The Mysterious Tale of a Ukrainian University’s Anti-Semitic Crusade
Featuring the KKK ’s David Duke, former KGB operatives, Palestinians and many more
In 2004, I read that a Ukrainian university was orchestrating an international “anti-Zionist” campaign and had invited former Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke to teach. Some of Ukraine’s most powerful leaders, including current president Viktor Yushchenko, were closely associated with the school, the country’s largest accredited private educational institution. Last year, as this crusade was drawing to an end, I flew to Kiev in the hopes of learning why a modern-day university would choose to promote anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda. I met with Ukrainian journalists, Jewish leaders, experts in anti-Semitism and students, eventually paying a visit to the strangely named Mizhrehional’na Akademiia Upravlinnia Personalom—the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management, known by its Ukrainian acronym, MAUP.
MAUP is not in downtown Kiev, with its gloriously ornate pre-war architecture and post-independence hip-urban vibe, but in a sprawling neighborhood congested with cars and the detritus of ongoing construction. Its main campus is a kitschy mix of Soviet high-rise architecture and contemporary cheap structures enlivened with rows of busts and bright colorful flags. Statues scattered throughout the grounds memorialize weapon-brandishing heroes from Ukraine’s past. I don’t recognize most of them, but can identify Sviatoslav, the Duke of Kiev: He’s celebrated for his defeat in 968 of the Khazars, a Turkic-speaking people who had converted en masse to Judaism. I’m also intrigued by numerous oddly shaped replicas of archeological artifacts that pay tribute to the ancient Tripol people, symbols of “pure” Ukrainian culture to the country’s extreme right-wing.
These and other monuments reflect the growing national pantheon of heroes that an independent Ukraine is excavating from history to replace the Soviet narrative imposed between 1918 and independence in 1991. The parliamentary democracy has struggled to develop a state-affirming history necessary to build unity and loyalty, and in 2002, MAUP, stepped in and positioned itself as a torchbearer of Ukrainian nationalism.
The school, which boasts over 45,000 students from 32 countries at 26 regional branches, launched a self-described campaign against Zionism, which unleashed anew the floodgates of anti-Semitism. Although it has largely wound down, coming to an “official” close at the end of 2007, the country is still recovering from the damage it inflicted. Mystery continues to surround MAUP’s efforts, which drew anti-Semites from around the world. Among them was former Grand Wizard Duke, on whom it bestowed an honorary doctorate in 2002, when it published his book, The Jewish Question through the Eyes of an American: My Investigation of Zionism. Three years later, 12 MAUP professors unanimously lauded his dissertation, “Zionism as a form of Ethnic Supremacism,” and awarded him a Ph.D. In it, he labels the civil rights movement, feminism, Marxism, Communism and the Holocaust as “Jewish conspiracies” that led the white world to lose its empire and face “a demographic and genetic catastrophe.”
Duke’s book was among several hundred a year espousing anti-Semitism published by the university’s press and widely distributed on campuses, and in bookstores and kiosks throughout the country. “Classics” included a commemorative edition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and former Syrian Defense Minister Mustapha Tlass’ 1983 blood libel tome, The Matzoh of Zion. Most of the books were written by Ukrainian authors such as Vasily Yaramenko, who claims that “400,000 Jewish SS” invaded Ukraine and were responsible for the 1941 massacre of 33,731 Jews at Babi Yar, a ravine outside Kiev. Another prolific author was the founder and president of MAUP, Georgy Shchokin, 55, who, in a 2005 book, wrote that Mussolini, Franco and Hitler were Jewish and concluded that Jews were responsible for the “deaths of several tens of millions.”
MAUP’s glossy monthly magazine, Personnel, and its newspaper, Personnel Plus, ran several anti-Semitic articles in each volume. “According to our research, MAUP has published 85 to 90 percent of all anti-Semitic publications in Ukraine today,” says Vyacheslav Likhachov, a well-respected expert on anti-Semitism who is based in Kiev and monitors how minorities are treated in Ukraine for the European Jewish Conference and Ukraine’s Congress of Ethnic Minorities.
