NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF Washington, D.C. July 2, 2015 1. Anti-Semitic Arson Attack Destroys Hatzolah Ambulance in Ukraine; Russia examines 1991 recognition of Baltic independence; ADL poll follow-up on Anti-Semitic attitudes; Ukraine office to help prospective immigrants to Israel prove Jewishness; Putin Urged To Allow Jews To Return To Crimea; Russia, U.S. diplomats vow to do more to fight Islamic State; Ukraine: UN scales up food assistance in country's crisis torn eastern region Briefs, June 29 – July 3, 2015 2. Ukrainian Jew abducted by Russian separatists immigrates to Israel By Amanda Borschel-Dan Times of Israel, July 1, 2015 3. Ukraine leader lays out vision of new war-time constitution Agence France Presse, July 1, 2015 4. Jewish leader Josef Zissels discusses Ukraine’s European values UCCA, June 26, 2015 5. Armenian Protests Continue Despite Suspension of Price Hike Reuters, June 30, 2015 6. Yerevan Shows Fragility of Post-Soviet Regimes By Vladimir Ryzhkov Moscow Times, June 29, 2015 7. Why We Can Walk Without Fear in Prague By Don Snyder Forward, June 28, 2015 8. Ukraine's 'history laws' purge it of communist symbols but divide the population By Tom Parfitt Telegraph UK, June 30, 2015 #1a Anti-Semitic Arson Attack Destroys Hatzolah Ambulance in Ukraine Jews in Ukraine are without one of their life-saving Hatzolah ambulances after an arsonist targeted the vehicle Sunday. By Hana Levi Julian Jewish Press, June 29, 2015 Jews in Ukraine are without one of their life-saving Hatzolah ambulances after an arsonist targeted the vehicle Sunday. Preliminary findings by police after the overnight destruction pointed to an anti-Semitic attack that badly damaged the vehicle and its equipment. The ambulance is well known in the city – as is the Jewish community it serves, according to police who spoke with media. It’s not the first time anti-Semites have targeted Hatzolah Ukraine. One year ago, the head of Hatzolah emergency services in the country, Rabbi Hillel Cohen, was beaten and stabbed in the capital city of Kiev by two young men who spoke Russian. The two called him a “zid” — the derogatory Russian slur for “Jew” — and other gutteral words that were unclear. A young couple was also assaulted that same night on their way to the synagogue, a Friday night. The burned ambulance has been key in accommodating the tens of thousands who visit Uman on their annual pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov for Rosh Hashana. Rabbi Cohen and other officials have united with the heads of the Ukraine Jewish Committee and Euro-Asian Jewish Congress in speaking with local officials about the attack and its implications for the community. The ambulance had served the Jewish community for a number of years; it was also used to escort visiting Jewish groups from the State of Israel and others from abroad. There is now some discussion about the possibility of replacing the vehicle with two new ambulances. #1b Russia examines 1991 recognition of Baltic independence BBC, June 30, 2015 The Russian chief prosecutor's office is to examine whether the Soviet Union acted legally when it recognised the Baltic states' independence in 1991. The investigation was described as an "absurd provocation" by Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were occupied by Soviet communist forces in 1940. The USSR broke up in 1991. Last week Russia's chief prosecutor declared illegal the transfer of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1954. At the time Russia and Ukraine were republics of the USSR, under communist leader Nikita Khrushchev. Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014 was condemned internationally. Ethnic Russians there voted to rejoin Russia, in a highly controversial referendum. There are large ethnic Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia, while Lithuania has a smaller ethnic Russian minority. Baltic tensions A source at the prosecutor's office, quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency, said the investigation into the Baltic states' independence followed a request from two parliamentary deputies. In their letter, MPs Yevgeny Fyodorov and Anton Romanov, of President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, said the 1991 decision to recognise Baltic independence had been taken "by an unconstitutional body". The three Baltic states joined the EU and Nato in 2004. In recent years Russia has viewed that as a hostile challenge to its security interests. Russian-Baltic tensions have been rising since the Crimea annexation and the outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine in April 2014. Heavily armed pro-Russian separatists there are clashing daily with Ukrainian government troops. Nato has stepped up its presence in the Baltic states, responding to massive Russian military exercises, including heightened Russian air force activity in the Baltic. Reacting to the Russian prosecutor's move, Lithuania's foreign minister called it "a provocation to say the least" and "legally, morally and politically absurd". #1c ADL poll follow-up on Anti-Semitic attitudes JTA, June 30, 2015 NEW YORK – Anti-Semitic attitudes fell in two countries where Jews were attacked over the last year while rising significantly in Italy, Romania and the Netherlands, a new Anti-Defamation League poll found. The survey of 10,000 respondents in 19 countries in March and early April was a follow-up to the ADL’s first-ever global anti-Semitism poll released in May 2014. Compared to the 2014 figures, anti-Semitic attitudes as gauged by the ADL fell from 37 percent to 17 percent in France, where in January a Muslim gunman killed four hostages at a kosher supermarket in Paris, and from 27 percent to 21 percent in Belgium, where in May 2014 a Muslim gunman killed four at the Jewish museum in Brussels. The poll also found that concern about violence against Jews increased in France by 20 percent and in Belgium by 30 percent. Anti-Semitic attitudes also fell significantly in Germany over the last year, the survey found, from 27 percent to 16 percent. Among the survey’s other significant findings: • Among Western European Muslims, an average of 55 percent harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. • When asked whether violence against Jews in their country affects everyone and constitutes an attack against “our way of life,” respondents agreed at high rates in Germany (78 percent), France (77 percent) and Belgium (68 percent). • Turkey is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe, with 71 percent of respondents espousing anti-Semitic views, followed closely by Greece at 67 percent. • Among the countries newly