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Anti-Xenophobic Rhetoric

Anti-Xenophobic Rhetoric President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko

In his inaugural speech on June 7, 2014, President promised free use of Russian language in the regions. He also promised to respect the “right of local communities to their own nuances in historical memory, pantheon of heroes and religious traditions”. However, Poroshenko also declared the inviolability of Ukrainian as the only official language.

On June 22, 2014, Poroshenko said that local authorities in Donbass will “have the full right to use Russian language along with the official language. Communities will determine themselves under what monuments to lay flowers and what holidays to celebrate. Also, what churches to pray in”.

On June 27, 2014, President was interviewed by a French magazine Figaro. He called the Verkhovna Rada decision to deprive Russian of the regional language status a mistake. “We understand perfectly that we will never return these regions by force. We need to fight for people’s hearts and minds. We absolutely do not have any objections against the use of Russia as an official language,” Poroshenko said.

However, these promises remained undelivered. On October 16, Parliamentary Speaker Alexandr Turchinov met with members of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims. One of the issues raised at the meeting was the development of ethnic-national policy and the re-establishment of the Committee on National Minorities of Ukraine. Turchinov said this is presently being discussed in parliament.

Mufti Akhmed Tamim stressed that Ukrainian Muslims are making every effort to show that they are active citizens of Ukraine and consider it their second home. Speaker, in turn, said that he believes together Ukrainians, regardless of their nationality, will be able to defend their country and its territorial integrity.

On November 3, 2014, Petro Poroshenko Bloc published their official position regarding non-discrimination of LGBT citizens. The letter sent to Ukraine’s National LGBT portal said that the government stands for equality of all its citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or other characteristics. The government promised to introduce criminal responsibility for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

On September 24, reacting to the desecration of a menorah in Babi Yar, State Commissioner for Ethnic Policy said that xenophobia and anti-Semitism will remain alien to the Ukrainian society. He added that the desecration was an act of “provocation, designed to show the increased anti-Semitism in Ukraine”.

On April 23, chairman of the Lviv regional administration Irina Seh urged various organisations to avoid public events dedicated to SS Galicia.

On January 27, 2015, "Batkivshina" (Fatherland) MP Segey Faermark spoke in a local school in Odessa, where he said that young generations should discuss the Holocaust, to see and assess this tragedy. He called for more history lessons on the Holocaust, saying that the government should pay attention to any manifestation of nationalism.

On May 10, Unity and Development Forum was held in Zaporozhe, organised by the Salam Association of Graduates. Head of Department of Culture, Tourism, Nationalities and Religions of Zaporozhe region Vladislav Moroko said that authorities will cooperate with all communities and minorities in the name of unity and integrity of Ukraine. Deputy Mayor of Zaporozhe on Executive Authorities Valery Edelev stated that the city is an integral part of Ukraine, where members of different races and nationalities live in harmony. “This will continue to be so,” he noted. President of Salam Association Naufal Hamdani stressed the need for national unity and rejection of hatred – especially during this difficult period.

On December 10, 2014, Shevchenko University in Kiev held a roundtable dedicated to the rights of ethnic minorities in modern Ukraine. The event was attended by several leaders of local national communities, diplomats, human rights activists, public and government figures, as well as members of national minorities and non-governmental organisations. Rovshan Tagiyev talked about the importance of human rights for all people, and ethnic minorities in particular. Cooperation between government bodies and ethnic minorities has been discussed. Deputy of the Kiev City Council Alexander Kharchenko said that he believes that all equal rights for Ukrainian citizens are officially declared and regularly enforced. He referred to the symbolic, 1 hryvnia a year, rent for ethnic minority organisations, and an even lower one for religious organisations. However, he said, on a legislative level there is a need to develop a dialogue between the state and national minorities following the Western examples.

On January 27, 2015, President Poroshenko published a statement dedicated to liberation of Auschwitz. “Torture of ghetto and concentration camp prisoners and the scale of human tragedy is shocking,” he wrote. “In Auschwitz camp alone, according to the Nuremberg Trials, 2.5 million people were imprisoned, most of which died a painful death. On January 27, 1945, First Ukrainian Front helped liberate the prisoners, saving them from gas chambers and crematoriums. It was this achievement that made this date the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.” He also mentioned the mass execution of Jews in Babi Yar, where 150 thousand Jews and other nationalities were shot down by Nazis. “The memory of innocent victims, who were murdered because of their nationality, ethnicity, race, culture or religion, demonstrates the decisiveness of the international community to never allow such crimes to happen,” Poroshenko added. “Together with the free world, Ukraine will guard humanism, freedom and democracy. As the President of Ukraine, I will take every measure to ensure that most important common values are respected and that peace, harmony and mutual understanding rules over the Ukrainian land,” President concluded.