Many of these texts focused on Jewish history in Ukraine. “The question of whom to blame for evils against Ukrainians is something MAUP has specialized in,” says Per Anders Rudling, who teaches in the history and classics department of the University of Alberta and researches Ukrainian nationalism and anti-Semitism. Ukraine’s extreme right-wing, he explains, consistently portrays Ukrainians as victims of Jews. “From the perspective of anti-Semites, Jewish domination of Ukraine began in the Middle Ages and has lasted until today.”
MAUP is a significant institution in Ukraine. Among its graduates are chairmen of state committees, deputy ministers, mayors, diplomats, leading members of the president’s administration, heads of universities and military commanders. Some of the country’s highest-ranking leaders have served on its governing board or as fellows in its think tank. In addition to Yushchenko—the hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution, who was poisoned and disfigured by dioxin and came to power after massive election fraud by his rival, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych—other members of Ukraine’s political elite are alleged to have been on the school’s payroll. These include Leonid Kravchuk, the former leader of the Ukrainian Communist Party and the first president of independent Ukraine; former Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk; and Levko Lukyanenko, the first Ukrainian ambassador to Canada and a former member of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s parliamentary bloc. “MAUP is very well connected to the government,” remarks Rudling.
MAUP’s story and curious name originated in the final days of the Soviet Union and revolves around Georgy Shchokin. Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Shchokin was a ranking member of Ukraine’s Communist Party who likely had strong ties to the KGB, says Likhachov. “Somehow at the end of the USSR, Shchokin became head of a very strange institution for people who wanted to be Soviet managers for personnel,” Likhachov says. “If you wanted to go on holiday in Bulgaria you had to go to the manager of your personnel department, who would write you a paper. Whether you could go or not was determined by your loyalty and if you were a Communist Party member.” Most personnel managers were undistinguished KGB employees.
In 1989, as Communist control waned, Shchokin followed in the footsteps of others in the ranks of power: He built a commercial institution on top of a Soviet one. Armed with good contacts and some suspect leftover Communist funds, Shchokin transformed the vocational program into a popular institution of higher learning. To pump up the school’s prestige, he lured top professors and political leaders with high salaries, funded, in part, by hefty tuitions.
Shchokin, a professor of theology who was not known to have published anything about Zionism or Jews, attended the United Nations’ 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa. Created ostensibly to study these problems, the conference became an Israel bash-fest at which Shchokin gave a paper calling Zionism the enemy of humankind.
In 2002, he and his deputy, Ukrainian television personality and Personnel editor Igor Slissarenko, began to convene conferences to which they invited international figures such as Duke and Andrezj Lepper, Poland’s former agricultural minister, and various Ukrainian politicians and scholars. Shchokin also attended a conference in the United Arab Emirates, says Rudling, where he claimed that Osama bin Laden is a Jew named Benya Landau.
Over time, the campaign heated up. In April 2005, Personnel Plus published an open letter calling for a parliamentary investigation into “criminal activities” of organized Jewry in Ukraine. That October, Shchokin issued a statement of solidarity with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threat to wipe out Israel stating, “We’d like to remind [sic] that the Living God Jesus Christ said to Jews 2,000 years ago: ‘Your father is a devil.’”
By 2006, MAUP’s influence was at its peak. It was publishing an estimated 500 pieces of anti-Semitic literature a year and made a bid to directly enter Ukrainian politics, which are generally characterized as “notoriously murky.” MAUP co-founded the Ukrainian Conservative Party, coining the slogan “Ukraine for Ukrainians Only.” Its platform demands that 80 percent of positions of power be held by ethnic Ukrainians and that only ethnic Ukrainians can become head-of-state. It also calls for the reintroduction into Ukrainian passports of the Soviet-era “nationality” clause so that Jews can be readily identified.
