Jewish Politics in the Post-Communist World: Personality, Ideology and Conflict in the Contemporary Ukrainian Jewish Movement

By Khanin, Vladimir | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Jewish Politics in the Post-Communist World: Personality, Ideology and Conflict in the Contemporary Ukrainian Jewish Movement


Khanin, Vladimir, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


Modern Ukraine, like many other post-Communist states, is witnessing the rebirth of a strong Jewish national movement, a phenomenon not widely studied thus far. However, it is very indicative for understanding the political role of ethnic national minorities in the new East European states. This is a problem, that concerning present political situation in the region, is difficult to overestimate.

Among the questions that usually arise in this concern are social and political identification of ethnic minorities, ways and means of their representation at national public arena, as well as sources and forms of their political leadership. Ukrainian Jewry, estimated between 420 and 650 thousand people,1 and thus the third (after the Ukrainians and Russians) largest ethnic group in Ukraine and the fifth largest Jewish community in the world, undoubtedly is one of the best objects for such discussion.

Jewish Organizations and Communal Leadership in the Contemporary Ukraine

At the moment Ukrainian Jewry is a subject of two major trends. One of them is the wave of immigration to Israel, the United States, and other countries. The other shows the attempts to recreate normal communal Jewish life also in Ukraine. The establishment and development of a Jewish institutional structure in Ukraine, including the beginning of Jewish communal structures, has taken on particular and, very often, controversial, forms.

It should be noted, that the most of the rich communal, cultural, and national-political tradition of local Jewry has been lost due to dissolution of Jewish social, cultural, educational, and political structures under the Soviet regime, and the destruction of Ukrainian Jewry in the Holocaust. One should add to that a strong administrative, political, and societal anti-Semitism of the post-war years.2 Jewish life, consequently, developed beyond the traditional forms of Jewish self organization.

That was one of the reasons for the fact that the trends of political activities in the course of growing ethnic movements and national cultural revival of ethnic minorities, promoted by perestroika in Jewish case encouraged emigration more than the rebuilding of local Jewish structures. However, it simultaneously brought to life numerous Jewish organizations of different sorts and forms, which number considerably grow after the bake-down of the Soviet Union. Those organizations that played a major role in Jewish politics at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s are still playing an important role in the Jewish community of Ukraine.

According to official data, in Ukraine there were more then 100 Jewish organizations in 1992, about 150 in 1993, over 200 by the summer of 1994, and, according to official data, 365 in 1996 and 474 in 1998.3 The most important ones are "umbrella" organizations such as the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (AJOCU), the Ukrainian Jewish Council (UJC), and the Association of Jewish Religious Communities of Ukraine (AJRCU), which were established at the beginning of the 1990s. Others, like the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress and the Ukrainian Foundation for Jewish Culture, as well as two "super-umbrella" structures - United Jewish Community and Jewish Confederation of Ukraine - appeared recently.

Ukrainian Jewish organizations and other Jewish communal institutions became a bases for advancement of Jewish communal elite. Among them one can identify:

1."Movements politicians," or "communal polity": local Jewish political elites of different origins, including those from underground Jewish national and human rights movements of the pre perestroika period ("idealists"): representatives of the Jewish periphery in the former Communist bureaucratic "political aristocracy"; and finally, representatives of the new generation of the Jewish elite of the perestroika and post perestroika periods ("pragmatists").

2. …

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