Kiev — John Kerry commented on reports today militant Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk had distributed fliers instructing Jews to register with the government.
“In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it’s grotesque,” Kerry said. “It is beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities — from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of — there is no place for that.”
This development is shocking, but it’s also ironic, given the propaganda that the Russian government has circulated to slander the Maidan demonstrators, as well as Ukrainians who dare resist annexation by their aggressive and authoritarian neighbor. To be clear, though, it’s unclear exactly who distributed the fliers and why; a local leader of the Russian separatists has denied that he ordered their printing and distribution.
When the Maidan protests were still going on, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called for condemnation against “those who seize government buildings, attack and burn police officers, and voice racist and anti-Semitic slogans.” Russia Today alleged that “the West has been turning a blind eye to all these neo-Nazis operating in Kiev,” quoting a so-called political analyst who said, “The ultranationalists from western Ukraine, they are neo-Nazis. . . . In western Ukraine from these people you can hear direct support for Adolf Hitler.” Meanwhile, after president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, Lavrov claimed violence in Ukraine was the result of “lawlessness of neo-nationalists and extremists.”
Speaking in Kiev with those who participated in the Maidan demonstrations, it’s clear that the movement was not led by radical neo-Nazi fascists, as the Russians have so frequently claimed. It was a revolution begun mostly by students, and then joined by older Ukrainians, who were fed up with their wildly corrupt and increasingly oppressive government. When I ask people here what the Maidan revolution was about, the most common answer I have heard is “rule of law and Ukrainian freedom.”
In any crowd of hundreds of thousands, there are bound to be a few folks with a few screws loose, but I have no doubt whatsoever that the vast majority of those who showed up at Maidan Nezalezhnosti exhibited great courage and restraint, leading a peaceful protest that was ultimately successful.
The forced registration of Jews in Donetsk may well offer some insight into Russia’s totalitarian mindset, which is deeply rooted in the history of the last century. It may also be indicative of the problems Ukraine faces as the most corrupt nation in Europe: It’s possible this is a money-making scheme by corrupt Donetsk officials who want to pocket registration fees. Either way, if it’s coming from separatists, it’s a bad sign that Jews are being singled out.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.