As I look out my window in Kiev on the tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators building ever-more formidable barricades around Maidan (Independence) Square, City Hall and other key sites they have occupied for three weeks; and on the police straining to separate giant pro and anti-government demonstrations, I see a city that appears -- at least on the surface -- to be on the brink of chaos and even revolution.
At this fateful moment, the moral imperative I wish to convey to people on both sides of this struggle is, 'Please take a deep breath and do everything humanly possible to find a way to resolve this dangerous situation peacefully, before blood flows in earnest.'
For those of us old enough to have lived through and remember the bad old days of the Soviet Union, the idea of revolution holds little appeal. I am struck by the exquisite irony that self-proclaimed non-violent demonstrators recently knocked down a statue of Lenin as though to proclaim that they are the very antithesis of the founder of the Soviet state. Yet Lenin and his followers themselves carried out myriad acts of cultural vandalism; not only tearing down statues, but blowing up great churches. So those who gleefully demolished the statue of Lenin were actually perpetuating his legacy by imitating methods the Bolsheviks perfected a century ago.
Many of our friends in the West perceive the present conflict in Ukraine as being between good guys and bad guys; a contest between the virtuous pro-European opposition coalition and the supposedly anti-democratic, pro-Russian government of Ukraine headed by President Victor Yanukovych. Yet from where I sit the choice is a lot less clear. Both sides have made serious mistakes in the present crisis and both need to compromise for the well-being of the entire nation.
Speaking both as a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and as President of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee (UJC), let me be clear as to what I hope to see emerge from this crisis. I want to live in a Ukraine that is free of violence and the threat of violence; a democratic Ukraine governed by the rule of law, not by corruption and bribery. I also want to live in a country where a democratically elected president can serve out his term in office without being subject to efforts to force him out of power by taking over the streets of the capital.
We need a Ukraine that can interact fruitfully with all of its neighbors. Both Europe and Russia are vital to Ukraine; we are deeply intertwined politically, culturally, linguistically and ethnically with both. We shouldn't be forced to choose to side exclusively with one or the other, because making that choice will tear our nation apart.
The Jews of Ukraine are like canaries in the coal mine; when things threaten to spin out of control, we are the first to feel the rush of impending chaos. In order to promote mutual tolerance among all Ukrainians, the UJC has worked hard over the past few years to promote interreligious understanding in Ukraine; organizing a series of conferences bringing together Christians, Jews and Muslims. After centuries of brutal Czarist pogroms and 70 years of strident Soviet anti-Semitism, Jews in Ukraine have enjoyed a golden age over the past two decades; freely taking part in all aspects of national life and contributing a great deal to the development of Ukraine. Yet we need a stable, non-violent and democratic Ukraine if we are to continue to do so.
One issue that gives Ukrainian Jews pause about embracing the opposition is that their demands for the forced resignation of the Ukrainian government are being spearheaded by a coalition that includes the ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic party Svoboda. It is unclear to me how the opposition coalition can blather on about identifying with Europe and liberal values while including a neo-fascist group at its heart. Excuse us if we take such talk of freedom and democracy with a grain of salt.
Yet at the same time, the Ukrainian government must foreswear the temptation to use force to disperse the opposition demonstrations. It is reassuring that President Yanukovych has now fired the mayor of Kiev, chief of city police and deputy secretary of security council for their role in carrying out the violent crackdown of Nov. 30. Both sides need to understand they cannot get everything they want. We have to find a compromise.
Nearly a century ago, Bolshevik maximalism triumphed on this soil; leading to the horrors of Stalinism; including an intentional famine that cost millions of Ukrainian lives. During the same period Europe endured murderous fascism spearheaded by Nazi Germany. In the war between the two totalitarian systems, Ukraine became a battlefield and European Jewry was nearly annihilated.
Those days of supreme leaders jailing or murdering anyone they perceived as a potential threat must never be allowed to return. Things have hardly been ideal in Ukraine over the past few years, but at least we have largely avoided violence and created the preconditions for building a democracy. Today, Ukrainians of all parties and ideologies must summon the will to set aside deep differences and find common ground. The very future of Ukraine as a viable state depends on our accomplishing that.
Oleksandr Feldman is president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee and a member of the Parliament of Ukraine.