Ukraine Right Sector Leader Rails Against 'Jewish Oligarchs'
March 16, 2014
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Ha'aretz / JTA & Schofield / McClatchy Foreign Staff
Ever since US Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism Ira Forman declared claims of anti-Semitism in the Ukrainian neo-Nazi movement "groundless," the leaders of the Right Sector, which makes up a good chunk of that movement, have tried to play up their role as a respectable brand of pro-West fascists. But even in between the occasional trouncing of Kievan rabbis, the Right Sector isn't very good at brand management, as an interview with a top Right Sector leader demonstrates.
Ukraine Right Sector Leader Rails Against ''Jewish Oligarchs'
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(March 15, 2014) -- Ever since US Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism Ira Forman declared claims of anti-Semitism in the Ukrainian neo-Nazi movement "groundless," the leaders of the Right Sector, which makes up a good chunk of that movement, have tried to play up their role as a respectable brand of pro-West fascists.
But even in between the occasional trouncing of Kievan rabbis, the Right Sector isn't very good at brand management, as today's interview of a top Right Sector leader, Igor Mazur, demonstrates.
Mazur was quick to insist it was impossible for him to be an anti-Semite, insisting that his "son's godfather is half-Jewish." Apparently figuring that should cover it, Mazur followed this with a protracted diatribe on "Jewish oligarchs."
Mazur declared that all the major business leaders in Ukraine are secretly Jewish and "only care for their trans-national business empires." He went on to say that the Right Sector thinks Yulia Tymoshenko, the pro-West billionaire recently freed from prison, "has some Jewish blood in her."
Kiev Rabbi Assaulted in Suspected Anti-Semitic Attack
Two assailants shouted anti-Semitic slurs while beating him, his wife says.
Ha'aretz / JTA
(March 14, 2014) -- Two unidentified men assaulted a rabbi in Kiev on Thursday in a suspected anti-Semitic attack.
The men assaulted Rabbi Hillel Cohen, who runs the Ukrainian branch of the Hatzalah emergency services organization, on the street, his wife, Racheli Cohen, told JTA.
"They struck him in the leg, shouting anti-Semitic slurs, calling him a 'zyhd,' she said, using the Ukrainian word for "kike." She added: "This was clearly an anti-Semitic attack."
The attackers left Cohen suffering from minor injuries. He was treated in hospital and is recovering at his home in Kiev.
Last month Hillel Cohen told JTA that he believed the Ukrainian revolution, which erupted in November over former president Viktor Yanukovych's pro-Russian foreign policy, increased the risk of anti-Semitic attacks because of the general breakdown of public order.
"Things began getting really uncomfortable when the rioters started setting up spontaneous roadblocks to keep police and army troops from reaching the action zone," he said. "It was very uneasy, being pulled over in a car full of Orthodox Jews by club-wielding Cossacks."
In January, a religious Hebrew teacher was assaulted outside his Kiev home by four men, but escaped without serious injury. Later that month a rabbinical student was stabbed by three men while returning from synagogue, sustaining moderate to serious injuries.
Earlier this week, vandals removed part of the fence around the Jewish cemetery of Kolomyia in western Ukraine, according to a report by the HTK television channel.
In February, a synagogue in Zaporizhia in eastern Ukraine was hit with firebombs that caused superficial damage to its façade. Another synagogue in the Crimean Peninsula was daubed with graffiti reading: "Death to the Jews" several days later.
Yanukovych fled last month to Russia. The Kremlin has said that the revolution was being carried out by anti-Semites and neo-Nazis and on Thursday accused the West of condoning for political dividends the xenophobic characteristics of the ultra-nationalist and anti-Russian Svoboda party, which had a prominent role in the revolution.
Ira Forman, the Obama Administration's special envoy for combating anti-Semitism, said Russian President Vladimir Putin's statements on anti-Semitism in Ukraine were not credible.
Ukrainian Jewish leaders also disputed Putin's allegations.
Leader of Ukraine's Right Sector, revolution's enforcers, rails against Putin, Russian military and Jewish oligarchs
Matthew Schofield / McClatchy Foreign Staff
(March 15, 2014) -- The man Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast as one of Europe's potential new Adolf Hitlers is a little late for coffee on this Saturday morning.
Igor Mazur, or Topolya (Poplar) as he's known because he's 6'7", is the leader of the Ukrainian Right Sector at Maidan, Kiev's Independence Square. The Right Sector are the radical nationalists of this Ukrainian revolution. There are others: the right-wing Svoboda (Freedom) party, for one, which has an actual political following -- 12 percent of the vote in the last elections. It used to identify itself as a national socialist movement, just like the Nazis.
Russian fear, however, seems to be aimed at "the thugs and fascists from Maidan." That is aimed at the Right Sector.
Mazur is their leader. Putin insists they are part of the group now calling the shots in the Ukrainian government, pulling strings from behind a curtain. In Crimea, Russian-backed political billboards for Sunday's referendum on whether to secede from Ukraine clearly equate the Right Sector to Nazis. One depicts a Ukrainian future as wrapped in barbed wire and stamped with a Swastika.
