First They Came for Mila Kunis
by Oleksandr Feldman
There is a growing trend wherein an anti-Semitic collection of hate-mongers are abusing the democratic Parliament of Ukraine to spew messages and incite violence in ways that we had hoped were relegated to the distant past.
One of the most recognizable figures of Ukrainian Jewish descent, the beautiful and talented actress Mila Kunis, recently was targeted by a member of the Ukrainian Parliament from the far-right Svoboda Party – known for regularly injecting anti-Semitism into its speeches and public pronouncements. He sneeringly proclaimed that she was "not Ukrainian but a zhydovka." Zhydovka is a hurtful slur for a Jew, and this was apparently a gutter effort to inject Jew-hatred into the acceptable bounds of mainstream Ukrainian discourse.
Despite the widely accepted notion that we live in an ever-more globalized world, too many people are skeptical that what happens in the halls of some far-off parliament on the other side of the world bears any impact on our way of life. On the contrary, events now developing here in Ukraine should oblige every person who dreams of a more tolerant and peaceful international community to sit up and take notice.
There is a growing trend wherein an anti-Semitic collection of hate-mongers are abusing the democratic Parliament of Ukraine to spew messages and incite violence in ways that we had hoped were relegated to the distant past. In our recent elections, it was horrifying to witness Svododa gain over 10% of the national vote. Like all ultra-nationalist parties, they campaigned and were elected on a message intended to inject fear into society. They shrilly warn that foreigners and minorities are positioned to take over the country. Idolizing some of the most virulently anti-freedom icons of generations past, including most prominently the architect of Nazi propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, Svoboda works hard to make hatred commonplace — and acceptable — throughout Ukrainian society.
Regrettably, Svoboda Party leaders realize that they have fertile ground on which to harvest such a dangerous agenda. While it has been on the decline in recent decades, there is no disputing that anti-Semitism, particularly among the less educated sectors of our society, remains ingrained in the minds of all too many. Svoboda has exploited the mistrust of Jews to gain popularity among some in the less-advantaged classes who welcomed the chance to be part of campaigns of hate.
If Svoboda's growing popularity goes unnoticed outside of the Ukraine's borders, we may quickly reach a point of no return. At that time, the idea of the party enjoying broad legislative powers to limit freedoms of expression amongst those who think unlike them would serve to reduce or completely prevent any immigration from nations they view as un-Ukrainian. All this could happen despite the decisive steps of the current government in Kiev to oppose the inroads made by Svoboda. One would have to be utterly ignorant of the history of this region to be unaware that campaigns begun ostensibly in the guise of populism and democracy can quickly decline into mass chaos, violence and, as before, genocide.
Thankfully, we are not near that point and there is no need yet to panic. The international institutions in place in the 21st century are strong enough to notice the rise of this devil at an early stage. Once, not long ago, the international community looked on in silence as Hitler and the Nazis deluded the world into thinking that their Jew-hatred was not worthy or "dangerous enough" to warrant global condemnation.
When the world finally did take notice, it was too late.
Anti-Semitism and xenophobia are the most insidiously contagious social diseases humanity has ever experienced. Civilized societies become infected with these sicknesses before they even pause to assess the damage that the illness is sure to impose.
This issue cries out for the immediate and sincere attention of the international community, most notably the leadership of the American Jewish community and the government of the United States of America. Ukraine and the USA have developed a strong alliance defined by economic partnerships and a diplomatic vision of how much there is that unites us in working together to address threats and cultivate opportunities. Should Svoboda continue to expand, it can only harm regional and international agreements and impose instability on our mutual markets.
Hatred never ends with speech; it soon escalates to more violent expressions. Nor can hatred be contained to any national borders, particularly in today's world of social media and instant communication.
I appeal to all peaceful and caring leaders around the world to join me in opposing everything that Svoboda represents. We all know that the stakes are far too high for the world to be able to say, "We did not know and therefore we did not act."
Oleksandr Feldman is a member of the Parliament of Ukraine and President of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.