"We are destined to live together and this life can be only under condition of understanding and tolerance"
Interview with Dr. Ihor SHCHUPAK, director of the Tkuma All-Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies
— A seminar for youth, The Ark, was held on 21 to 24 June 2006 at Holy Dormition Lavra (Major Monastery) in Univ, Lviv Region, western Ukraine. Ukrainian, Jewish, and Polish youth and scholars took part. Reconciliation among the peoples who have a long tradition of living together in Halychyna (far western Ukraine) was discussed. Why was this name chosen for the seminar and what happened there?
— The name of the seminar, The Ark, to a certain extent reflects what we are trying to do. Namely, we understand that we live in a multi-ethnic country, in a multi-ethic environment, and the only alternative to dialogue is confrontation and lack of understanding. The Tkuma Center – the Central-Jewish Foundation for Research of the History of the Holocaust in Ukraine (“tkuma” means “rebirth”), with its partners the Ukrainian Catholic University and the Federation of Polish Organizations in Ukraine, and with the assistance of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the General Consulate of Poland in Ukraine, conducted the seminar. First of all, its aim was that students, youth, looked one another in the eye, showed who they are, what their culture is, their conceptions about cultures and historical and political phenomena, so that they exchanged their thoughts, their views, so that they put themselves in the “shoes” of another.
In order to understand someone else, it’s necessary to know about him. And so there was a presentation of Polish, Jewish, and Ukrainian culture, religious traditions, including Orthodox, Greek and Roman Catholic, and Jewish. In addition, their was a certain offering of planned lectures given by known scholars, including Myroslav Marynovych and Dr. Oleh Turij from UCU, Prof. Malakhov, a doctor of philosophical studies from Kyiv, Dr. Aaron Weis from Jerusalem, and Prof. Stempel from Przemysl, Poland.
We looked at various aspects related to tolerance, mutual understanding; this was on the one hand. On the other, at the historical foundations of one relation or another, at the historical preconditions of one process or another, starting with the Holocaust and ending today. And it turned out that it is possible to understand one another when you put yourself in another’s “shoes.” If a young person puts himself in the shoes of a Pole in a Russian school, where they study O.V. Suvorov, if a Ukrainian puts himself in the shoes of a Jew who in a Ukrainian school studies the time of the liberation movement of the Ukrainian people lead by B. Khmelnytskyi, the position or point of view, the world-view of another person becomes somewhat closer, it becomes your own. Your own, because we live in Ukraine; that of another, because the other person has a different culture, history, tradition.
— Are there already some immediate results from the seminar?
— In general, one can say that the vast majority of the participants of the seminar experienced culture shock. They themselves talked about this, and I recorded their impressions. Other teachers and moderators of this seminar recorded the impressions [of the students], because these were the impressions of a person who saw another culture which is alive, they saw another history which has its own point of view, and they received a “picture,” so to speak, polychrome, three-dimensional, stereoscopic, which gives the possibility to understand one another in this very complex, conflicting world. Of course, this will be continued. The young people say that they themselves will now prepare certain themes and research, reports, essays. The students and teachers said that they will prepare materials for a special publication.
We came up with the idea of a joint Ukrainian-Jewish-Polish periodical publication. At least we will certainly prepare, organize, and carry out a special edition relating to this seminar, The Ark, at the Univ lavra. In addition, we are also talking about what will be the next step, where and when we will meet. And so that this will be in a system which will attract very many more youth, we will aim at more open discussion, more possibilities for sharing impressions, more opportunities for effective reception and working over the information – this is absolutely clear.
This is one of the most important tasks and directions of activity of the Tkuma Central-Ukrainian Foundation of the History of the Holocaust, because the Tkuma Center is involved in various matters: above all, educational programs on problems of the history of the Holocaust and problems of tolerance; second, scholarly research, studies, conducting international conferences, assembling collections of documents, publishing scholarly monographs on research. Next, the creation of the first National Holocaust Museum in Ukraine, in the city of Dnipropetrovsk. And finally, what we’re talking about, the organization of international dialogue to combat all forms of xenophobia: whether Ukrainophobia, or anti-Semitism, or something else, because there is no alternative.
