KIEV - "If we don’t stop Yanukovych, we will lose Ukraine..."
Speaking in perfect Russian, one of Yulia Tymoshenko’s young supporters is talking about the upcoming election while working a shift at one of the protest tents set up along Kiev’s main street, Khreshchatyk. The stakes she sees in Sunday's election are high indeed.
The white tents featured a sign that read "Yulia Tymoshenko’s Coalition" and a red heart - the coalition’s symbol. A hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko has been jailed on charges of overstepping her powers as prime minister when she signed a gas deal with Russia. Her supporters say the case was just a way to keep her from running against current President Victor Yanukovych, and Western governments have called for her release.
Still, though she personally looms large, Tymoshenko’s coalition is not participating as a separate entity in the parliamentary elections in Ukraine on Sunday. Instead, they have joined forces with the united opposition coalition.
Although the opposition coalition’s name is the same as Tymoshenko’s party, the All-Ukrainian Union Fatherland, their leaders include people who are not exactly Tymoshenko supporters. The opposition’s leader and former speaker of the Ukrainian parliament Arseni Yatseniuk was very unhappy about Tymoshenko’s attempts to lead the coalition from a distance - first from prison and now from the hospital.
Between the current and former leadership of the All-Ukrainian Union there are "serious disagreements, and personal antagonisms," explained a Ukranian political scientist working for the opposition, who asked to remain anonymous.
Open secrets and schisms
The researcher then revealed what he referred to as the open "awful secret" of the opposition: "I don’t believe that they will be able to form a real coalition if they are elected to the Parliament. I think they will fall apart at the first real difficulty and that there will be deserters from any coalition they form."
The only thing as obvious as the schisms in the opposition is the dissatisfaction with the current government. Internal polls done by the ruling party, the Party of Regions, offer no signs for optimism. In Kiev, about 10% of the population is planning to vote for the Party of Regions.
In the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, where current President Yanukovych, who belongs to the Party of Regions, once received 90% of the vote, now only half the voters said they planned to cast their ballot for his party. In other Russian-speaking regions of Eastern and Southern Ukraine the poll’s results for the Party of Regions is even lower.
"In total, the Party of Regions will get between 29 and 33% of the vote. Their coalition partners, the communists, will get between 8.5 and 12%," predicted Ukrainian sociologist Evgeny Kopatko. "None of the other pro-government parties have a chance at breaking the 5% needed to get a seat in parliament."
At first glance, the situation looks better for the opposition. Among Yanukovych’s foes, the parties expected to break the 5% barrier are the All-Ukraine Union Fatherland and Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms (UDAR). Those two parties are fighting for second place, with between 17 and 21% of the vote expected for each.
But the other opposition party expected to barely break 5% is called "Liberty," a nationalistic party that has strong support in Western Ukraine. The party’s leader doesn’t try to hide his anti-Russian and anti-Semitic opinions. The party has a strong chance of getting seats in parliament, and it’s presence would tip the balance of power towards the opposition.
But there is one key point that often gets overlooked. This whole exercise in arithmetic only applies to half of the parliament. According to Ukraine’s new constitution, voters no longer choose all 450 deputies by party - they only choose 225. The other half of the deputies are elected as individuals in their districts. So even if the Party of Regions and the Communists don’t get as many votes as their opponents, they could very well get to a majority through the independently elected candidates. Especially because those candidates are frequently not identified as coming from the unpopular party, in spite of receiving massive financial support from the party and it’s backers.
"Ukraine hasn’t had this system for the past 10 years, so we aren’t used to it anymore: 225 districts means 225 individual stories. That’s why there it is so unpredictable," explained Kopatko.
According to Anna German, an advisor to President Yanukovych, the party is working with it’s faithful to keep them in line. "In all this time, there hasn’t been a single instance when one of our deputies left and joined the opposition," she said with satisfaction.
Line-crossers have often moved in the other direction. Deputies from the "orange factions," those that supported the Orange Revolution, have often voted with the Party of Regions on essential issues. Kommersant’s sources say that loyalty has a price - sometimes as much as $1 million per vote. But the oligarchs behind the Party of Regions have never fear such pricetags.
It’s likely that this sort of bribing will continue with whomever the opposition brings in this time, especially those who are elected under the UDAR list - it’s a new political power and it’s exact platform is not yet totally clear.
Some of the leaders' moves have given the ruling party reason for optimism. For example, the party refused to sign a coalition agreement with "Liberty," the ultra-nationalistic party, although the All-Ukraine Union did. It’s hard to imagine UDAR’s leader, who grew up in a Russian-speaking military family, working with the anti-Russian leaders of Liberty.
According to the political scientist working for the opposition who asked not to be named, the opposition doesn’t have much chance of coming into power in the near future. “Maybe someone will be able to defeat Yanukovych in the 2015 presidential elections. But right now the opposition is not ready for its revenge.”
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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