On April 6, 2015, Poroshenko spoke to the Constitutional Assembly and asked them to protect the rights of the Crimean Tatar people and ensure “preservation and development of its ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity.”

On June 5, 2015, President Poroshenko spoke in support of the Equality March (Kiev Pride), held by LGBT activists. He said that his attitude towards this issue is like that of a Christian and a European president. “I do not see any reason to prohibit the march, as it is the right of any Ukrainian citizen.”

On January 27, Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk also made a statement dedicated to the Holocaust Remembrance Day. Similar to Poroshenko, he commemorated “hundreds of thousands of victims, tortured and murdered in Ukraine”. Prime Minister stressed that Ukrainians strongly condemn all crimes against the Jewish people, all cases of anti-Semitism, genocide, ethnic and religious hatred.

On March 11, 2015, Yatsenyuk said that he will not allow for hate speech and will take all legal measures to prevent the “import of xenophobia and anti-Semitism to Ukraine”.

March 11th was the day of Parliamentary hearings regarding the role, importance and influence of the civil society in forming Ukraine’s national policy – organised by members of various ethnic and religious associations. Speaking at the hearing, Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, Grigory Nemyrya, said that the struggle against racial and ethnic hatred, along with other forms of xenophobia and discrimination, must be Ukraine’s top priority. Also on March 11, MP Alexander Feldman appealed to Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin and head of Security Service and Interior Ministry, asking to take immediate measures against possible provocations and manifestations of xenophobia in Kharkiv. He said that armed conflict in the East has led to activation of xenophobic, extremist, radical and nationalist movements in the country, which are “financed and coordinated from abroad.” Feldman also drew attention to numerous cases of anti-Semitic and xenophobic statements and graffiti in Kharkiv.

On September 30, 2015, Ukrainian Prime Minister A. Yatsenyuk wrote a letter to the Secretary-General of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) Robert Singer. In it, he expressed his outrage at vandalism in Baby Yar, which he regarded as an attempt to discredit the Ukrainian authorities and destabilize the political situation. The memorial in Babi Yar was defiled in 2015 six times.

Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Eduard Dolinsky, wondered in a Facebook post why the Ukrainian prime minister appealed to American Jews, not to the Ukrainian Jews, which the problem of vandalism and desecration of the memorial in Babi Yar concerns first of all. Later, on October 29, 2015, Ukrainian President P. Poroshenko met on the eve of his speech at the UN with leaders of American Jewish organizations, and also held separate talks with WJC President Ronald Lauder. In particular, it was about the participation of the WJC in the preparation and holding of memorial events dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the tragedy of Babi Yar in September 2016.

On December 23, 2015, speaking during his visit to Israel, President of Ukraine apologised to the Jewish people for the actions of Ukrainian collaborators during the Second World War. This statement caused outrage among many politicians and public figures of Israel, who called it false, because it was Poroshenko who became the first Ukrainian president who called the fighters of the OUN-UPA, who participated in the extermination of the Jews, as heroes. In particular, the former head of the Israeli security service, NATOV, Yakov Kedmi, recalled that almost a year before his visit to the capital of the Jewish state, on October 14, 2014, President Poroshenko proclaimed the Defender of Ukraine on the anniversary of the creation of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which carried out terror against the Jewish and Polish population of Ukraine in years of war.

On August 1, 2015 at the II World Congress of the Crimean Tatars, in Ankara, the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko announced plans to develop a “road map” to provide Crimea “with the status of national and territorial autonomy within Ukraine”. The appeal also indicates that the authorities are ready to work out appropriate proposals for granting the “autonomy status of the historical homeland of the Crimean Tatar people” to Ukraine. Observers in this regard drew attention to the fact that these initiatives were not promoted by the Ukrainian government at a time when the Crimea was de facto under control of Ukraine.