Ukraine’s Jewish community was alarmed. Jewish journalists spoke out against MAUP, as did leaders of synagogues and various Jewish groups. MAUP responded by taking them to court. Jed Sunden, a Brooklyn-born Jew who started the English language Kyiv Post in 1995, wrote an editorial decrying MAUP’s campaign and was sued for defamation, as was media magnate and Ukrainian Jewish leader Vadim Rabinovitch. Both lost in court and were forced to make payments and issue public apologies. “MAUP was very aggressive,” says Sunden, “and in a court system that is not incorruptible, they showed a great ability to win.”
International organizations and the Israeli and U.S. governments stepped up pressure on Ukrainian officials to publicly denounce the campaign and clamp down on the school. Mark Levin, the executive director of the Washington-based NCSJ (formally the National Council on Soviet Jewry) that monitors anti-Semitism in the former republics, met with Ukrainian political leaders and testified before the U.S. Congress. “We kept pushing the Ukrainian government to realize that MAUP was a serious problem, in terms of the message it was articulating both inside and outside Ukraine,” he says.
In 2005, three years after the campaign began, Yushchenko resigned from MAUP, urging it to respect citizens of all nationalities and to “stop rousing national hatred.” The Ministry of Education and Science publicly condemned MAUP’s activities and called for anti-incitement and state-licensing laws to be effectively enforced. Says Levin: “They started looking at the part of MAUP that was a diploma mill.”
Yushchenko and his government had incentive to respond to the pressure: the prospect of lifting the American Jackson-Vanik amendment. Under Title IV of the 1974 Trade Act, the amendment denied most-favored-nation trading status to countries with non-market economies that restricted emigration. Ukraine was anxious to be removed from the list, which it regarded as a Cold War relic. On March 23, 2006, Ukraine was exempted from Jackson-Vanik with support from the American Jewish community. In return, the Ukrainian government promised to keep up the pressure on MAUP.
Still, many in the international community were uncomfortable with how long it took Yushchenko, and especially Foreign Minister Tarasyuk, to disassociate themselves from the school. “It took considerable international attention to make Yushchenko and Tarasyuk distance themselves from MAUP,” says Rudling, adding that it is not known what sort of money Yushchenko, Kravchuk, Tarasyuk and others received “for their associations with Shchokin’s network.” Jed Sunden agrees that the response was slow. “I don’t think a lot of the officials even knew about the campaign,” he explains. “In the States it would have been very rapid, but public pressure and freedom of the press are new in this country.”
By the end of 2006, MAUP no longer appeared infallible. When Shchokin and other MAUP professors ran on the Conservative Party platform in parliamentary elections, they garnered less than one percent of the vote, failing to win any seats. MAUP also began to lose its luster in court. Mikhail Frenkel, the editor of the newspaper The Jewish Observer and chair of the Association of Jewish Mass Media in Ukraine, was sued for defamation for a September 2005 editorial he wrote after a yeshiva student was attacked outside Kiev’s central synagogue, receiving brain injuries that left him in a coma. Frenkel blamed MAUP for spreading “the poison of anti-Semitism and Judephobia” and the government for doing nothing about it. In that same suit, MAUP also named Ukraine’s chief rabbi Yankel Bleich, a Karlin-Stolin Hasid from Brooklyn, and Sergey Maxim, then head of the Jewish Federation of Ukraine. “The case went all the way to the Supreme Court,” says Frenkel proudly. “Ours was the first case MAUP lost.”
Ukraine and Russia are the only two former Soviet republics that still have substantial Jewish populations. I hear estimates ranging from 100,000 to 400,000, a small fraction of the country’s 46 million people.
Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities in Ukraine, explains why it is difficult to count Jews in Ukraine. The last census, he says, recorded 105,000 self-identified Jews but that number doesn’t include all of those with Jewish mothers, which would bring the count to 200,000. “If only one parent is Jewish, a person usually says he is not Jewish—this is inertia from Soviet times,” he says. “The number of Jews increases to 400,000 if you apply the criteria of Israel’s Law of Return.”
These numbers are minuscule compared with the nearly two million Jews who lived in Ukraine during the 19th century. “A great chapter of Jewish life occurred here,” Jed Sunden reminds me. “The Hasidic movement was born and thrived in Galicia, now western Ukraine and southeast Poland. There were great yeshivas, and great secular literature came out of the community.”
