Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. August 18, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Dear Friend,

The tragic events in Charlottesville last weekend have shown us that the ideologies of Nazism and radical hate groups are very much alive in the United States today. As an organization that confronts Holocaust denial, historic revisionism, and the rise of neo-Nazi and ultra-right political groups in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, NCSEJ is deeply disturbed by last week’s display of neo-Nazi symbols, speech, and violence in our own country.

There is no form of moral equivalency that can downplay the severity of the history of Nazism and the spread of neo-Nazi ideology. This is a problem NCSEJ confronts when working with foreign governments to take an honest assessment of their own history with Nazi Germany. We insist these governments recognize that there is no acceptable form of moral equivalency when trying to rationalize or justify past governments' or citizens' collaboration with the Nazis. The same is true when facing neo-Nazism in the United States today.

There was no moral equivalency then, there is no moral equivalency today; it was immoral after the Holocaust and it is immoral today.

Our country has been a global standard-bearer for human rights. America must neither deploy a misguided understanding of history nor abdicate its responsibility to stand up to all forms of hatred and bigotry.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. August 18, 2017

Political Rage Over Statues? Old News in the Old World

By Rick Lyman

New York Times, August 17, 2017

Recent episodes of rage and bloodshed over the removal of Confederate statues in the United States have a familiar ring for Europeans, who have been battling over their historical narratives and tearing down statues of noxious former leaders since the Bronze Age — and probably before.

“There are some similarities between what is happening in Poland and what is happening in the United States,” said Antoni Dudek, a contemporary historian and board member at Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, created after the fall of communism to document the totalitarian crimes of the past.

“The argument about monuments, which should be resolved mostly between historians and citizens, has become a substitute for everyday political fights,” he said. “The same goes for the States now that President Trump has joined the debate. Suddenly, the argument got much more intense.”

Under legislation passed in June, Poland’s right-wing government has given local officials and landowners just one year to remove all public monuments and memorials that “pay tribute to persons, organizations, events or dates symbolizing communism or other totalitarian systems.” About 500 have been identified, almost all from the Communist era as the Soviets had already removed Nazi ones.

Read the full article here.

This Holocaust monument in Belarus is haunting – and subervise

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 14, 2017

Even by Soviet standards, the massive memorial complex near Minsk to the victims of Nazi atrocities stands out for its immense scale and ambition.

Spread across half a million square feet — roughly the size of 10 football fields — the haunting Khatyn Memorial is essentially a graveyard not for people, but for entire villages wiped out by the Nazis in Belarus.  Byelorussia, as it was then known, was one of the few places in Europe where German brutality toward non-Jews matched their anti-Semitic savagery.

The memorial features soil from each of the 186 villages razed by the Nazis in Belarus — 3 million civilians here were killed by Nazis, including 800,000 Jews — and a symbolic tombstone for each village. Bell towers toll here every hour for each of the houses that the German and Ukrainian troops burned in the former village of Khatyn in the massacre of March 22, 1943. And there’s a bleak, black marble monument called the Wall of Sorrow.

Read the full article here.

Russia-West Balancing Act Grows Ever More Wobbly in Belarus

By Ivan Nechepurenko

New York Times, August 13, 2017

Western officials and the news media have for years routinely described President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus as “the last dictator of Europe.”

So it may have been jarring for some to hear him expressing deep support for human rights, democracy and the rule of law in an address last month to a large group of United States and European lawmakers who came for a conference to Minsk, the country’s tidy, but utterly uniform, capital.

For Mr. Lukashenko, however, the performance was old hat.

Over two decades, he has perfected the art of playing Russia and the West against each other. Belarus has been both an indispensable ally and ward of the Kremlin, depending on Russian subsidies to keep its economy afloat, and an important buffer for the West against the Kremlin’s growing military aggressiveness.

Read the full article here.

The Costs of Ignoring Russia

By Dimitri K. Simes

The National Interest, August 13, 2017

Improving the dangerously unstable U.S.-Russia relationship will be very difficult, but it is important for U.S. national security. Current mutual hostility threatens an explosive confrontation that could destroy American (and Russian) civilization as we know it. Short of that, Russia can do much more than it is today to damage U.S. interests and values without taking extreme risks. Accordingly, the United States should explore normalizing its interaction with Russia. Washington should do so without illusions, and from a position of strength.