On September 16, 2015 at the invitation of the Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Kiev a meeting of religious figures with the head of the Ukrainian Government was held. A. Yatsenyuk told members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations about what the Government has done for the current year. Arseniy Yatsenyuk stressed that the government “did not allow and will not allow the use of religious and national factor against Ukraine.” In his opinion, the precondition for economic and social well-being is a well-established internal dialogue, national unity. “

On May 7, 2015, Ukrainian Ombudsman Valeria Lutkovskaya talked about the “Peacekeeper” (“Mirotvorets”) website. “Such sites are not a joke. These things affect human relations, xenophobia; these things incite conflicts in society. There is legislation that states – personal details are not to be published, they are inviolable, except in some rare cases”.

On December 4, 2017, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko commented on the blockade by radical nationalists of the television channel NewsOne. The comment was in the form of a Facebook post: "Any pressure on the media, and especially blocking them, is unacceptable. It is just as unacceptable to try to justify the actions of an aggressor country against Ukraine and to play along with Russian propaganda, including on such issues as assessing the Revolution of Dignity. Sometimes such actions are a reaction to the inaction of those bodies that should be responding promptly. The National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council should more effectively regulate the media space" .

As we can see, the commentary consists of four sentences, but there is exactly one sentence in the president's message devoted to condemnation of radicals. The remaining three are an attempt to whitewash the radicals and justify their actions. It is a stretch to call this statement against radical nationalism. The owner of NewsOne, people's deputy of Ukraine Evgeny Muraev, commenting on the blocking of the TV channel, said the following. "They [radicals] are uncomfortable when absolutely everyone can express themselves on the channel, although we are guaranteed this by the constitution," Muraev said. "They are blocking 200 people without food and medicine, keeping them under siege. A huge number of people in camouflage and masks, and law enforcement agencies do not respond," Muraev complained about the inaction of law enforcement agencies.

On the night of June 13, there were arson attacks on the offices of the Opposition Bloc party in Dnipropetrovsk region. Yuri Boyko, one of the leaders of this party, spoke sharply against such actions and linked the arsons to the actions of the nationalists. "Twenty-five thousand people took part in the celebrations there. And in the whole country more than a million people celebrated May 9 and went to lay flowers at monuments. This was the reason for revenge on the part of radicals with the full connivance of the authorities, which does not bring them to justice," the politician said.

We can conclude that the statements of the Ukrainian authorities against radical nationalists and xenophobia are practically non-existent or are not directed against them as such. We are talking primarily about either maintaining the power of specific politicians, who criticize radicals from these positions, or the criticism of radicals is so soft and mixed with other statements that in the end it is actually absent. At the same time, opposition politicians regularly speak out against radicals and nationalists, considering them a threat to freedom and democracy in Ukraine. However, their statements remain just words. At the moment, the opposition in Ukraine is extremely weak and fragmented in order to get the government to take real action to eradicate radicalism from society.

Political analyst Kost Bondarenko opposed the activities of the Institute of National Memory. "I would compare Vladimir Vyatrovich's activities to the period of the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. When he came to power, he ordered to burn all books and start the history of China from his reign" . According to him, the Institute under the leadership of Viatrovich is becoming the same instrument of propaganda that the USSR used to have. Viatrovich's policy of creating new mythologies regarding the struggle between collaborators from Western Ukraine and the Germans may not be accepted by Ukrainian society. Which may generate and intensify conflicts and contradictions within the country.

The head of the Ukrainian Jewish Congress, Eduard Dolinsky, reacted sharply to the words of Oleg Skripka about those who cannot learn the Ukrainian language. The famous Ukrainian musician said that "people who cannot learn Ukrainian have a low IQ and are diagnosed with mental retardation". It is necessary to separate them, because they are socially dangerous, it is necessary to create a ghetto for them. And we'll help them the way we help people with disabilities, singing "Vladimirsky Central" to them on a volunteer basis. Dolinsky compared the current situation to that of the Jews in Nazi Germany. "This is ordinary fascism! Violin calls for the introduction of Nazi laws. In Nazi Germany, Jews were deprived of the right to a profession, to study, then forced emigration, ghettos and concentration camps began," he wrote on his Facebook page .

In general, statements against xenophobia and radical nationalism are primarily heard from opposition politicians and experts critical of the government. Politicians belonging to the current government, as well as pro-government experts, very rarely speak out publicly against xenophobia.

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