The tumultuous history of Jews in Galicia began in the 10th century when Polish nobles invited Jews to manage their business interests, placing the newcomers in direct conflict with the peasants who worked the land. As Polish control weakened in the 17th century and Russia expanded, Cossack troops marauded throughout central and western Ukraine, slaughtering Jews and destroying their communities.
Under Russian control, Jews were confined to the Pale of Settlement, which included much of Ukraine, and from 1922 on were citizens of the Soviet Union, where being Jewish was a stigma permanently marked in official passports and meant fewer opportunities. During the German occupation, Jews were deported to death camps or shot en masse, as in Babi Yar, not only by Nazis but by their Ukrainian neighbors. The Soviets prevented Jewish survivors from leaving the country and punished those who applied for exit visas. Later when emigration laws loosened as a result of international pressure and perestroika, nearly half a million Jews left for Israel and the West.
For those who remained behind, independence brought new challenges. For the first 13 years, the Ukrainian government remained dominated by former Soviet politicians. This came to an end in 2004 with the hotly contested election between the western-leaning Yushchenko and the heavy-handed Russian-backed Yanukovych.The Jewish community was split between the two candidates, often along generational lines. During the Orange Revolution, many young Jews openly demonstrated in support of Yushchenko.
Veins of anti-Semitism still run deep as they do elsewhere in Europe. The eastern half of Ukraine has a legacy of Soviet style anti-Zionism and the west, including Galicia, a more traditional, religious-based anti-Semitism. A 2007 paper by Volodymyr Paniotto, director of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, found that anti-Semitism increased between 1994 and 2006. In 1994, 38 percent of Ukrainians were ready to include Jews as friends and family members, but by 2006, this had dropped to 21 percent. Paniotto found that the highest levels of anti-Semitism were among people under 20 and over 70, with 45.5 and 42.3 percent respectively unwilling to accept Jews as Ukrainian citizens.
Each year since independence, a handful of anti-Semitic incidents has rocked the Jewish community. There have been attacks against conspicuously religious Jews and occurrences of vandalism and desecration, including the 2006 defacing of the inscription on the Babi Yar memorial.
But Jed Sunden warns me not to confuse MAUP and the far right-wing with the Ukrainian people or the government. “At the end of the day there’s a Jewish community here that is thriving. Modern Ukraine has a phenomenal record.” Since 1991, Ukraine has normalized relations with Israel, including two-way immigration, trade and tourism. Ukrainian synagogues, schools and organizations have been established with funds from the West. Some buildings have been reclaimed and renovated, and restaurants and stores catering to Jews have opened. Both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko have traveled to Israel and assured Jews that they will fight anti-Semitism.
Josef Zissels also emphasizes that an independent Ukraine has been good to its Jews. “A lot of Jews are in leading positions in spite of the fact that 80 percent of Jews left in the last 20 years,” he says. “Of the 100 richest people in Ukraine, 30 are Jewish. Eight to 10 percent of the members of the Ukrainian parliament are Jewish as are the mayors of many cities, even though only .05 percent of the population is Jewish.”
Most Ukrainian Jews I met are convinced that the vast majority of Ukrainians are not interested in anti-Semitism, preferring instead to become part of the West and improve their lives. They especially see progress over the past two years. While some older Jews continue to keep mum about their ethnicity, fearing that the government’s policy toward Jews could shift, younger Jews are more comfortable “coming out.” Says Alisa Linderman, who is from Galicia but lives in Kiev and is in her early 20s: “Jewish teenagers today are not afraid to be Jewish. If they hear something anti-Semitic, they want answers. Even when I was their age the subject was taboo. But there are old people who are still afraid. My grandparents are distant when I talk about being Jewish. I know I am Jewish because my mother remembers her grandmother lighting candles and speaking in Yiddish with her grandfather, but when she asked her parents, they told her to forget it. So my mother started traditions fresh.”