Today, America and Russia are adversaries with different approaches to key international issues, different systems of government and, in many respects, different values. Each confronts domestic obstacles to efforts to establish better relations. These obstacles are particularly challenging in the United States, where Congress, the mainstream media and much of the American public view Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a vicious enemy akin to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, if not Hitler’s Germany. Unlike China, Russia has only limited economic interaction with America—and therefore few Americans see a practical positive side to contacts with Russia.

Read the full article here.

Looking out Five Years: Who Will Decide Russian Foreign Policy

By Dmitri Trenin

Carnegie Moscow Center, August 17, 2017

Putin remains the decider on all key foreign, security, and defense issues. In office as president since 2000 (with a term as prime minister from 2008 to 2012), Putin is by now one of the world’s most experienced leaders. He also wields absolute power in his country. Putin’s power rests on his unprecedented and stable popularity—in the 80 percent range since 2014 —among ordinary Russian people. Putin’s foreign policy of great-power revival is a major element of his popularity. The Western backlash against Russia’s assertiveness only helps consolidate that support.

Putin is assisted by a group of senior aides, not colleagues or peers, who make up the Security Council of the Russian Federation (SCRF). The SCRF’s purview is wider than national security as usually defined in the West. The council can take up virtually any issue of national importance, including economics, finance, demographics, and even culture. Putin’s foreign policy decisions are based mostly on the information he receives from the security services.

Read the full article here.

Russian Court Postpones Hearing on Wallenberg Suit Until September

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 17, 2017

A Russian court has postponed a preliminary hearing in a lawsuit against the Federal Security Service (FSB) by relatives of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust and died in a Soviet KGB jail.

The judge had been expected to set a date for arguments in the case at a preparatory hearing on August 17 in Moscow's Meshchansky district court.

But the judge postponed it until September 18 shortly after it began, said Daria Sukhikh, a lawyer for relatives of Wallenberg.

"An FSB representative came to the courtroom without a prepared legal position and therefore the court was unable to set the date for the hearing and postponed the preparatory hearing," Sukhikh said.

Read the full article here.

Memorandum on establishment of Babi Yar state museum signed

Ukrinform, August 17, 2017

The Culture Ministry of Ukraine, the National Historical Memorial Reserve and the International Memorial Foundation "Babi Yar" have signed the memorandum on joint establishment of the Babi Yar state museum.

Ukrinform learned this from Joseph Zissels, the director of the International Memorial Foundation "Babi Yar" and executive Vice President of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine.

Read the full article here.

How to Fix Ukraine’s Economy

By Mark Gitenstein and Jacques Tohme

Atlantic Council, August 14, 2017

It’s been more than three years since Ukrainians were driven in large measure by the rampant corruption in Ukraine to retake their country. Yet state-owned enterprises (SOEs)—the organs of systemic corruption and deterrence for western investment—remain in the hands of the same elites who drain these state treasures of their financial and material resources. Even worse, this unwritten system scares away further capital, expertise, and technology required to restart an economy which is moving away from Russia. At the same time, the Ukrainian economy is starved for capital and the GDP growth required to support its population.

Privatizing Ukraine’s state enterprises would send a powerful signal to corrupt elites and foreign investors. So far, major privatizations haven been too difficult both technically and politically. The tradeable market value of Ukrainians SOEs in their current state is very low to zero, even if the underlying fundamental value is high. Many of these SOEs are natural monopolies (petroleum, nuclear, railways, postal service) and should be producing attractive cash flow.

Read the full article here.

Polish Jews spar over community bosses’ criticism of government

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 17, 2017

The president of Poland’s largest Jewish group accused other Jewish leaders of exaggerating the country’s anti-Semitism problem as part of a “political war” on the right-wing ruling party.

Artur Hofman, who heads the TSKZ cultural organization of Polish Jews, defended the government Wednesday during an interview with JTA about a meeting that he and two other Jewish activists had earlier that day with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a founder of the Law and Justice Party.

The meeting and Hofman’s defense of Law and Justice offered a rare public indication of a split in the ranks of Polish Jewish leaders over relations with the government.

Two weeks prior to the meeting Leslaw Piszewski, the president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, and Anna Chipczynska, head of the Warsaw community, sent a letter to Kaczynski saying Polish Jews are increasingly fearful due to rising anti-Semitism and government inaction.

Read the full article here.

Poland Seeks Jewish-American Lawyers

By Hagay Hacohen

Jerusalem Post, August 16, 2017

Polish seijm [parliament] member Krystyna Pawlowicz, of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PIS) recently expressed her hope on Facebook that Poland will be successful in wining compensations from Germany for the horrors of the Nazi occupation of her country during the Second World War. 

