World News

02.26.14

Bernard-Henri Levy: Ukraine’s Revolutionaries Are Not Fascists

Putin says the events in Kiev signal the return of fascism to Europe, even as he foments anti-Semitic sentiment at home. Why the West must not believe his misinformation campaign.

Here we have a country—Russia—where hunting for gays and for northern Caucasian facial features is becoming a national sport.

Here we have a country where, on April 20, Adolf Hitler’s birthday, “non-Slavs” are invited to stay home lest something terrible happen to them.

Here we have a country where, when a thousand young people take to the streets in 2006 to protest a bill before the Duma to ban Jewish groups suspected of having made a “pact with the devil,” they donned masks for fear of finding their faces on the Facebook page of a “white patrol” hit-man who would come and bust their head.

And here we find that that country, through the voice of its president, while berating Germany, France, and the United States, has the unbelievable nerve to declare that the Ukrainian revolution marks the return of fascism to Europe.

The whole thing would be laughable if so many women and men had not paid with their lives for the right of those who survive not to hear such obscenities—and if there were not, in the West, such a large number of feeble, credulous minds willing to tell themselves, “Hey, where there’s smoke there’s fire. After all, are these Ukrainians really so squeaky clean? Isn’t it possible that the West, with its tendency to romanticize the barricades, have been taken in by a revolution that isn’t what it seems?”And so on.

Come on, people!

Since a response must be made, let’s do it point by point.

Yes, of course, Ukraine (as everywhere in Europe) has a tradition of ultranationalism.

No, the country of Makhno, of the Holocaust by bullet, and of Babi Yar, was not spared the anti-Semitic virus.

And yes, obviously, one finds in Maidan a so-called Right Sector and a party, Svoboda, that up until 10 years ago defined itself as socialist and national.

But:

1. At its zenith in the October 2012 elections Svoboda represented 10 percent of Ukrainians—not negligible by any means but less than the votes commanded by like parties in the Netherlands, Austria, and (yes) France.

2. Far from advancing and, as Putin’s propagandists in Europe repeat ad nauseam, benefitting from the radicalization of the movement, the opposite has occurred. The emergence of new leaders who have diluted the extreme right’s monopoly on radicalism has marginalized Svoboda, as shown by every poll, most recently the SOCIS poll of January 31, which, like the others, puts Svoboda at below five percent of the vote.

3. The major stakeholders could not have been that far wrong in deciding to come to Maidan immediately and in force: Neither the local Jewish institutions (the Judaica Institute at the National University of Kiev–Mohyla Academy) nor the Ukrainian representatives of international Jewish organizations (Josef Zissels of the World Jewish Congress) nor various moral authorities (such as philosopher Constantin Sigov, a specialist in the work of Emmanuel Levinas) doubted for a second that their place was right there in that vast gathering, where Cossacks rubbed elbows with rabbis and descendants of survivors of the Holocaust commiserated with relatives of the victims of the Holodomor, the great famine of the 1930s orchestrated by Stalin.

4. It is also notable that in this same Maidan, the place for every sort of utterance and every freedom, that agora where, for three months now, every sort of orator, including the most fanciful, has taken a turn at the lectern, there is one “fancy” that we did not hear, ever, from any of the tribunes-for-a-day, and that was anti-Semitic bile.

5. It is remarkable, finally, that the world press, which has been free for those three months to examine the graffiti-covered walls that modern revolutions produce and of which Maidan claims its share, has chronicled, filmed, or photographed not one instance of a certain familiar form of graffiti—the anti-Semitic variety.

All may not be sweetness and light, of course.

Vigilance is in order whenever the coalescing crowd threatens (this is Sartre’s great lesson) to turn to terror or to become a lynch mob.

But, with all due respect to the Putinized founts of disinformation, that is not where things stand at the moment.

For the time being, everything is proceeding as if, between the peoples of Ukraine, among the victims of Hitler’s persecutions, Stalin’s persecutions, and the victims of both, a brotherhood of pain and struggle has formed, a brotherhood not unlike the “solidarity of the shaken” of the great Jan Patocka. 

And at least one thing is certain: The only signs of anti-Semitism have come from the other side, from the side of the fallen power that had been presuming to preach to the democrats, as was the case (one of too many) of the Berkut militia whose website, in the last days of the repression, denounced the putative “Jewish origins” of the Maidan leaders and superimposed, in true neo-Nazi style, the star of David and the swastika.

Those are the facts, not the fictions, of the situation.

That is the true face of what is, and I hope will remain, an admirable revolution.

And that is the face that we need to keep in mind when the leaders of the new Ukraine come knocking at Europe’s door.

Europe, for them, is not only a place, it is a name. And that name signifies, as it did for the founding fathers of the European Union, the great leap from the ranks of all forms of totalitarian murder.

A word to the wise.

May we rise to the challenge of the Ukrainian version of the “heroism of reason” that Husserl believed to be the very spirit of the continent.

Translated by Steven Kennedy