Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. February 26, 2016

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO

Dear Friend,
NCSEJ Deputy Director Lesley Weiss and I met this week with Mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine Vitali Klitchko during his working visit to Washington. We discussed a number of issues, including plans for commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar tragedy this year, building of a Holocaust museum and memorial in Kyiv, and the general situation in Ukraine.

We also met with Lithuania’s Vice Minister Mantvydas Bekešius and discussed a range of issues of importance to the Lithuanian Jewish community.

Yesterday, Latvia’s parliament passed a bill to return five Jewish properties to the Latvian Jewish community. The World Jewish Restitution Organization called this an “‘important first step in addressing remaining communal property issues.” According to community representatives, some of the restituted properties are in poor condition and repairing them may be a challenge for the community.

Protests broke out in Budapest, Hungary against the unveiling of the statue commemorating WWII-era Hungarian politician Gyorgy Donath who supported anti-Semitic legislation. According to historians, Gyorgy Donath supported laws that served as a legal precedent for the Nazis’ anti-Semitic legislation in Hungary. The protesters blocked the unveiling ceremony, at which  former Prime Minister Peter Boross and representative from Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party were scheduled to speak.

Last week, the city of Odesa returned the Brodsky synagogue to the Jewish community. The synagogue was taken from the community in 1920s and repurposed as a regional archive.

The update includes a number of interesting stories, one of which is a New York Times article on the labor protests in Russia. Protests by Russian workers against the government are growing, as the economic crisis led to layoffs, declines in salaries and the standard of living in Russia. It is to be seen whether the support for the Russian government declines, which has been largely based on rising living standards for the Russian population.

I also want to highlight a Foreign Policy article on Moldova, which analyzes the crisis in Moldova, and urges a change in U.S. policy toward the country.  

Another interesting story included in this week’s update is a RFE/RL article that details a decline in xenophobia and hate crimes in Russia. According to the watchdog organization Sova, the Kremlin has stepped up pressure on far-right groups, particularly those critical of the government and Russia’s policies in Eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin’s pressure has led to the decline in hate crimes, as well as divisions among far right groups. However, concerns remain about ultranationalist fighters returning from Eastern Ukraine and those who continue to engage in military training in Russia.

This week, NCSEJ attended the sixth annual US-Ukraine Security Dialogue conference organized by the American Foreign Policy Council and the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations. The daylong conference brought together analysts from the United States and the former Soviet Union to discuss Russia’s policies in its “near abroad” region, as well as the need for new proactive U.S. strategy toward Russia and other countries in the Eurasia region.
NCSEJ Kyiv representative Ilya Bezruchko reported several developments in Ukraine. Over the weekend, nationalist demonstrators vandalized two Russian-owned banks and offices of Ukraine's richest oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. They also chanted anti-Semitic slogans, accusing the Ukrainian government of being Jewish. Kyiv police and the prosecutor's office are investigating these anti-Semitic remarks.

Ukraine’s Jewish community leaders have signed a letter of appeal urging the Netherlands to ratify the EU's Association Agreement with Ukraine.  They asked the people of the Netherlands to enable Ukraine to have “a strong European way of development… [and] give a chance to a young democracy, a chance for peace, stability and prosperity in our common European home.”

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Meeting with Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitchko
Washington, D.C. February 26
, 2016

Moldova gradually recognizes its past
World Jewish Congress, 25 Feb 2016

Chisinau (Kishinev), today capital of the Republic of Moldova, became known for the notorious anti-Jewish pogrom of 1903. However, by1920, about 260,000 Jews lived in Moldova, and some villages were made up of Jews by 80 percent.
During World War II, about 200 concentration camps and ghettos were set up in Moldova (or Bessarabia, as it was then known). Hundreds of thousands of Jews, Roma and other persecuted minorities were murdered there.
Today, the Jewish community of Moldova plays an important role in building a cohesive society as well as preserving the memory of the past .
On 27 Januar, Moldova marked National Holocaust Remembrance Day for the first time. Over several days, the Jewish Community, in collaboration with the government of Moldova and with the financial support of the European Union and the Council of Europe, organized a series of commemorative events, including theater and musical performances.

Latvian Saeima approves restitution of 5 Jewish properties in final reading
The Baltic Course, February 25, 2016

Saeima today passed in the third and final reading legislation providing for the restitution of five pre-war properties to the Council of Jewish Communities of Latvia, reports LETA.
Under the new legislation, the municipalities that currently own the above properties will be able to turn them over to the Council of Jewish Communities of Latvia.
Three of the properties to be returned to the Jewish community are situated in the capital city Riga, one property is situated in the seaside resort Jurmala and one in the western Latvian town of Kandava.
According to the legislation, the restitution of the Jewish properties is intended to amend historical injustice Latvia's Jewish congregations and organizations have suffered during the Holocaust and under the totalitarian Soviet regime in Latvia's territory.

