An interview with Vadim Rabinovich, president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress
“You will scarcely find a country in Europe which is more stable than Ukraine in its tolerance towards ethnic minorities and in its absence of conflicts.” Vadim Rabinovich, president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, gave a Russian-language interview to Viktor Shlynchak and Yuliya Lymar, posted on www.glavred.info on 26 May 2004. An English-language translation of excerpts was released by the BBC Monitoring Service on 8 June 2004. RISU presents a shortened version of the English translation, with an additional passage from the Russian original, not included by the BBC Monitoring Service.
During the interview, Rabinovich speaks about a conflict between the “Silski Visti” (Village News) newspaper and the Jewish community of Ukraine. “Silski Visti” was accused of anti-Semitism after it published an article called “Jews in Ukraine Today: Reality without Myths,” on 30 September 2003. The local court ordered the newspaper closed for “inciting interethnic feud,” picketers protested the decision on 25 May 2004 , and the situation is still unresolved.
[Shlynchak, Lymar] Vadim Zynovyevych, one article about the last congress of Ukrainian Jews, quoted you as saying that the longer [Ukrainian President] Leonid Kuchma remains in his post, the more comfortable it will be for all ethnic groups in Ukraine. Can you clarify this statement for us?
[Rabinovich] The point is that in the heat of a political struggle, that is right now, it is better to be in one boat and throw stones at the other. Objectivity goes out of the window and all that remains is a shell of political persuasions, replacing people's conscience, morals and all the rest.
[Shlynchak, Lymar] Are you decoding or putting it into code? Are we are talking about a conflict between the Jews and “Silski Visti” or a much deeper problem?
[Rabinovich] Behind the article in “Silski Visti,” in my opinion, stands a meaningless "need to vote". [Socialist Party leader Oleksandr] Moroz had already discredited himself in the eyes of all when in one election, with the Kaniv Four [opposition alliance at 1999 general elections], he received how many, 3 per cent of the vote? Now, according to various polls, he is trusted by 3 or 2 per cent of the electorate. At the same time he (the leader of the socialists - Ed.) speaks on behalf of the whole people! And with what?
From the point of view of international peace - and this is the standpoint of our congress in assessing what is happening in Ukraine - there can be no forgiving Moroz! Even we, only used to having a dig at someone of our own country, for some reason are afraid to say that we have built a normal inter-ethnic society. And you will scarcely find a country in Europe which is more stable than Ukraine in its tolerance towards ethnic minorities and in its absence of conflicts. So why do we keep silent about this? Just to avoid a quarrel with opposition politicians do I have to say that the economic situation is bad - Kuchma is to blame, the interethnic situation is fine - again because of Kuchma? That's wrong! You will not expect this from me! I will only speak objectively as I have always done. Since this president has been in office, in matters of inter-ethnic relations, I believe that Ukraine has become one of the most advanced countries in the world.
[Shlynchak, Lymar] Advanced, in what way?
[Rabinovich] Advanced in the sense that we do not have that problem as such. We are not intolerant. It's only now, in the run-up to the elections, that this gang is stirring it all up. Am I making myself clear?
[Shlynchak, Lymar] Perfectly.
[Rabinovich] There is no other way I can describe the people who are stirring up a bonfire in their own home. God willing what we are seeing in Azerbaijan or in Armenia will not happen here. If anyone thinks that this fire only concerns other people, someone else's home - this is nonsense. It can flare up anywhere.
[Shlynchak, Lymar] But for the time being, it seems, not everything is so bad, is it? Could you be exaggerating the size of the problem?
[Rabinovich] On the contrary, I say this: "We have something good - let us cherish and look after it." We have in our country one great achievement - inter-ethnic peace. What hatred for their own people, what nihilism “Silski Visti” must have to do what they are doing. I have not met a single politician in Ukraine who has said to me that what “Silski Visti” writes is honest and correct. Not one…
[Shlynchak, Lymar] In your view, will the Jewish issue be used as an election technique?
