28 June 2018

Attacks on Romani and Jews in the Ukraine must end

This past week, a camp of Romani outside the city of L’vov was attacked by a gang of fascist hooligans. One Roma teenager was killed. Eight suspects – all local young men from L’vov – have been apprehended and claim membership in a radical-right ‘straight edge’ group, but higher authorities wasted no time blaming Russia for the attack. This attack is, however, the latest of a series of violent pogroms against Roma and Jews in the Ukraine, carried out by right-wing youths, and is part of a rising trend of violence against minorities by right-wing ‘angry youth’, often aided, abetted and ignored by Ukrainian police. Oftentimes, Romani are afraid to come forward because they know the police are on the side of their attackers. Strangely enough, this consistent uptick in right-wing violence against the marginalised dates back about four and a half years, and had not yet started when the Yanukovich government was overthrown.

Now, it is true that violence and discrimination against Romani (and Jews, and Rusins) is by no means unique to the Ukraine. It is also true that the Maidan is fundamentally a rightist-neoliberal project, and not one of the fascist far-right. However, whether knowingly or not, the neoliberal leaders of the Maidan enable and embolden the fascist far-right when they ignore it or when they attempt to dismiss it as solely a ‘Russian problem’. It is no longer credible (if indeed it ever was) to dismiss as ‘Russian propaganda’ the observation that the violence by the Ukrainian right wing has coincided with the rise of the Maidan movement.

Nationalism in the Ukraine is not benign; it has a long and sordid history of violence against minorities, particularly Jews. This is a legacy of the long mediæval Polish-Lithuanian influence (and later Austro-Hungarian and German influence) even on Orthodox spiritual life and political ethics in that country, and that history cannot simply be swept under the rug and ignored. Pointing to the linkages between that history and this modern crisis facing Carpathian Rusins, Ukrainian Jews, Romani and others is neither irrelevant nor ‘gaslighting’ as the partizans of present-day Kiev would like us to believe. Indeed, ignoring and downplaying these linkages presents us with the sordid face of yet another neo-colonialist ideology, the same which was presciently indicated several decades ago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

If police discrimination against Romani in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech and Slovak lands is unacceptable, so is this. These attacks against the Romani and the Jews by the far-right must end. State inaction and complicity in these attacks, now acknowledged by independent human rights groups, must end. The civil war – and yes, it is a civil war – in the Donetsk Basin must end. The linguistic discrimination against the Rusins must end. What is called for is repentance and moral renewal. What is called for is an actual return to the pluralism and radicalism of Kiev’s distant past – not merely a recitation of it for the sake of nationalist glory, pride and vengeance.

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