Read the full article here.

Polish town saves Jewish cemetery from developers
JTA, February 22, 2016

A town in central Poland will protect a Jewish cemetery from being developed into a residential complex with underground parking.
The City Council of Grodzisk Mazowiecki has leased the land to the Jewish cemetery within its historic boundaries from developer Futura G.M., preventing the company from building a residential complex on the land.
Local authorities plan to ensure the cemetery is properly recognized.
The agreement signed by the Futura G.M. company and the city of Grodzisk is for an indefinite period. After identifying the legal status of the leased parcels and determining ownership, the municipality intends to purchase the land. The agreement was signed in January but first reported by local media late last week.

Read the full article here.

Scholar says Poland's Holocaust policies mark step backward
By Vanessa Gera
AP, February 19, 2016

A prominent Polish-American academic whose scholarship has explored Polish violence against Jews during World War II says Poland's new right-wing leadership is taking "a step back to the dark age of anti-Semitism" with a threat to strip him of a state honor and other measures.
Poland's president is considering stripping Princeton professor Jan Tomasz Gross of an Order of Merit he received in 1996. The president's office said recently that it received some 2,000 letters from citizens asking it to take that step.
"They want to take it away from me for saying what a right-wing, nationalist, xenophobic segment of the population refuses to recognize as facts of history," Gross told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Israel.
Gross received his medal for activities as a dissident in communist Poland in the 1960s, before he was forced to leave Poland as a result of an anti-Semitic campaign in 1968, and for his scholarship

Read the full article here.

Hungary Jews Protest New Statue for Far-Right Wartime Leader
JTA, February 24, 2016

Hungarian Jews protested a new government plan to honor a Holocaust-era politician who supported anti-Semitic legislation.
The controversy that unfolded Tuesday between the Mazsihisz umbrella group of Jewish communities and the government concerns a statue scheduled to be unveiled in Budapest in the presence of government officials on Wednesday of Gyorgy Donath – a lawmaker who supported discriminatory laws against Jews that historians say served as the legal foundation for their persecution by the German Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators.
This “far-right, anti-Semitic politician deserves no statue in Hungary,” Mazsihisz wrote in a statement published Tuesday.
The controversy about the unveiling of a statue of Donath closely follows an earlier scandal involving a plan to commemorate Balint Homan, a Hungarian Holocaust-era minister who supported and promoted the same laws. In December, following protests by Mazsihisz, Orban said that the plans by a nonprofit organization dedicated to Homan’s legacy to erect the monument in his honor in Szekesfehervar near Budapest will not come to pass.

Brodsky Synagogue Is Returned to Odessa’s Jewish Community
JP Newsroom, February 24, 2016

Last week, lubavitch.com reported that the landmark Brodsky Synagogue — “taken from a Jewish community in Odessa, and repurposed after the war as the city archives where millions of documents were stored” — was returned to the Jewish community.
The building will house the Chabad congregation. The transfer was conducted by an act of the Odessa Regional Council.
The Brodsky Shul had been designed in 1860 by architect I. Kollovich in the Gothic Florentine style. A massive structure, it was engineered to have great acoustics and became a starting place for many famous Chazzanim. It was called the Brodsky Shul because many of its founding members were originally from Brody, Galicia. Services were “progressive” and families that attended were part of the Haskala movement.

Read the full article here.

Truce Unravels as Fighting Picks Up in Ukraine
By Andrew Kramer
New York Times, February 21, 2016

Though overshadowed by the war in Syria, fighting in eastern Ukraine has picked up sharply in recent weeks, residents along the front line, commanders and European monitors say.
The resumption of hostilities in Ukraine, with exchanges of machine gun and mortar fire across the front line up to levels not seen since last summer, suggests a willingness by Russia, which supports the rebels in eastern Ukraine, to sustain two conflicts at once. In late September, Russia began airstrikes in Syria on behalf of the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
A cease-fire took hold here in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and the government on Sept. 1, which was apparently coordinated with Russia’s military deployment in Syria.

