antisemitism,  Russia,  Ukraine

In Ukraine, the return of the Black Hundreds

It’s still not clear precisely who was behind the notorious leaflets distributed to Jews in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk ordering them to register with the separatist pro-Russian “Donetsk People’s Republic.” (Separatist leaders denied they were behind it and nobody actually complied.)

But David E. Fishman of the Jewish Daily Forward observes that Russian media and pro-Russian operatives in eastern Ukraine have given up on trying to portray the new Ukrainian government as neo-Nazi and antisemitic (they only managed to convince a few fools), and are now attacking Ukrainian leaders for their supposed Jewish origins.

It all started with a Russian television “documentary” on former Ukrainian President Yulia Tymoshenko, aired on March 30. The film was a propaganda piece in the Soviet style – unrelenting character assassination with ominous, grating background music. Tymoshenko’s whole career, the narrator intoned, was one of embezzlement, criminality, back-stabbing of associates, and secretly ordering assaults and killings. Then, toward the end, the culminating “disclosure”: Tymoshenko was Jewish. “She completely hides her origin. But for many, it is no secret that the father of this woman with a hair-braid — Viktor Abramovich Kapitelman — has Jewish roots.”

The implication was that now, in light of that fact, her pattern of lies, theft and murder all made sense.

A few days earlier, the same documentary news program did a similar hatchet-job on Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatseniuk, and indulged in the rhetoric of the 1970s: Yatseniuk was not just a Jew, but a Zionist. “One must take into consideration his Jewish origin. He is a Jew on his mother’s side, and is one of the fifty most famous Zionists in Ukraine.” No wonder he was an enemy of Russia.

For the conventional (non-anti-Semitic) Russian viewer, these disclosures of Jewishness were insignificant — after all, they lasted only 20 seconds in a half-hour program. Or they could be brushed aside as editorial lapses into bad taste. But for the Russian ultra-right, these words were gold. They legitimized their wedding of anti-Ukrainianism to anti-Semitism.

The documentary’s line was picked up instantaneously in a pro-Russian separatist demonstration in Lugansk, Eastern Ukraine. An unidentified speaker went straight for the jugular: “The Maidanists say we’ve had a revolution of national liberation. And I ask: ‘which nation?’ Let’s see how many Ukrainians have come to power. Yatseniuk?” The speaker paused, and the crowd called out, “He’s a Jew!” The speaker continued to list major Ukrainian politicians, adding their alleged Jewish names to prove their true origin: “What about Klitchko-Ettinson, or Yulia Kapitelman?” Someone from the audience yelled “She’s a zhid!” “Or the great fighter for the purity of the nation Tyahnybok-Srokman? Is this the bright light of the Ukrainian nation? This is a coup, a coup perpetrated by Zionists.” The crowd burst into applause.

Ominously, Fishman notes that one of the groups now operating in eastern Ukraine calls itself the Black Hundreds.

This movement sees itself as the reincarnation of the notorious anti-Semitic organization that flourished in Russia more than a century ago. Their program consists of the restoration of the Russian Empire in its pre-1917 borders (including Ukraine); establishing Russia as a mono-ethnic state and renewing the unity between the state and the Russian Orthodox church, as in Tsarist times; and protecting Russia against “those who hate Christ.” Their literature openly attacks “zhids.” (Here’s a recent post on their web-site: “The Vice President of the United States praised Jews for controlling the media, and thanked them for their central role in the legalization of gay marriage.”)

The Black Hundreds (and other similar groups, of which there are many) do not recognize the existence of a Ukrainian nation. There is only one Russian, or Slavic, nation. Ukrainians are “Little Russians.” As one militant occupying the government building in the East Ukrainian town of Slavyansk put it: “There is no Ukrainian people, there is just one Slavic people. Or there was, until Jews like Trotsky divided us.”… The movement’s white, yellow, and black flag has been visible at pro-Russian, separatist rallies in Kharkov, Odessa and Donetsk (yes, Donetsk, with its flyers ordering Jews to register).

Until the recent disturbances in Eastern Ukraine, there was no Black Hundreds organization in Donetsk, Kharkov, or Odessa. Theirs is a stridently Russian ideology, and ethnic Ukrainians are the majority of the population in those provinces. But now, with the influx of people, money, and arms from Russia, the movement is active on the streets, and in the seized government buildings. At the end of March, a Black Hundreds activist from St. Petersburg was arrested in Odessa by the Ukrainian Security Service. Besides organizing marches, Anton Raevskii established a camp on the outskirts of town to train people in hand-to-hand combat. According to the authorities, he was calling on his trainees to attack a Ukrainian military station and Jews. Raevskii, whose arms are tattooed with Nazi slogans and insignia, was deported back to Russia.

…It is no coincidence that virtually all of the known anti-Semitic incidents since the fall of the Yanukovych regime have taken place in the Eastern part of the country — Crimea, Odessa, Donetsk, Nikolayev. It is the region where Russia exerts the greatest influence and interference, and it is there where a group thought relegated to the dustbin of history is now active again, thanks to Russia: the Black Hundreds.

Update: Steve Bloomfield of Monocle writes at The Guardian:

According… to Rory Suchet, [the Russian government propaganda channel] RT’s main news anchor, other news channels are controlled by “financiers” and “corporations”. It is all, he told me, part of the “military-industrial complex” and he mused how some people believe “there is too much Jewish money in America”. There is an argument, he suggested, that “Jewish money controls a huge amount of foreign policy in Washington”.

Further update: Milosevic defender and Ostalgist Neil Clark rallies to the support of Rory Suchet.