«Jewish Observer»
November 2001
5762 Kislev

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Larisa Skorik is a noticeable figure in the public and political life of modern Ukraine. She is a professor of the Ukrainian academy of fine arts and architecture, author of numerous original projects. Her meditation about relations of Ukrainians and Jews, between Israel and Ukraine is thought to be of interest to readers.

- Larisa Pavlovna, what is your understanding of our mutual history?

- There is hardly a country in the world where the relationship between Jews and the title nation was so complicated as it happened in Ukraine. Perhaps, even today, one can't say that Ukraine is free of anti-Semitism. Regret to say but it is such a horrible and strange phenomenon that there is hardly a country, which is free of it. I think that it exists even in Israel. Anti-Semitism can be quite different. It may be caused by misunderstanding, lack of knowledge or presence of complexes. There are numerous gradations. Nevertheless, I want to say that though Ukraine is not free of anti-Semitism and many, who are interested in the history of Jewry in Ukraine, know hard and tragic periods in the history of this people on its territory. I am far away from thinking that the reason of this tragic relationship is only in somewhat "in-born" anti-Semitism of Ukrainians. If we study the history of European Jewry, we can see that it was dramatic and tragic in all countries at different periods.

I am deeply convinced that for centuries Ukraine was unfavorable country in respect to its own people in national understanding. It was unfavorable because it couldn't defend itself for the lack of statehood.

I always think that a person is responsible for his action because everyone is free to choose, even in a dramatic situation to do good or evil. Regret to say, the mankind in the past and nowadays is not rich in examples when the man can be fully responsible for all his actions. One thing is evident - the nation, which for long years has no statehood, becomes the nation of slaves.

I can say with regret and, to some extent, the same towards my own people. One should bear in mind that the spiritual slavery of Ukrainians took place not in ancient times, as it was with other peoples, but in its new history. This explains why there is still a relapse of slave's soul in the people. Together with hatred and cruelty towards other peoples who are weaker. This slavery of my people is rather painful to me. Maybe the most awful thing is that all those wild manifestations of international hatred were held at those periods when the people tried to get off the slavery yoke. The people rebelled against oppressors. However, because the rebels had more hatred that humanism and tolerance that are attributes of a free man, they often struck their hatred and cruelty upon the innocent people. These are the terrible lessons of history that we should remember about. However, I am not so naive to think that all of us have learned those lessons.

- You are not naive like Gegel with his famous aphorism about the forgotten lessons of history. Neither Chekov was naive saying about the necessity of killing the slave spirit in oneself every day. In my opinion the world drama is not because many do not know how to kill the salve spirit in themselves but because they simply do not want to do this. But what I want to say now is that I fully agree with you that the lack of statehood blocks the development of a free man but induces a slavery complex. Ukraine, by the way, has been an independent state for ten years already. Are there any changes in the mentality of its citizens that can be observed? What is your opinion?

- I hope there are. However, I do also understand that not all has changed and not much as desired. Moreover, not all favor the independence itself. That is why there are many external problems.

- Is Ukraine so alone? I think the West has understood already that peace in Europe is very problematic without stable Ukraine.

- Maybe it has understood, but not to the very end. Ukraine is a big many-million state. By the way, the geographic center of Europe is also on the territory of Ukraine. So, can anyone ignore Ukraine in political situations in favor of "the elder sister Russia" or anyone else? I think it is a short-sighted policy which may lead to events worse than Yugoslavian ones. At the same time Ukraine should not rely on its "beautiful eyes." In its foreign policy it should lay accent on cooperation with those countries from which it can learn something, as well as to establish partner relations. In this view, one can hardly overestimate the need of promoting good relations between Ukraine and the State of Israel.

