “Ukraine has always been a hot bed of anti-Semitism”, “anti-Semitism is fairly open there”, “Svoboda proves basic hatred against Jews has not diminished” is not only a pack of lies, sadly these words only perpetuate the bigotry.

      I have traveled to the Ukraine, have family in Lviv, walked the streets of Lviv and Kiev and have never experienced or witnessed these so called accusations. The only agenda Svoboda and the patriotic citizens of Ukraine have is independence, plain and simple. So next time I’m in Kiev and I enter a business or school, etc., and speak “Ukrainian”, I DO NOT want to be responded to in Russian or worse yet, ignored because I spoke Ukrainian. That’s what Svoboda’s about, not these misleading accusations.

  • Jeana(Genia) West

    I agree with you, Andrij. Articles like this are designed to only give you ‘parts’ of what the reality of the situation is and desined to steer public opinion rather than presenting all the fact and letting people deside for themselves.

  • To Andrij:

    Comparing Svoboda to “many Israeli right-wingers” does not prove anything about how good or bad the Svoboda party is. Any introductory logic class would teach you that proving X based on Y says nothing about X. Moreover, even if Svoboda and those “Israeli right-wingers” could be compared (and they can’t), you would need to show concrete examples where your beloeved Svoboda condemns anti-Semitism. But you won’t be able to do that, of course.

    Also, your comment that “Ukraine and Israel unknowingly share a great deal” is interesting. If Israel spent as much time condemning the Arabs as Svoboda does in codemning foreigners, it would still be a desert country with a third-world economy. If you look at all the terror the Jews in Israel have endured over the past 100 years, they have far more right to condemn the Arabs than Ukrainians have in condemning Jews, Russians, etc. How many terror attacks have Jews performed on Ukrainians? How many cars go stolen yearly by Jews in Ukraine?! So, yes, you Ukrainians, can and indeed should learn from the Jews if you ever hope to raise your currently impoverished country to a first-world status.

  • Halacha Eisav Sone lyaakov

  • Mark Horgan


    I’m not sure what your agenda is but you really need to take some courses in journalism. Quoting (or misquoting) anonymous posters to one of your earlier distortions (or as you call it – “journalism”) is only making you look more foolish. Stop while you are ahead.

    Thank you,

    Mark Horgan

  • Svoboda is no worse than many U.S. Republicans or the Israeli right-wing. I should add that I don’t like Svoboda or Republicans or Israel’s right wing, or right-wingers in general.

    But let’s face it, love them or hate them, Ukraine would be part of Russia if it weren’t for groups like Svoboda. People in Ukraine turn to Nationalism because Ukrainian culture is under continual heavy attack. The main focus of these groups is defending Ukraine and its culture from Russia. Yes, there are ultra-right fascist types who attend Svoboda protests, but they don’t represent the party. I don’t know why I even have to say it, but Jews aren’t on the agenda for Svoboda.

  • Unfortunately anti-Semitism is alive and well throughout most of the world. I have been to Ukraine twice for business. And anti-Semitism is fairly open there. But while there is one relatively small Ukrainian party which openly espouses this idiotic view, there are literally hundreds of millions of anti-Semites in the Muslim Middle East. A Ukrainian Jew is not likely to fear for her personal safety as she walks through Kiev in the same way as they would in, say, Cairo or Baghdad. In the end, this little Ukrainian party will capture more publicity than votes. It won’t come to power. So if you are worried about reducing SERIOUS threats to Jewish people around the world, then focus your energies on the Middle East for a change.

  • The subject requires a sober and balanced approach. Please read this EXCERPT …

    “There is quite simply no evidence to suggest any increase in anti-Semitism or xenophobia […] The above is confirmed by Josef Zisels, former political prisoner and head of the Association of Jewish Organisations and Communities (Vaad) who told Radio Free Europe that while anti-Semitism and xenophobia exist, they are by no means as bad as they are being painted by those trying to discredit the opposition. He says that Vaad will be contacting the US State Department to express their disagreement with the inclusion of Ukraine in any list of countries where anti-Semitism is on the increase. The warnings issued both from Vaad and from the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine of the danger of artificially inciting ethnic enmity and anti-Semitism should be heeded – both in Ukraine and beyond.”

    … FROM THE ARTICLE: Anti-Semitic mindsets (May 27, 2013)

    • Thats a good link Andrij. I also liked the following quotes that reflect a more balanced understanding of Ukraine’s political situation.

      “Svoboda’s 10 percent win in the elections is presented as somehow reflecting Ukrainians’ bigotry, innate anti-Semitism, etc. This is surely as unjustified as to believe that the 10 percent of the population who voted for the Communist Party (also a considerable increase) were drawn to its Stalinist rhetoric.

      In times of hardship and political ferment voters hanker for easy answers which are willingly offered by parties who can make populist promises with relative impunity. It is also likely that Svoboda’s relative victory had a great deal to do with the measures weakening the position of the Ukrainian language since Yanukovych became president.”

  • Ukraine has always been a hot bed of anti Semitism. Progroms were a frequent event. No wonder many volunteered to man the concentration camps. Svoboda proves basic hatred against Jews has not diminished. It has no other worthwhile agenda in a new world.

    • Jeana(Genia) West

      What an ignorant and bigoted post. Anyone that knows the truth knows the only agenda Svoboda has is Ukraine’s independence. Does anti-Semitism exist, sadly yes, everywhere my friend, well beyond eastern Europe.

  • Bernard Ross

    why are jews surprised by these eastern europeans, did they think that these people changed?

  • Please change the title of the article from “Telling the Truth …” to “Telling Very Little of the Truth …” – this article is full of distortion, speculation and lies. Had the author used a more scholarly and academic approach in dealing with the subject, we would not be reading a sensational piece which relies on rhetoric and cherry-picked one-sidedness. By the way, Ukraine and Israel unknowingly share a great deal as nations and countries that are struggling with independence and statehood, besieged by tremendous threats from hostile geo-political neighbours. With this in mind, the reality – which is lost in this article – is that Ukraine’s Svoboda Party is far less extremist and controversial than many Israeli right-wingers, which are widely embraced as working in Israel’s best insterests. My hope for the author is to become enlightened and better acquainted with the bigger picture of Ukrainian history and politics. Please tell the FULL story, not just what fits an agenda.

    • I know a lot about world war ll. not only did I live it as a child (in occupied France, not in Ulraine),but as I grew up I went learning history, and especially about this period. I also knew that my father had run away from an ukrainian town because of periodic pogroms. This was at the beginning of las century. I learned from books written by well known respectable journalists that Ukraine during the war collaborated qith the german army and the nazy forces, not only to fight against the soiet army, but aqlso, and even more to help killing as many jews a possible.Just like Poland they lost most of thei jews an lost an important part of their infrastructure and their culture

    • Why couldn’t you “tell the FULL story?”

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