Ask Yuri Syrotyuk, a senior member of Ukrainian far-right party Svoboda, about widespread allegations of antisemitism in his own party and among the country’s political classes, and he constructs an unfortunate defence.
“It is absolutely not true… Many representatives of your people [Jews] are in the Ukrainian parliament and among the richest citizens of Ukraine. Could that happen in a country where antisemitism is widespread?”
Svoboda — which holds 38 seats in parliament — has a troubling record when it comes to Jews, who number 71,000 in the Ukraine.
Svoboda MP Igor Miroshnichenko provoked a scandal in December when he called Ukraine-born, American-Jewish actress Mila Kunis a “Zhid”, an offensive word used to insult Jews and employed by the Nazis during the Holocaust in the Ukraine.
At the time, Svoboda leader Oleg Tyagnibok defended the statement, and Mr Syrotyuk concurred that there was nothing offensive about the term. “The word ‘Zhid’ is a common Slavic definition for Jews in most European countries. Another definition simply does not exist in Slovak, Czech or Polish language. This word has never had a negative or offensive connotation in any Slavic language,” he said.
The Jewish community of the Ukraine disagrees. Following the statement by Mr Miroshnichenko, it launched an international campaign to publicise the growth of antisemitism in Ukraine.
Since it was established in 1991, Svoboda has appealed to Ukrainian nationalists and often described Jews and the Russians as the enemies of the state and the people.
Mr Tyagnibok has recently made efforts to clean up Svoboda’s racist image, and Mr Syrotyuk claimed that Jews, as minorities, are safe living in the Ukraine. “Svoboda supports the right of all ethnic minorities to participate in government, education, language and more… Our common objective is to eliminate anti-Ukrainian, undemocratic regimes,” he said.
In May last year, Mr Syrotyuk commented that the country’s half-Congolese entrant to the Eurovision Song Contest meant that “millions will see that Ukraine is represented by a person who does not belong to our race”.