I think that the most terrible dramas happen in the world because of two things: ignorance and mutual mistrust. Once they were also between our two nations. Nowadays, there is no ground for them. On the contrary, the Jewish people after centuries of wandering all over the world could establish its own state, defend it from enemies and make it highly-developed. It deserves high praise and respect from our side. I would like to remind you about Ivan Franko who used to meet Theodor Gertsl and highly assessed his activities. Once he said to Gertsl: "For me the idea of the revival of the Jewish state is kin to the idea of the revival of the Ukrainian state". I am sure that this is the way people who respect themselves should think. I am deeply convinced that inter-national problems arise when people are not free. The own government gives people freedom, of course, and it is very important, if it is a democratic one. If people are free and live in a free state there is no need to vent their hatred upon close or distant neighbors.

This is what a man, whom I admire for many years, used to understand. His name is Zeyev Zhabotinsky. Read his works and you'll understand how deeply he would understand the relationship between peoples in tsarist Russia. In those terrible years he didn't let emotions overwhelm him. He used to say without any shade of doubt that both pogroms and other terrible things were not spontaneous. It was a result of the clear-cut Empire policy.

- Was that the policy "Divide and rule"?

- That is right, no any other! Zhabotinsky was pointing at that. He knew the more people learn that they were being set on one against another the less they would fall under this trick.

Here, I would like to return to what I said before. For us, Ukrainian intellectuals of national orientation, the history of the formation of new Israel is a bright example. The people, who builds its own state, when the whole world seemed to be against this, deserves a high prize.

- Alone with this ... You were completely right by saying that not all people understand the importance of Ukraine being independent and strong. Alas, in many countries they still do not understand that Israel, as a matter of fact, is an island of democracy among the totalitarian regimes that surround it.

- I think that these are people who pursue the principle "Divide and rule." In this case, I would like to cite a passage from the book of Benjamin Netanyahu. He writes: "the great Arab culture, apparently, is having the right for democratization from the strongest countries of the present world who speak to much of democracy". This is a very deep and comprehensive thought. Now, after the collapse of the USSR and hit-parade of different dictators, authoritarians, many parallels can be observed ... It is not a secret now that it was the USSR which promoted and funded the training of Islamic terrorists, who killed many innocent people. Who can say that it does not go on? I, by the way, do not think that all people in the Arab world share the views of fundamentalists and radicals. But people do not speak, they do not want to risk their own lives. This is one more proof of the lack of democratization.

On the other hand, the myth, which is very popular and believed in Ukraine, is not valid also.

I mean the myth about the "world Jewry". A fair-tale that all Jews are rich. All of them sleep and think how to help Israel. Well, I know, of course, that in America, as well as in Europe, there are many rich Jews. However, at the same time I am aware of that, like other businessmen of different nationalities, money for many of them means more than any national priority. Some of them have intensive business contracts with the enemies of Israel. Thus, according to Zhabotinsky, they are all simple assimilates, thinking nothing about the national idea of Israel, and giving no help to it at all.

- Don't "new Ukrainians" think the same?

- You are right to the point. You see what I am driving at. One isn't able to count how much they took away from Ukraine for the last years. Do you think they need independence of Ukraine? No. I think that only a sensible-nationalistic people can build a really independent and democratic state.

- Do you mean nationalism that promotes love to the country and does not advocate the hatred to other people?

- You are absolutely right. It is not the first time I say that I do not believe in "nationalism" of those editors and authors of small newspapers who advocate for xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

I am sure that if you dig deeper you'll see special services of neighboring countries behind their back. Of those countries which are interested in Ukraine "knowing its own place." Unfortunately, we have plenty of our own fools as well.

When I speak about Zhabotinsky, I know, he was not well understood both by his own people and strangers. Maybe that is why he was very sincere, he really loved his people and wished it all the best. He could afford noticing all handicaps, he even used to expose them. Who likes being exposed? Few like it. It should be a wise man who can trust a person who strikes not for the evil but for the good.

When we understand all this, we'll become free people, not slaves.

Interviewed by Mikhail Frenkel

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