Unfortunately, recent political events demonstrate that they have not ceased to cause division in the national, ethnic, and religious picture. [“They” are] forces located outside Ukraine which have an interest in this, which is very unfortunate. We are not looking for enemies, but there are objective circumstances. Ukraine should live as one, independent, free, united country. The fact that they are pulling it apart, splitting it, including on an ethnic basis, this is very important and very dangerous. And we have to combat this constructively, that is, not to say that someone is bad or some evil is being done, but [we ourselves have] to do something constructive, positive. That is, to create an environment such that this atmosphere of tolerance will reign and all outbreaks of xenophobia will be simply unacceptable, as this happens and as this exists in democratic circles, in democratic Europe.
— When we speak of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, sometimes the impression arises that it looks more like the hatred of separate groups or that it is the consequence of certain propaganda. Generally this propaganda again comes out of certain centers. Often enough they say that this propaganda is, in itself, not the expression of certain views, that it is financed propaganda. Please explain, first of all, for whom such propaganda is profitable, if you can put it that way. And secondly, in cases of anti-Semitism, in particular in Ukraine, is there present a religious element, a religious factor?
— Regarding the spread of anti-Semitism, it is understood that there is a certain amount of xenophobic, anti-Semitic ideas. There are, there were, they are getting weaker, but they exist. They are not substantial. This is a question of the general culture of the person and, as a measure of this, if the culture become higher, this phenomenon will gradually level. Perhaps it will never disappear, just as xenophobia will never totally disappear.
Luckily, there is no government anti-Semitism, and not even hints of this. But what you were saying, that, really, sometimes anti-Semitic waves spread, become higher, stronger, they are really directed by certain centers. There was research, if I’m not mistaken, by Joseph Zisel, who said that more than 80 % of anti-Semitic materials of a destructive, absolutely xenophobic character, are produced by one organization , MAUP (the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management), which is located in Kyiv. It is possible to comment much on this.
For whom is this profitable? This is profitable for those to whom a split in society is desirable, for whom it is desirable to split Ukraine into the “‘for this and that’ east and the other west.” This is profitable for those who want to weaken Ukraine, who want to set one against another. For whom is this profitable? One can give a response to this question. We hope that in some time this will change, although, in fact, it is absolutely clear from what centers such activities are financed, and these centers are located within Ukraine, finding in this Kyiv organization possibilities for anti-Semitism.
It was very interesting for me that aware Ukrainians, activists of the Ukrainian movement who are not neophytes, who have defended the idea of the Ukrainian national movement for a long time, like Mr. Myroslav Marynovych, who is one of the participants of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and was imprisoned for 10 years for the Ukrainian national movement, condemned anti-Semitism. He says that for Ukrainians this anti-Semitism can be more dangerous than for Jews, because this damages the reputation of Ukraine, this weakens the ideological strength of the Ukrainian nation. In the same way as Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky during the war said that encouraging Ukrainians to pogroms fragments Ukrainian society, the Ukrainian idea, which will not be able to mobilize people against any dictatorship, any totalitarianism. I would venture to extrapolate from today’s situation. Heating up such hostile and provocative actions, which happens through the mass media, through political activities, will bring bad results not only for Jews but also for Ukrainians. Many well-know activists think this way, let’s say the famous journalist of [tv channel] 1+1 Yurii Makarov and others have such a point of view.
— And as for the religious element, is it present at this level? Let’s leave aside the organization MAUP. That is, does anti-Semitism in Ukraine have some religious motivation behind it?