[Rabinovich] I have said to everyone a hundred times, and I will repeat it to you: no-one will succeed in dragging the Jewish community to support this or that political force.
[Shlynchak, Lymar] And to oppose it?
[Rabinovich] That's quite possible. If any political force starts advocating stirring up inter-ethnic discord, we will reply. Professor [Volodymyr] Yaremenko writes that the Jews arrived in Ukraine to rape all the women and kill the men. How can this be allowed?! How can an educated man say that? And they are all now academics, corresponding-members. In our Inter-Regional Academy of Personnel Management [IAPM] everyone who makes an anti-Semitic statement is given a cloak, a diploma of an Honorary Doctor of the academy and an order…
[Shlynchak, Lymar] Vadym Zinovyevych, there seem to be a whole lot of myths mixed in with the truth about the Jewish world community. Now [MP, magnate and President Kuchma's son-in-law] Viktor Pinchuk, for example, is very busy with international contacts: he is arranging meetings between the president and [former US State Secretary] Henry Kissinger, [US financier] George Soros, and [former US President] George Bush, senior. Who is more influential worldwide today - your organization or Viktor Pinchuk?
[Rabinovich] You might as well ask who has more influence on the situation on the grain markets - Yasir Arafat or Muamar Qadhafi? What's Viktor Pinchuk got to do with it? He hasn't been active in our organizations for a long time. His contacts, as far as I am aware, have been motivated more by economic schemes. I don't deny, he might have had meetings with representatives of Jewish organizations, he also could have met with representatives of some Muslim organizations. I, for example, as president of the Jewish community, together with the American Jewish Committee sat down all night with Yasir Arafat in a bunker trying to persuade him to end the war. But all these "Jewish plots" are such hackneyed things.
[Shlynchak, Lymar] Nevertheless, various Jewish organizations do exist. In your opinion, how strong is the influence of world Jewish organizations on the politics of such a young and attractive state as Ukraine?
[Rabinovich] Do we simply want to believe that serious political and economic world structures are sitting down and thinking what will happen in Ukraine tomorrow? Unfortunately, the reality is much worse: 90 per cent of them do not even know where Ukraine is. US senator [John] McCain told me that "Ukraine is a small country in Siberia."
I have the highest awards from two branches of the Orthodox Church [in Ukraine], from Filaret [head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate] and from Volodymyr [head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate].
[Shlynchak, Lymar] Is that just to be on the safe side?
[Rabinovich] I am not really embarrassed by this question. And I will explain why. I have always stated that Ukrainian Jews must help their country. Once I had a conversation with the superior of St. Volodymyr's Cathedral and I asked him about the golden cupolas that used to be there before. There are so many oligarchs who attend this church and pray day in and day out. So don't they have money for the cupolas? They say they don't. During a meeting of our organization I said, ‘Folks, we have restored the Brodsky Synagogue and I think now it will be right to donate money for St. Volodymyr's Cathedral.' They had voted on my proposal and we collected the money. Was that right? I think it was.
[Shlynchak, Lymar] Aren't you afraid people will stop getting baptized in that church tomorrow?
[Rabinovich] You know, I can see that there are enough problems in Ukrainian Orthodoxy without me. Everyone keeps pulling in different directions. Other denominations face the same problem. And [Jewish] Orthodoxy is the same too, they tell me 'don't go there, come here...' I personally have my own temple where to go. You see, most people here suffer from post-soviet syndromes. We are still trying to read between the lines and avoid stating clearly what we think and then for some strange reason we believe that we live in a democratic country. I talk both to people in power and in opposition and all of them are politicized and do not see any way for consolidation. They never speak of 'helping our people and our country.' I have never heard something like that from them at all. They are seeking to destroy each other and none of them uses positive election techniques, aimed at the human being. All their techniques are against each other. Everybody is trying to get a video camera installed in the other person's bathroom. Seeing this, people lose faith and have no more trust for politicians whatsoever...
Original Russian text: www.glavred.info/index.php?art=109037388
Translation (supplemented by RISU): BBC Monitoring Service