Ukraine Investigates Attacks Against Russian Banks Amid Maidan Commemorations
RFE/RL, February 22, 2016

 Ukrainian authorities say they have launched a criminal investigation into multiple attacks on Russian banks during this week's commemorations of the deadly 2014 antigovernment Euromaidan protests.
The attacks in Kyiv, Lviv, and Mariupol came amid rallies marking the second anniversary of the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Late on February 21, a Sberbank branch office was torched in the western city of Lviv shortly after would-be arsonists failed to set ablaze another Sberbank branch in the city.
Lviv's local ZIK television channel reported that unidentified individuals threw makeshift firebombs made from metal canisters at the two bank branches.

Why Reintegrating the Donbas Is Suicide for Ukraine
World Affairs, February 25, 2016

If you’re wondering why the Minsk peace process isn’t leading to peace, look no further than a recent interview with Vladislav Inozemtsev, a highly respected Russian economist and director of the Center for the Study of Postindustrial Society in Moscow. The bottom line—surprise, surprise!—is this: Vladimir  Putin doesn’t want peace. He wants to make Ukraine into a permanent backwater state dependent on the Kremlin.
How? By forcing Kiev to reintegrate the now occupied, politically poisoned, and economically ravaged Donbas into Ukraine, knowing full well that this region, now forever crippled by Putin’s proxies, will condemn Ukraine to being a permanently bankrupt puppet of the mafia state next door. This would be suicide. Tragically, although many Ukrainian policymakers understand it makes no sense for Ukraine to infect itself with this cancer, the power of Ukrainian patriotic rhetoric—“The Donbas is eternal Ukrainian land!”—may wind up saddling the country with a burden so heavy that it will crush its sovereignty and its democracy, move it decisively away from Europe and the world, and succeed in achieving what Viktor Yanukovych failed to do: transform Ukraine into a backward hinterland of a backward imperialist petro-state.

The West Is About to Lose Moldova
By Anna Nemtsova
Foreign Policy, February 19, 2016

Almost every week for over a year, large crowds have gathered in downtown Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, to protest the corruption and cronyism endemic to its government. When I met with several important leaders of this opposition movement last month, they told me that they were determined to step up the intensity of their protests, and that they would keep bringing people onto the streets as long as the current government remained in power. In particular, they are furious at Vladimir Plahotniuc, an influential oligarch and de-facto leader of the Democratic Party, whom they describe as “the man who stole justice” because of his outsized, corrupt influence in parliament.
As if to demonstrate the opposition’s commitment to radicalizing its movement, a stubborn young lawyer named Andrei Nastase, who leads an opposition political movement, led dozens of his supporters into the Supreme Council of Magistrates, a key judicial body, last week. Chanting “down with the mafia” and carrying the blue, yellow, and red national flag, the protesters tried to prevent the court from reelecting its chairman, Mihai Poalelungi, who they see as connected to Plahotniuc. (He was later reelected anyway.)

Read the full article here.

Labor Unrest Stirs in Russia as an Economic Chill Sets In
By Andrew Kramer
New York Times, February 24, 2016

NIZHNY TAGIL, Russia — Workers in this city that calls itself the “birthplace of the trains” gained fame some years back for helping birth something far different: President Vladimir V. Putin’s drive to crush and marginalize a budding democracy movement. Recently, after a year with little or no work in the city’s giant train factory, they staged a protest of their own, aimed straight at Mr. Putin and his wealthy cronies in the industrial sector.
“They say they have orders, but they also cut our salaries,” Yevgeny M. Shukhin, a burly, mustachioed worker said of the factory’s management, stomping his feet against the cold at a labor protest this month on Machinists Square.
Day after day, he said, the workers trudge to the factory by the thousands, only to sit out their shifts at idle assembly lines.
In 2012, when Mr. Putin was still campaigning for the presidency, a shift foreman at the factory here in the northern Ural Mountains appeared on a nationally televised call-in show and said that he and his “boys” from the factory were ready to come to Moscow and beat up urban protesters.

  Read the full article here.

In Russia, human rights groups need Western aid more than ever
By Ludmilla Alexeeva
Washington Post, February 24, 2016

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rebirth of Russia. One of the most remarkable features of that rebirth was the rapid creation, after 70 years of Soviet repression and atomization, of Russia’s vast, vibrant and effective civil society. The history of the human rights movement in Russia is also the story of my life, because I was a dissident in the Soviet era and today proudly chair the Moscow Helsinki Group, the oldest human rights organization working in Russia.
In the 1990s, our country was poor, and rights groups could find hardly any funding in Russia. We were fortunate to have Western donors who supported our work. Even as Russia got back on its feet, thanks largely to a dramatic rise in oil prices, it still wasn’t easy to find financial assistance in Russia for human rights work. There were many reasons for this, not least of which was that potential donors did not want to risk the Kremlin’s wrath by supporting potentially sensitive causes. And let’s face it, human rights work can be sensitive.
During Vladimir Putin’s 15 years in power, the Kremlin has attempted to cast human rights values as alien to Russia — especially in the wake of events in Ukraine two years ago. Criticism of the government has come to equal disloyalty or, worse, treason. Under a law adopted in 2012, more than 100 groups that receive even small amounts of foreign funding have been branded “foreign agents” — which in Russia can only mean “traitor.”