Pawlowicz said she regretted that Poland doesn’t have legal experts who are skillful in this sort of project and claimed that while Poland has legal scholars they wouldn’t want to risk their EU funding, which she claimed originates from Germany.

Ergo, she suggested, “let us turn immediately, today, to the best Jewish, American [sic] legal firms to get consultation on the issue of Polish claims from Germany.”

Read the full article here.

Great Synagogue of Vilna’s Jewish Ritual baths, Destroyed in Holocaust, Found by Archaeologists

By Ruth Schuster

Haaretz, August 17, 2017

An international team of archaeologists has unearthed the remains of ritual baths at the Great Synagogue in Vilna, which had been burned and ransacked by the Nazis during the Holocaust, and was finally pulled down once and for all by the Russians in 1965 as they set out to eradicate all memory of the Jews in Lithuania.

How long Jews lived in Lithuania is hard to know. The earliest records note their presence from the 8th century C.E., though they could have arrived centuries before, as Jews scattered through the diaspora after the disastrous Bar Kokhba Revolt in ancient Israel. In any case, like numerous other European nations, Lithuania had a checkered relationship with the Jews, sometimes embracing them with warmth, at other times expelling the whole population, for instance in the year 1495. They were allowed back in after eight years, but relations between the Lithuanian powers that be and the Jewish population had soured, and would remain strained (and worse).

The vast Great Synagogue of Vilna itself was completed in 1633, over a century after the Jews were let back into Lithuania. It was built on the site of an older synagogue, which in turn had been built on the remains of an even older Jewish prayer house.

Read the full article here.

How a Bunch of Alleged Nazi Fanboys Became One of the Most Popular Parties in Slovakia

By Michael Colborne

Haaretz, August 15, 2017

Nestled in a valley at the foot of the Low Tatras mountains, this city of 80,000 in central Slovakia is more than just the home of far-right firebrand Marian Kotleba.

In 1940 around 10 percent of the population of Banksa Bystrica was Jewish. Most of the community worshipped on the southwest edge of town at a synagogue that backed onto a small creek, which provided water for the mikveh (ritual bath).

But by 1948 Banska Bystrica’s remaining Jews formed less than 1 percent of the town’s population. As more and more of the community left for Israel in the ensuing years, the local synagogue fell into disrepair, and was used as a warehouse until it was destroyed in 1983.

It’s former site is now a vacant lot, with not a single plaque or monument to what once stood there.

Since 2013 the entire Banska Bystrica region has been under the governorship of Marian Kotleba, a mustachioed 40-year-old former schoolteacher who has been accused of being a neo-Nazi (he’s currently suing a Slovak news site that used that term to describe him).

Read the full article here.

Trading places on the Hungarian right

By Lili Bayer

Politico Europe, August 14, 2017

As Hungary enters what is widely expected to be an aggressive campaign season, the ruling Fidesz party and far-right Jobbik appear to be in the process of switching places.

Unless the fractious leftist and liberal opposition parties band together, Hungary’s spring 2018 election may end up as a contest between two nationalist, anti-migration, and largely pro-Russian parties.

But while Fidesz is adopting rhetoric once reserved for the fringes of the political spectrum, Jobbik is moving in the opposite direction, desperately trying to appeal to centrists and save itself from political irrelevance.

“A threatening demographic catastrophe is … being exacerbated by an ethnic proportional shift,” read Jobbik’s policy platform in 2010. At a time when it was still a political taboo to refer to ethnic homogeneity, it was the only party openly advocating for boosting Hungary’s white Christian population.

Seven years on, preserving the ethnic status quo is now the centerpiece of Orbán’s platform.

Read the full article here.

Hungarian Jewish community announces rebirth of Jewish Museum and Archives

World Jewish Congress, August 15, 2017

The Jewish Museum in downtown Budapest is set to undergo its first major change in decades, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz) announced on Tuesday.

The museum - which is adjacent to the city’s historic, and massive, Dohány Street Synagogue - has not updated its core exhibition since 1984 but plans on doing so in September thanks to donations from a variety of individuals and foundations.

“We believe that a museum is not a mausoleum, which conserves a dead culture,” the Jewish Museum said in a statement. “It is a living organism [and] a place of reinterpretation and questioning.

Read the full article here.

[Link to pdf of full articles]
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Founded in 1971, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry 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.