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TWELVE DAYS IN UKRAINE

Report of a Visit to Jewish Population Centers

March 26 to April 7, 2006

This report reviews a visit to Ukraine in 2005, beginning with the writer's arrival on March 26 and ending with her departure on April 7. Due to time constraints, the writer visited only three cities: Dnipropetrovsk and Dniprodzerzhynsk in eastern Ukraine, and Kyiv, the national capital. Her 2006 journey was her first since a more extensive visit almost exactly one year earlier1 .

 

The 2005 visit occurred several months after the election of Victor Yushchenko as President of Ukraine following a mass citizen action hailed as the “Orange Revolution” in recognition of Mr. Yushchenko's campaign color. Mr. Yushchenko had defeated Victor Yanukovych, a candidate supported by retiring President Leonid Kuchma and by Russia, Ukraine's large and often overbearing neighbor. He is to remain in office until 2009 with the right to appoint the foreign and defense ministers; the Prime Minister and other ministers were to have been determined in negotiations following parliamentary elections. Notwithstanding the jubilation in Ukraine and the democratic West at Mr. Yushchenko's triumph, his first year as president was perceived by many as a disappointment. Mr. Yushchenko, it was claimed, was indecisive, apparently incapable of stopping the infighting among his supporters, and presided over an economy in which the GDP declined from a 12.1 increase in 2004 to a 2.6 percent increase in 2005.

Victor Yushchenko is seen during his 2005 Presidential campaign.

Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Wiktor_Juschtschenko.

On September 8, 2005, Mr. Yushchenko dismissed Prime Minister Yulia Tymo-shenko, an ally in the Orange Revolution, and her cabinet, charging that she was abusing her position and misusing government funds. Ms. Tymoshenko had pursued “demagogic inflationary policies,” 2 advocating re-privatization of basic industries, increased taxes,and extensive government intervention in the economy. Mr. Yushchenko advocated a more liberal economic agenda.

 

External factors also had a significant impact on the Ukrainian economy. The price of steel, which accounts for 30 percent of Ukrainian exports, and other export commodities fell sharply in the world market during Mr. Yushchenko's tenure. Further, Russia, which controls the supply of natural gas to Ukraine, raised gas prices from $60 per 1000 cubic meters to $95 per 1000 cubic meters. 3

 

However unsatisfactory the performance of the Ukrainian economy during Mr. Yushchenko's early tenure, progress in the political sphere was strong. Mass media had become independent and lively. Restrictions on freedom of assembly were lifted.,4 Some bureaucratic practices had been eliminated or alleviated, and punitive taxation had ceased.

 

The three largest Ukrainian political parties Mr. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, Ms. Tymoshenko's Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, and even Mr. Yanukoych's Party of Regions all advocated pro-market policies. Even Mr. Yanukovych distanced himself from Russia, which had antagonized most Ukrainians, including those predisposed to support of Russia, by sharply increasing gas prices; some, however, doubted Mr. Yanukovych's sincerity as well as his commitment to democracy.

 

On March 26, Ukrainian voters elected 450 members to five-year terms in the Verkhovna Rada (Верховна  ада; Supreme Council), the unicameral parliament of the state, under a proportional party list system. The Rada would elect the next prime minister. The elections, according to almost all observers, were democratic and fair, free from interference of any kind on the national level, although some corruption did occur on a local level in several provinces or oblasts. No party won a majority of the votes. Ms. Tymoshenko's “Bloc” and Mr. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine split the “Orange” vote, with Ms. Tymoshenko earning 22 percent (129 seats) and Mr. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine garnering 14 percent (81 seats). Mr. Yanukovych's Party of Regions led the overall count with approximately 32 percent (186 seats), drawing his main support from eastern Ukraine, which is heavily industrialized and the most pro-Russian region of the country. The Socialists and Communists won seven percent (33 seats) and four percent (21 seats) respectively. None of the remaining 40 political parties garnered three percent, the minimum necessary to win a seat in the Rada. The most radical parties had all been defeated.

 

The three leading parties began jockeying to form a coalition and to name the next Prime Minister. At the time of the writer's visit, it appeared that the Orange forces would unitein an alliance with Mr. Yushchenko remaining as President until 2009 with the right to appoint defense and foreign ministers (as a result of his 2005 presidential victory). Ms. Tymoshenko would be the new Prime Minister. Because no party had won a majority, observers anticipated continuing instability as rival groups seek to gain advantage and influence.