Russia's enemy No. 1? Mystery campaign smears Obama
By Fred Weir
Christian Science Monitor, February 24, 2016

Somebody is bombarding Russian social media and Moscow buildings with professionally produced messages that condemn President Obama as a murderer and a threat to world peace.
It's not an unpopular message. An opinion poll by the state-run VTsIOM agency last June found that 37 percent of respondents named the United States and Mr. Obama personally as "the main enemy of our culture and values."
Another survey conducted by the independent Levada Center in late 2014 showed that public attitudes toward Obama had shifted radically in the previous five years. Whereas 21 percent of respondents viewed him "positively" in 2009, just 2 percent did so in the later poll.

Read the full article here.

Hate Crimes Said Down In Russia As Kremlin Cracks Down On Nationalist Critics
By Tom Balmforth
RFE/RL, February 19, 2016

MOSCOW -- Researchers who track xenophobia in Russia have recorded an "impressive" decrease in hate crimes as the authorities appear to have stepped up pressure on far-right groups, in particular targeting nationalist critics of the Kremlin and its campaign in eastern Ukraine.
The Sova Center's annual report, presented on February 19, said a flurry of criminal cases opened last year against ultranationalist groups -- in particular opposition ones -- coupled with deep divisions among nationalists over Russia's role in war-torn Ukraine have splintered the nationalist underground.
The effect has been a reconfiguration of the far right, Sova says, creating space for pro-Kremlin, nationalist groups like Anti-Maidan and the National Liberation Movement (NOD) of United Russia lawmaker Yegveny Fyodorov to gain prominence.

Read the full article here.
Too Good To Be True: Eastern Europe's Deceptively Stable Little Currency
By Eugen Tomiuc
RFE/RL, February 21, 2016

A breakaway splinter of land laden with post-Soviet disaffection and aging heavy industry wedged among dysfunctional economies hardly sounds like a winning formula for exchange-rate tranquility.
Yet on the face of it, that's what tiny Transdniester has achieved over the past two years as its pro-Russian leadership in Tiraspol has clung improbably to a steady rate for its ruble against the U.S. dollar.
Despite the political and economic turmoil engulfing the rest of Moldova, from which separatists in Transdniester withdrew allegiance in 1990, leading after scattered fighting to one of the region's first "frozen conflicts." Despite a running war and economic collapse in eastern neighbor Ukraine. And despite the dearth of business from main trade partner and benefactor Russia, where global oil prices and Ukraine-related sanctions have gutted that economy and sent the Russian ruble into freefall.
Transdniester has advertised its spottily traded ruble at a rate of around 11 to the U.S. dollar since 2014, while its Russian namesake has lost around half its value against the greenback over the same period.

The Great Manipulator
By Brian Whitmore
RFE/RL, February 24, 2016

Dmitry Medvedev recently played a telling little head game.
When the Russian prime minister said at the Munich Security Conference that Moscow and the West had "slid into a new Cold War," he essentially created a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation.
"If the West agrees that it is a new Cold War, then it automatically acknowledges Russia’s global-power status. If it doesn't -- then why the sanctions? -- Can we lift them now? Can we go back to business as usual?" Anton Shekhovtsov, a fellow at the Legatum Institute, wrote recently on his Facebook page.
As is often the case, Shekhovtsov is right on target. And Medvedev's rhetorical trick is something of a metaphor for Russia's behavior writ large -- and it has implications beyond the cute little mind games Vladimir Putin's favorite mini-me played in Munich.
"With his choice of words, the prime minister is pursuing the same goal as the Russian fighter planes that are shadowing German Tornado reconnaissance jets over Syria or operating near the airspace of NATO member states," German foreign-affairs commentator Mathieu von Rohr wrote recently in Der Spiegel.

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Founded in 1971, NCSEJ represents the organized American Jewish community in monitoring and advocating on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the 15 successor states of the former Soviet Union.