— I don’t notice a particularly clear religious factor. Unquestionably, in historical retrospect anti-Semitism had a certain religious component. When the Jews were condemned as deicides, God-killers, this, of course, had to be seen as religious and civic consciousness, in general. But, as is known, times change, and we look differently on what was, we evaluate certain processes differently. As is known, Pope John Paul II removed the condemnation of the Jews as deicides. Only such instances are left which look absolutely foolish, about which it is not possible even to dispute. Many laughed when MAUP took again on its shield the issue of the ritual murder of a boy at the start of the 20th century (the famous case of Beilis [see link BELOW]). That is, now to make bloody slander, to raise the question about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and other things, this is not just laughable but simply not serious. In my opinion, this does not even require any extra work. This was all long ago noted in scholarship, and if someone does this, it is simply improper to talk about such things in an academic environment.
And now it’s possible to talk about the fact that separate representatives of separate churches and religious denominations express one thought or another, but what I have heard officially from Jews, from rabbis who represent various directions, this is an attempt to do everything for interethnic, interreligious understanding. As for church activists – this made a great impression on me – the address of His Beatitude Cardinal Lubomyr (Husar), head of the UGCC [Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church]. At the last conference dedicated to Sheptytsky, which Tkuma conducted together with partners in Lviv, he said: “Yes, there was very much that was terrible. And the church, if it is guilty because it did not defend the Jews as was necessary to do in time of war, then we have to do penance, we have to ask forgiveness for this.” On the other hand, the Jews have some problems, they have to talk about this, and Poles and others will talk.
If we look at the past from the point of view of becoming aware of lessons for the future, we will look to the future from the point of view that we are destined to live together, and this life can be only under condition of understanding and tolerance, then we will say that our prospects are proper, normal. And I hope that at least some Christian churches are making tolerant and serious steps towards interreligious – not only interethnic – understanding. And I hope that other Christian churches will do this, as the Jews are doing this.
— What plans does the Tkuma Center have for the nurturing of interreligious accord in the future? What events do you have planned?
— Really, Ukraine is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural. However, among such multi-ethnic centers you can, in addition to Lviv, point out Chernivtsi and Odesa. And of course we plan to make a system of dialogue between ethnic groups and denominations in these three cities. We plan, if it works out, already this year to do a seminar similar to this one in Chernivtsi. Of course, together with very persistent Polish partners, with Ukrainian partners, scholars, and teachers, we plan to continue next year the work that we started in Lviv, and this absolutely will happen, I am sure. There will be one corrective: we will have many more students there. Our Polish partners say that we need to continue this on the territory of Poland. They suggest bringing students to the discussion not only from Poland and Ukraine of Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish background. They suggest inviting at least a small group of students from Israel, to hear the point of view of those people who live in the Holy Land. And we expect that this will be possible.
The Tkuma Center conducts such seminars systematically, and we already have a fairly rich experience of conducting seminars among ethnic groups for elementary and intermediate school students of Ukrainian and Jewish schools. We conduct them in Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv, and other cities. And this is very interesting, because we have the possibility not only to understand one another, we enrich ourselves not only by the accomplishments of cultures which have existed next to one another for thousands of years, but we come upon interesting new ideas and creative work happens.
By the way, again, taking advantage of the opportunity, I want to call upon those young people who took part in our third competition among ethnic groups of creative works of school and university students under the title “Lessons of the Holocaust, Lessons of Tolerance.” This, in my view, is the main lesson of the Holocaust. We will summarize the results of this contest on 27-29 September on the anniversary of the tragedy at Babyn Yar, where Jews were lost, where Ukrainian national patriots were shot dead, where Soviet soldiers were shot dead. Babyn Yar is a symbol of the tragedy of the Jewish people, a symbol of the tragedy of Ukraine during World War II. On 27-29 September in Kyiv we will announce the results of this contest. In addition to educational work, we, of course, conduct scholarly work, scholarly research and so on.
— Thank you for the interview.
Interview conducted by Taras ANTOSHEVSKYY, Lviv, 24 June 2006.