Eastern Europe Jews urge antisemitism fight

By Toby Axelrod, January 7, 2010

The World Congress of Russian-speaking Jews urged action to fight Holocaust denial and antisemitism in former Soviet republics in a conference in Berlin last month.

At issue is the alleged glorification of wartime Nazi collaborators, rehabilitated today as nationalist heroes, particularly in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine, charged Boris Shpigel, president of the WCRJ.

Some critics have said that Russia is trying to whitewash its own past, while criticising its former satellites. But Mr Shpigel, who is a deputy in the Russian Parliament, countered that there are genuine reasons to be concerned about rising nationalism in eastern Europe.

In two resolutions, representatives urged a halt to historical revisionism and Holocaust denial, to the “downplaying of the crucial role of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany and attempts... to equate Soviet and Nazi regimes”.

The conference drew 500 guests from 28 countries, including many former Soviet veterans of World War II, quite a few of whom now live in Israel.

The event had been moved to Berlin from Kiev at the last minute, because of fears of a swine flu outbreak. But the Ukrainian government had been unhappy about the planned conference anyway.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Germany, Natalia Zarudna, who had addressed the Berlin gathering, said that “from the beginning it was obvious that the conference was not aimed at a constructive approach but at politicising this issue and extremely over-exaggerating.”

Joseph Zissels, head of Ukraine’s Vaad (association of Jewish organisations), said right-wing extremism in his country must be seen in context.

“Ultra-nationalists in Ukraine have the support of less than one percent of the population.”

Across the FSU, there has been “genuine progress”, though much more needs to be done, said Rabbi Andrew Baker, just reappointed as representative of the chair on combating antisemitism for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“In the early 1990s, you had legionnaires marching in SS uniforms in Latvia, and being received by the highest level in the government, and that will not happen today,” said Mr Baker.

Mr Shpigel insisted he wants to cooperate wherever possible.

“We are not going to fight with these countries,” he insisted. “Ninety per cent of the people in them are good. It is the other 10 per cent who are lying, and it is our goal to reach them

Last updated: 5:11pm, January 7 2010