# 50 / Editorial


One should have solid reasons to unleash armed conflict on the European continent in this post-World War II era. Putin’s Russia rattles off justifications, one at a time, or even simultaneously. These include the idea that the military intervention is needed to quash a nationalist – indeed neo-Nazi regime – in Kiev. This old Stalinist song has different resonances in Russia and the West. Russians hear in this argument a reference to the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazism, constitutive of nationalism in the Soviet and post-Soviet space. Westerners hear such rhetoric, and matters of Jewish concern surge to the front of their imagination. Ukraine’s Jewish community – the small remnant of it that persists – affirms that it has felt fairly well-protected under the independent republic that has grown up after the fall of Communism. One sees the snare that the Kremlin is now attempting to set on this fragile ground, as allegations surface that Russia might try to provoke antisemitic incidents in order to corroborate its casus belli.

This country is fragile ground because Ukrainian nationalism exuded antisemitism from the nineteenth century onward, producing the deadliest spasms of anti-Jewish violence on the continent until the rise of the Nazis. Ukraine was a hotbed of pogroms upon its birth in 1918, with 100,000 Jews murdered between the end of World War I and 1921. The country also was the site of some of the most gruesome incidents of “the shooting Holocaust,” such as the massacre at Babi Yar, in which Ukrainians auxiliaries took part. Ukraine also is a country whose tip of the spear against Russian aggression – President Vlodimir Zelensky, elected in 2019 – is himself Jewish. This is not an isolated case: Egils Levitz, the current president of Latvia, who grew up in Germany as the son of a Soviet dissident, is also Jewish. This Baltic republic recently approved a bill to restitute property stolen from Jews by the Soviets, before the Nazis swept through Latvia and exterminated almost the entire community (again with the aid of Latvian retainers). Levitz, equally worried about Russian encroachment, has put his military on high alert.

The juxtaposition of Jewish Europeanists in the east and the rise in France of a far-right Jewish candidate voicing support for extreme nationalism and gushing over Putin’s imperialist policies is dizzying. Even as “the old nations” of Western Europe seem powerless to confront the rise of antisemitism, certain former members of the Eastern Bloc are tracing a new path. Russia’s rhetoric of “antiracism” and “anti-Nazism conflates democratic aspirations and reactionary nationalism and does little to camouflage the woes of Russian society. Eighty percent of Jews in both Russia and Ukraine left after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The presence of Jewish leaders at the forefront of the democratic resistance in the post-Soviet space might attest to a fundamental shift.

Nonetheless… Eastern Europe is a vast territory of intersecting lines and trends. One need only turn his regard to the Poland of the PiS or the Hungary of Viktor Orban or to the other individual nations of the region to see evidence of these countervailing tendencies. No cohesive portrait of the area is possible. K. has paid attention to this region, so important in Jewish history, including a long reportage on the memorial politics at Babi Yar, where the Nazi massacre unfolded on September 29-30, 1941. Part of the area around the memorial on the Babi Yar site was damaged this week by Russian airstrikes targeting the antennae of Kiev’s television stations. President Zelensky reacted in a deft tweet that underlined the bad faith of a number of Western powers in their preachments on “the duty of memory.” “What’s the point of saying ‘never again’ for 80 years, if a bomb stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babi Yar?”

This week, we are republishing Lisa Vapne’s article on the memorial politics of Babi Yar, as well as a new piece from Jakub Nowakowski, the director of the Jewish Museum in Cracow. He describes the revival of Jewish life in Poland, but he is equally concerned with the memorial policies of the current conservative nationalist government in power in Warsaw, which has attempted to rewrite and whitewash history, as well as with the appropriation of Jewish memory in what he terms “the post-Jewish space” of Eastern Europe in the postwar era.

After a long period of appropriation of Jewish space, but also of Jewish history and memory in Poland, Jakub Nowakowsk observes a new interest in Jewish history in Poland since the eighties. In recent years, the taboo on Jewish-Polish history seems to have been overcome.  However, a new issue is emerging through the current attempts to instrumentalize this history for the benefit of a whitewashed narrative marshaled by polish nationalism and championed at the highest levels of power. In the context of these major controversies, the author also recounts the difficult attempts to renew Jewish life in today’s Poland.

Exactly eighty years ago, on September 29-30, 1941, nearly 34,000 Jews from Kiev were executed at Babi Yar, a ravine located west of the Ukrainian capital. The question of the memorialization of the site, raised at the end of the war, has still not found a clear answer to this day. Lisa Vapné gives us a glimpse of the long and conflicting history, full of twists and turns, of a memory that has yet to be built on the very site of the crime.

With the support of:

Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.