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додано: 10-02-2004
RFE/RL: Largest opposition newspaper closed on charges of anti-Semitism
RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report

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RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report
Vol. 6, No. 4, 3 February 2004
A Survey of Developments in Belarus and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team

Largest opposition newspaper closed on charges of anti-Semitism

Judge Iryna Saprykina of the Shevchenkivskyy District Court in Kyiv on 28 January ordered the closure of the opposition newspaper "Silski visti" after finding it guilty of fomenting interethnic strife in last year's article on Jews in Ukraine. The article, titled "Jews in Ukraine Today: Reality Without Myths," was penned by Vasyl Yaremenko, whom Ukrainian media identify as a professor of the Interregional Academy for Personnel Management.

The court's ruling has caused an outcry of indignation on the part of the opposition -- Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- which see the presidential administration as an agent behind the closure of the largest antigovernment newspaper, which has a circulation of some 520,000, in the presidential-election year. While not denying that the closure may play into the hands of the government, many Ukrainian observers agree, however, that the court's decision is fully supportable.Yaremenko's article, which was published by "Silski visti" on 30 November 2003, can doubtless be categorized even by non-jurists as rabidly anti-Semitic.

Yaremenko's lengthy piece of writing is in fact a follow-up to the one he published in "Silski visti" on 15 November 2002 -- "The Myth of Ukrainian Anti-Semitism." Yaremenko copiously quotes from letters of those readers of his first article who supported his point of view. His main thesis is that Jews in Ukraine are a privileged national minority and actually run the country by controlling its mass media, finances, and basic economic sectors. Any attempts to oppose this situation or even to point out that such a state of affairs exists, Yaremenko argues, are without delay presented in the media controlled and/or owned by Jewish oligarchs as manifestations of Ukrainian anti-Semitism and Judophobia.

All television channels in Ukraine, Yaremenko says, are in the hands of"Zionists," and Ukrainians are forced to feed on "informational and spiritual products of the Jewish ideological kitchen." He includes oligarchs Viktor Medvedchuk, Hryhoriy Surkis, Viktor Pinchuk, Vadym Rabynovych, and Yukhym Zvyahilskyy in a much longer list of "Zionists" in Ukraine. According to Yaremenko, "nearly one-third" of the Verkhovna Rada deputies are Jews. He satirizes the Ukrainian parliament by saying that it is now in the process of transforming itself into an "Israeli Knesset" or Ukraine's "central synagogue."

Much more aggressive are Yaremenko's "historical" excursions. He claims that Jews "organized" the tragic 1932-33 famine in Ukraine to take "revenge" on millions of Ukrainians. Moreover, Yaremenko asserts that in 1937-38 millions of Ukrainians were killed by the NKVD, which was run by "leaders of Zionism" and consisted of 99 percent Jews. He also says that during World War II Ukraine was invaded by German fascists along with a 400,000-strong "horde of Jewish SS men."

A lawsuit against "Silski visti" was brought to court by an organization called the International Antifascist Committee. The newspaper argued in court that Yaremenko's article -- which was a portion of his previously published book -- was printed as a separate leaflet in addition to the main issue to advertise the book. Under the press law, the editors claimed, newspapers are not responsible for the content of advertisements they print. But Judge Saprykina told the 31 January-6 February issue of "Zerkalo nedeli" that there was no mention whatsoever in the 30 November 2003 issue of "Silski visti" that Yaremenko's text is an advertisement. Saprykina added that Ukraine's press law unambiguously stipulates the closure of publications that stir up racial, ethnic, or religious antagonisms. Saprykina also said her ruling does not mean that "Silski visti" will cease to appear immediately -- ! appeals against her verdict may prolong the life of the newspaper for at least a year, if not overturn it altogether.

The "Silski visti" case -- apart from the problem of anti-Semitism and that of restrictions on the freedom of _expression in Ukraine's public life -- has also brought to the fore the issue of the democratic credentials of the Ukrainian opposition. It has not passed unnoticed by Ukrainian observers that the opposition, while protesting the closure of "Silski visti," did not touch upon the content of Yaremenko's outpourings. A statement signed by Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko says the closure is a "manifestation of totalitarian policy" of the government vis-a-vis undesirable media and accuses the court of following instructions of the authorities to eliminate the opposition media outlet. "We condemn the cynical reprisal against the opposition newspaper and express our support for the 'Silski visti' editors," reads the last phrase of Our Ukraine's statement. And the statement does! not include a single word of reference to, let alone condemnation of, Yaremenko's shameful article.

It is not difficult to guess that if Yushchenko remains silent on Yaremenko's anti-Semitic escapade in "Silski visti," he will risk -- at best -- losing sympathy and support of many circles in the West that see him as a Ukrainian exponent of Western democratic values and principles. At worst, he may be accused of harboring anti-Semitism himself and trying to exploit it for his political purposes. In a situation where the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians live in glaring poverty and some of the country's most notable and fabulously rich oligarchs are of Jewish origin, it cannot be ruled out that anti-Semitism may become for some parties in the Our Ukraine bloc a political tool for mobilizing support in the presidential election. Then, the image of Yushchenko as a rabid nationalist -- which is being laboriously presented to the electorate by the Communists and pro-government forces alike -- may also be supplement! ed with some anti-Semitic features. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"The Communists of Ukraine are firmly convinced that if [Viktor] Yushchenko comes to power, the right-wing nationalistic forces will bring NATO troops in here, break all ties with Russia, launch a new grandiose redistribution of property, [and] destroy the last remaining sprouts of democracy in Ukraine." -- From a statement by Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko on 27 January; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website.

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