Geopolitics

Ihor Kolomoyskyi, A Ukrainian Oligarch Rises In The East

While billionaire incoming president Petro Poroshenko takes over in Kiev, the fate of the country may also be in the hands of another super-rich businessman from contested eastern Ukraine.

Billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskyi in front of PrivatBank HQ in Dnipropetrovsk.
Billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskyi in front of PrivatBank HQ in Dnipropetrovsk.
Louis Imbert

DNIPROPETROVSK — In the partition of the new Ukraine, billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskyi plays his game far from the capital. The oligarch is actively seeking his piece of business and political opportunities, and regularly goes to Kiev, but keeps his whereabouts rather quiet.

From his hometown of Dnipropetrovsk to Odessa on the Black Sea, he is busy building himself a kingdom in the southeast of Ukraine. A trained engineer, Kolomoyskyi, 51, is believed to be worth at least $3.5 billion, with a fortune built on oil, media and finance holdings.

Kiev named him governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region in March. Then on May 6, one of his close associates, Ihor Palytsia, was named governor of the Odessa region. The Kiev governement is currently too busy with the showdown with Russia to tame Kolomoyskyi's ambitions. Indeed, the government is grateful for the part he played earlier in keeping the peace at the Donbas border.

Still violence has continued to spread among armed separatists around the contested city of Donetsk. After Sunday's election to the presidency of another Ukranian oligarch, Petro Poroshenko, a major assault was unleashed by Kiev forces in the east, which led to the death of dozens of pro-Russian rebels.

Dnipropetrovsk belongs to the Russian-speaking minority in the East, just like Donbas. But in the regional capital, where Kolomoyskyi's Privat and PrivatBank group are headquartered, Ukrainian patriotism is stronger than in Donetsk. A vital industrial center of Ukraine, Dnipropetrovsk looks like an open skies shopping mall. Two other key figures have lived there: former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and businessman Victor Pinchuk.

"Small green man"

When he took office, Ihor Kolomoyskyi showed he would deal with the elites of the former regime. For instance, the director of the leading local television channel kept his job. Evgueny Oudod, former supporter of Viktor Yanukovych, stayed on as the head of the regional council. Kolomoyskyi says he is trying to "maintain peace."

On the other hand, Oleh Tsarov, former head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional branch of the Russian-speaking Party of Regions, left the country. This former presidential candidate was sanctioned by the European Union because he called for the creation of a Federal Republic of New Russia in the eastern Ukraine. Some Russian media accuse Kolomoyskyi of putting a $1 million price on Tsarov's head, though the sources quote a telephone recording which is of dubious authenticity.

But Kolomoyskyi's team did offer a reward: $10,000 for the capture of a certain "small green man," an apparent reference to the Russian-backed militants who took control of the official buildings in Donbas dressed in green fatigues.

Boris Filatov, deputy head of the Dnipropetrovsk region, works as a businessman who negotiates with the protestors in the streets on Kolomoyskyi's behalf. "In Ukraine, there's no state," Filatov said. "There is a network of patriots and a network of bastards." He offered a "headquarters" to the armed patriots on the first floor of the governate council. Kolomoyskyi also provided equipment to thousands of them in the region. But not weapons, he insisted.

For two months, 2,000 locals have joined the police and the army and thus have reinforced Kolomoyskyi's influence on these corps. The governor's assistants say to everyone that the new police chief who was named by Kiev is as "corrupt" as his predecessor.

Because he recruited and trained these volunteers, Kolomoyskyi is accused of having let criminal elements enter the police forces. On May 9, one of these battalion took part in the fights with separatists in Mariupol, a harbor town in Donbas. At least seven people were killed. The Human Rights Watch organisation is probing whether the army shot civilians, though the Department of Homeland Security denied such reports.

"Our New York"

On the business side, things are a bit different. Guennadi Korban, another ally of Kolomoyskyi, works these days as a salesman for the state enterprise that manufactures missiles and rockets. And right now, his exports to Russia are jeopardized. He also wants to build in his city the "largest convention center in Eastern Europe," where sectors such as mining, siderurgy and agriculture could meet.

In Odessa, governor Ihor Palytsia took office four days after the death of more than 40 people, who died mostly in pro-Russian protests, street fighting and the fire at the House of Trade Unions. The police forces are now the subject of two judicial inquiries as they are accused of inaction and collusion. The police chief left the country as Kolomoyskyi's opponents accused him of being involved in these events.

Kolomoyskyi considers Odessa as the "most competitive and capitalist" city in Ukraine. "It's our New York, the Ukrainian dream," he says.

His ally Boris Filatov has already contacted the pro-Kiev and pro-Russian movements of the city. He will have to buy the loyalty of the police and cope with the harbor mafia. "We know how to talk to the police and no mafia in the world wants to live under the heel of the Federal Security Service," Filatov says smiling.

Without any other choice, this city may have to put up with a new sheriff.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

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.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

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.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

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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