Her friend Vika Dihne, 22, is a Jewish MAUP graduate working for the Israel Cultural Center at the Israeli embassy in Kiev, recruiting young Ukrainians for Birthright and programs that make it possible for them to visit Israel. “We advertise in newspapers and by word of mouth and it’s getting easier.” She sees much excitement about Jews and Israel. “If I asked people two or three years ago if they have Jewish roots they would say ‘No, no, no.’ Now they say ‘Yes.’ People now call the embassy and ask where they can study Hebrew, and they are not even Jewish!”
It is Dihne who takes me on a tour of MAUP. The school offers majors in nearly every subject, and she was drawn to it for its information systems management program, she explains as we walk around campus in search of her favorite student haunts. She recalls her first visit. “It was very nice,” she says. “It had nice classrooms. Nice dormitory. Nice people.”
Rudling says students and staff at MAUP were intimidated into signing up for the Conservative Party and those who tried to speak out against the anti-Zionist campaign were discriminated against. But Dihne says she did not encounter anti-Semitism at MAUP, either in the curriculum or among her teachers and friends, even though her time there coincided with the school’s campaign. “There were no people in my group who hated Jews,” says Dihne, who, like most students from Kiev, was a commuter. She was, however, taken aback by Personnel Plus, which was sent to every student. “They were writing articles about hating Jews. I had never heard of the paper before, and I was shocked.”
Like me, she’s curious as to why a successful educational institution like MAUP would have decided to take on a campaign of hate. When I asked various Jewish community leaders, they responded with a range of answers, all of them speculative, since paper trails are generally nonexistent in Ukraine.
Money is one theory. Mikhail Frenkel says MAUP charges $2,000 to $3,000 per year for tuition for its five-year undergraduate course of study, and reaps additional profits from its graduate, long distance learning and continuing education programs. The school’s large international student body has an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 students from the Middle East alone. “MAUP is a rich academy and Shchokin is very rich,” says Frenkel.
The general belief is that when the Palestinian Authority opened its embassy in Kiev in 2001, Russian diplomats introduced the Palestinians to MAUP, and an agreement of cooperation was signed in which MAUP received $5 million. There is also suspicion that MAUP received funds from Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. “A lot of Arab students and Middle Eastern counties paid a lot for the tuition and propaganda,” says Frenkel, adding that little can be proved. There also may have been discussions of opening an Arab cultural center at MAUP and branches of MAUP in Damascus and the West Bank.
For Shchokin, “this was business, nothing personal,” adds Frenkel. Although there are ideological anti-Semites at MAUP, Frenkel doesn’t believe Shchokin is one of them. “I have met him and spoken with him,” he says. “His wife Rima Brodska’s father was Jewish, and their son attended Jewish school for two years.”
Many Ukrainian Jews are convinced that Russia was the real culprit behind the MAUP campaign. Zissels believes that the campaign was a way for Russia to embarrass and discredit Yushchenko, who was daring to take on the old Soviet political establishment. Leonid Finberg, the director of Jewish Studies Institute, which encourages Jewish intellectual life and publishes Jewish-themed books, believes the conspiracy against Ukraine is much bigger and includes the FSB, Russia’s successor to the KGB.
“MAUP is a special political project of forces around Ukraine, Arab countries and in my opinion, Russian influence,” he tells me in his office at the prestigious National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. “Russia is a big country with big influence. And Ukraine is a middle [size] country without a strong mass media. My opinion is that 90 percent of the information about the Ukrainian people in the U.S. comes from the Russian media.” Anti-Semitism, he says, is “an element of contemporary Russian propaganda.”
Finberg points to the history of Russian dominance over Ukraine and the recent dispute between Russia and Ukraine over the price of gas flowing through former Soviet pipelines in Ukraine. One goal of the Russians, he says, is to make it more difficult for Ukraine to be accepted into NATO, the European Union and other Western political structures.
In October 2007, MAUP’s campaign appeared to end rather suddenly, stoking more speculation. Zissels sees the cessation of activities as a response to increased government pressure and changing public opinion. “It became clear to MAUP that it wasn’t profitable any more because they started to lose students who didn’t want to be associated with such a despicable place.”