Taras Berezovets, a political scientist and president of Berta Communications in Kiev, thinks Putin is making too much of fairly small group. Until recently, Right Sector had about 500 members. Today it may be 2,000. He said that it's essentially attached to Svoboda, similar to what the Irish Republican Army was to the political Sinn Fein, at least in structure. But, he said, it's far less dangerous.
"This is typical Kremlin propaganda," he said. "Their influence is being vastly overstated."
At the coffee shop, Mazur shows up looking like a revolutionary -- black pants, black long-sleeved shirt under black body armor, black jacket and black Nike jogging shoes (with a white swoosh and sole). He's got a small black handgun strapped into a black holster. He takes the gun out to show that he's serious about what's going on, though almost immediately after posing with the gun says, "Please don't post this photo to my Facebook page. My wife would kill me if she knew I had it."
As he takes a seat in a Russian coffee house, he apologizes. He slept poorly.
"There were some troubles, we were up late," he says, telling the story of a truck with two men showing up around 3 a.m. and looking suspicious. He says he and his men took the men for questioning. He raises an eyebrow as he reveals that they carried Russian military identification.
In any case, he was up much of the night. When he went to bed, he admits it wasn't at home -- and hasn't been for more than one night a month recently.
He's living in an abandoned Ukrainian post office, just off Maidan. He sleeps on one of many mattresses that have been lined up in the back of the post office, in a room rank with the smell of too many people for too much time and no showers. He estimates that the Right Sector in Kiev has about 100 active members, though the number fluctuates.
"It was a long protest at Maidan, three months," he explains. "Not everyone could get away from work or their families for so long. Some come only for the weekends. Others go home on the weekends."
If this, as Putin insists, is the beginning of a new Nazi regime, for now at least it's still a part-time gig. Yet Putin has put out a list of dangerous Ukrainians, and Mazur is prominently featured. Mazur takes pride in this.
"I must thank him," he says. "It's good advertising."
Putin has reason to fear him, he reasons. He fought against Russians in Chechnya and Abkhazia, the breakaway region of Georgia. He says that the then independent government of Chechnya awarded him medals for valor for his role there. He says that while he arrived with only 14 others, the Russian press labeled his group "a battalion."
But he insists his enemy was always the Russian military and secret police. He has nothing against ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, as long as they love Ukraine. Putin has insisted that the Right Sector is anti-Russian. Mazur says it's more accurate to say he is pro-Ukrainian.
As for the notion that they are Europe's new fascists, Mazur scoffs: "The Russians are Europe's old fascists."
And he finds any comparison to Nazis laughably off-base. Is he anti-Semitic?
"My son's godfather is half Jewish," he says. "How could I be?"
This is not to say he supports Ukrainian oligarchs, who he says are all Jewish. The oligarchs care only for their trans-national business empires, for making money. They don't really care for Ukraine, he says, so he doesn't really care for them.
When asked if all Ukrainian oligarchs are actually Jewish, he shrugs. When asked if Yulia Tymoshenko, one time Ukrainian prime minister and an oil and gas oligarch is Jewish, he says only, "We don't know for sure. We think she has some Jewish blood in her."
But he estimates that among the thousands nationwide who support the Right Sector, a full 1 percent are Jewish.
Beyond this, he notes that the Right Sector, which has its roots among soccer hooligan clubs, has no expansionist designs. They care only for Ukraine. And even inside Ukraine, he disputes the apparent Putin claim that he is pulling any strings in the government.
"I wish," he says. He lists a few members of Parliament and some military leaders whom he says care about what he thinks. "But I'm afraid our liberal partners are in charge in Kiev."
Not that he thinks that's a good thing. Too much time has been wasted in "peaceful negotiations." He says Ukraine's failure to confront the Russian military has cost his country. They should have responded with force when as many as 38,000 Russian troops spread out from Russian bases in Crimea and occupied the Black Sea peninsula that is part of Ukraine.
He dismisses statements from Parliament and the ministry of defense that the Ukrainian armed forces only have 6,000 battle ready soldiers. This weekend alone, he notes, 12 members of his group were considering joining.
"We should have massed our forces on the border, and when the Russians strike, we should strike back twice as hard, air and artillery and on the ground. Once we have killed the first 100 Russian soldiers, their bravado will vanish. We could push them out of Crimea."
Comments to the contrary give the Russians false confidence, and should be considered criminal.
Even so, his military strategy quickly turns to the need for Ukrainians to prepare for a guerrilla war against Russian occupiers. Many Ukrainians have weapons and know how to use them, he notes. He outlines a strategy of hampering Russian troops by blowing up bridges and rail lines.
At the Right Sector headquarters, he says they are not unprepared for a fight, and shows off a cabinet of ready-made Molotov cocktails. He points out that the cabinet, which reeks of gasoline smell, has a "No Smoking" sticker.
When asked if advocating such aggressive actions against the Red Army is wise, he pauses to think for a moment, then sums up the way he sees life.
"This is not being aggressive," he said. "This is just being a man."
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