Although a native of Dnipropetrovsk, Yulia Tymoshenko
is not associated with the often pro-Russian politics of eastern Ukraine

Photo: http://www.tymoshenko.com.ua.

 

Whatever its composition, the new government must deal with Ukraine's aging and undercapitalized infrastructure. The transportation and health services systems are seriously underdeveloped, and some cities are unable to provide potable water to all residents. Corruption also remains a major problem in all sectors of Ukraine, with citizens and visitors often expected to “carry envelopes” to ensure the delivery of goods and services.

 

The Ukrainian government also will be expected to respond to antisemitism, which has increased significantly during the last several years. It is generally agreed that the primary engine generating anti-Jewish bigotry in Ukraine is the Interrregional Academy of Personnel Management (Ukr. Міжрегіональна Академія управління персоналом;known by its Ukrainian acronym, MAUP), a privately-funded academic institution enrolling over 50,000 students in Kyiv and in branches in other cities. It organizes antisemitic conferences and is estimated to publish 70 percent of all anti-semitic literature in Ukraine.

 

Georgiy Shchokin, President of MAUP, left, greets American white supremacist David Duke at a MAUP anti-Zionist conference in 2005. MAUP has conferred two doctorate degrees upon Mr. Duke.

Photo: Anti-Defamation League.

 

In early 2006, MAUP launched personal attacks on Israeli Ambassador Naomi Ben Ami and local Jewish oligarch Grigory Surkis, accusing them of planning a criminal assault on MAUP President Georgy Shchokin. MAUP also organized a March 2006 commemorative ceremony at the site of a brickyard where the mutilated body of a Ukrainian boy was found in March 1911, leading to blood libel charges brought against Mendel Beilis, a Ukrainian Jew.,5 Also in March 2006, a MAUP branch in the city of Vinnytsia threatened another massacre of Jews comparable to that at Babiy Yar in 1941.

 

Although several local individuals previously associated with MAUP have terminated their ties to the institution and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk has issued a strong denunciation of MAUP, Jewish groups and local diplomatic representations find local authorities non-responsive to pleas that MAUP licenses be revoked on the grounds of inciting racial hatred.,6 President Yushchenko is considered too weak to initiate the necessary actions to close the institution or to strengthen existing anti-hate legislation. It is widely known in Ukraine that MAUP receives significant financial support from several Arab states and from several Shiite figures.

 

According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of Ukraine in 2006 is 46.7 million, a significant decline from approximately 52 million in 1991 when Ukraine declared independence following the demise of the Soviet Union. The estimated 2006 birth rate is 8.82 per 1,000 people; the death rate is estimated at 14.39 per 1,000 people. ,7

1. See the writer's Jewish Community Life in Post-Kuchma Ukraine: Report of a Visit, March 20 to April 8, 2005. Most of the writer's reports are available at www.betsygidwitzreports.com.

2. See “Ukraine's Political Crisis,” The Economist, September 15, 2005.

3. Mr. Yushchenko's detractors noted that the President had failed to identify ownership of RosUkrEnergo, the mysterious gas trading company that actually provides the gas, and some suggested that Petro Yushchenko, the President's brother and a gas trader, was involved with RosUkrEnergo. The sharp increase in gas prices was broadly perceived as Russian bullying in advance of the 2006 elections, a blatant attempt to swing votes away from Mr. Yushchenko toward Mr. Yanukovych, who could have become Prime Minister if his party had garnered enough votes. See Steven Lee Myers and Andrew E. Kramer, “Gas Deal Roils Ukraine and May Have Cut Leader's Vote,” New York Times, March 30, 2006, p. A3.

4. The writer saw numerous peaceful political demonstrations during her time in Kyiv. Police officers separated opposing groups from each other and successfully diverted both pedestrian and vehicular traffic around the demonstrators.

5. Mr. Beilis was charged by tsarist secret police with ritually murdering the Christian boy to use his blood in baking matza and was held in prison for two and one-half years until unanimously acquitted by an all-Christian jury in 1913.

6.One non-Jewish observer noted that MAUP also operates profit-making discotheques and other businesses in its buildings, a violation of Ukrainian law governing educational institutions.

7.Most statistics in this section are from the 2006 CIA World Factbook, updated March 29, 2006. See information available at http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/up.html#People.

 


 
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