Nearly everyone else I spoke with believed that a Russia emissary had ordered a stop to the campaign at a meeting at MAUP in October 2007. I talked with Rabbi Yankel Bleich in his beautiful wood-paneled study at the old synagogue in Podol, a Jewish neighborhood in Kiev. He is convinced that MAUP was a pawn of Muslims, extremists or Russian nationalists. “The main thing is that it was not indigenous,” he insists. “The meeting shows us that the FSB was involved and that there was an order to stop.” If there was an order, Ukraine’s Jewish community still doesn’t understand who and what was behind it. “To an extent that is more frightening. It shows us that there is someone who can turn anti-Semitism on and turn it off.”
MAUP’s campaign would not have been possible without what Per Rudling calls a deep-seated social acceptance of anti-Semitism in Ukraine. In September, he attended a conference during which a leader of a government agency, the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, who is also a former deputy prime minister, equated Holocaust victims with perpetrators. “He stood up and said, ‘The Jewish scum were no different from Ukrainian collaborators.’” Rudling was shocked not just by the comment but by the lack of reaction on the part of Ukrainians in the audience. “In the West, there is an awareness that doesn’t exist in Ukraine. There, everyone just sits and listens as if this kind of talk were normal.”
Ukrainians have a tendency to conveniently mention the Jewish ancestry of others. Several times while in Ukraine, I heard innuendo that Prime Minister Tymoshenko was one-quarter or one-eighth Jewish on her mother’s side, although she denies it. “This is gossip used by people who don’t like her,” says Frenkel. More recently, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former parliament speaker and potential presidential candidate, has been accused of having Jewish roots. He also denies it, despite the fact that being Jewish today is no longer a political liability. “There’s a lot of anti-Semitic talk in Ukraine,” says Zissels, “but it doesn’t affect the composition of the parliament. You have to understand that we have a large degree of freedom of the press but there is no concept of political correctness in our society.”
Mikhail Frenkel is less sanguine. Ukraine, he warns, has entered yet another period of instability. The country was hit hard by the economic recession and corruption is rampant: On a scale of corruption, Ukraine is a low-ranked 134th out of 180 nations surveyed by Berlin-based Transparency International. In addition, presidential elections are scheduled for 2010. All this worries Frenkel. “Anti-Semitism always increases in periods of instability,” he says.
MAUP is no longer considered to represent the threat it did to Jews between 2002 and 2007. But the next president will face the same threat from the right, be it from MAUP or another group and will have to remain vigilant about anti-Semitism. “The challenge will be to encourage the government to be proactive,” says NCSJ’s Mark Levin. “Government officials need to speak out, to utilize the laws that exist to deal with hate crimes, to create new laws, to expand teaching of tolerance in the educational system and get the right messages across to the broader public,” he says. “Some of this is being done but there’s far more to do.”
There’s an epilogue to this story. Since 2008, Personnel and Personnel Plus have, for the most part, lost interest in Jews. Past anti-Semitic writings from the periodicals, however, remain on the MAUP website. In addition, the Ukrainian Conservative Party website is no longer directly linked to the MAUP website. The party’s site has not been updated since 2008.
MAUP continues to publish 50 percent of all hate literature in Ukraine, according to Zissels. He estimates that MAUP’s anti-Semitic titles have dwindled to about 25 a year, and expects the downward spiral to continue.
Although MAUP’s anti-Semitic presses are winding down, their merchandise remains readily available. On a September shopping expedition to MAUP’s main campus bookstore, Per Rudling found at least 70 anti-Semitic books for sale and spotted a display rack featuring The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Meanwhile, David Duke has been banned from Ukraine since 2006. The former MAUP student’s latest anti-Semitic rants can be found on “The Official Website of Representative David Duke, PhD.” He lives in a village near Salzberg, Austria, where he runs a small business photographing birds.
Nadine Epstein is Moment‘s editor and publisher.