surveyed, Denmark scored as least anti-Semitic, at 8 percent. Anti-Semitic attitudes in the Netherlands, United States and the United Kingdom polled at 10 to 12 percent. • Anti-Semitic attitudes rose significantly over the last year in Romania (from 35 percent to 47 percent), Italy (20 percent to 29 percent) and the Netherlands (5 percent to 11 percent). • Anti-Semitic views were down markedly in Poland (from 45 percent to 37 percent), Russia (30 percent to 23 percent) and Ukraine (38 percent to 32 percent). The survey gauged anti-Semitism by asking whether respondents agreed with an index of 11 statements that the ADL believes suggest anti-Jewish bias: Jews talk too much about what happened to them during the Holocaust; Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the countries they live in; Jews think they are better than other people; Jews have too much power in international financial markets; Jews have too much power in the business world; Jews have too much control over global affairs; people hate Jews because of the way Jews behave; Jews have too much control over the U.S. government; Jews have too much control over global media; Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars; Jews don’t care about what happens to anyone but their own kind. Respondents who agreed that a majority of the statements are “probably true” were deemed anti-Semitic. Critics say those statements are poor gauges of anti-Semitic attitudes and that some actually indicate admiration for Jews. #1d Ukraine office to help prospective immigrants to Israel prove Jewishness JTA, June 30, 2015 Rabbis from Israel and Ukraine opened an office in eastern Ukraine that will help prospective immigrants to Israel prove they are Jewish. The office, which opened last week in Dnepropetrovsk, aims to facilitate the process for those seeking to immigrate to Israel under its Law of Return for Jews and their kin. It is a joint initiative of the Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk, the Israeli organizations Tzohar and Shorashim, and the Triguboff Institute of Australia. “It will prevent situations in which there is no ability to prove a Jewish origin once aliyah to Israel was made and the documents were left behind,” representatives of the groups involved in the office wrote in a joint statement published Tuesday. Aliyah is the Hebrew word for Jewish immigration to Israel. The process of proving a Jewish ancestry has become especially difficult for thousands of Jews from eastern Ukraine, where a stagnant civil war has resulted in loss of access to documents that may help to establish such a family connection. At the office’s opening, the delegation of rabbis from Israel included David Stav, chief rabbi of the city of Shoham and chairman of Tzohar, a rabbinical organization that helps to involve non-religious couples and their families in religious wedding ceremonies and other life-cycle events. “There is no bigger aid for a Jew than helping him to prove his Jewish status and consequently his identity as a Jew,” Stav said at a meeting with Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki, the chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk and one of Ukraine’s most influential rabbis. Kaminezki said the new office will be “saving lives,” adding that he will refer many applicants to the office and “supply an abundance of work” to its staff. Aliyah from Ukraine totaled 5,840 individuals in 2014, a 190 percent increase over 2013, when the unrest that led to the fighting began. More than 6,000 people from Ukraine have come in 2015. #1e Putin Urged To Allow Jews To Return To Crimea By Christopher Harress International Business Times, July 2, 2015 Russian president Vladimir Putin has been urged to allow as many as 40,000 Jewish people who left Crimea during the reign of the Soviet Union to return to the now Russian-held peninsula, according to a Moscow Times report. Leonid Grach, head of the Crimean branch of the Communist party, has formally written to Putin to ask him to ease the complex procedures that comes with being repatriated to Russia in hopes of revitalizing Crimea. Grach says that up to 40,000 Jews should be given the opportunity to return home, citing a figure he'd been given from Alexander Redko, leader of the pro-Russian Progressive Liberal-Democratic party of Israel. "About 40,000 Crimean Jews left the peninsula, along with other nationals, during Soviet times, and also after it became part of the independent Ukrainian state," said Redko in a phone interview with the Moscow Times late on Wednesday evening. "Many people left Crimea after they lost what they felt was their motherland. Today we ask Putin to grant them easy access to Russian citizenship." Since the 1970’s more than 1 million Jews left Russia and immigrated to Israel. That trend continued after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Grach’s request centers on the desire to revitalize Crimea's economy and politics, which have been rocked by scandal at the highest levels of government there since the region was annexed by Russia in March 2014. Over the last few weeks, there has been several high-ranking officials arrested on suspicion of economic crimes. The prime minister of the peninsula Sergei Aksyonov has also been cited in official reports as a former gangster, claims the Moscow Times. "Today we see that criminals have come to power in Crimea, so we have a deficit of good state managers who have lived in a lawful state," said Grach. "In Israel, there are people who own their own business, who are successful and who can come and develop Crimea." #1f Russia, U.S. diplomats vow to do more to fight Islamic State By Jared M. Feldschreiber UPI, July 1, 2015 VIENNA -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Vienna to discuss their shared commitment to fight the Islamic State. The objective "to unite the efforts of our two countries in the region more effectively," Lavrov told reporters on Monday, underscored the need to end the scourge of Islamic terrorism. The foreign minister also underscored the "push for joint practical action," which included the potential creation of a coalition, which will be comprised of regional and non-regional players, Russia Beyond the Headlines reported. "The situation in the region requires more active measures," Kerry said, adding that "all those who believe that ISIS is an absolute evil" should work collectively to combat the threat. The United States and Russia pledged last October to continue sharing intelligence to combat terrorism. When Russian President Vladimir Putin assumed power in 2000, he set in motion a counterterrorism initiative against Islamic militants, which have largely been present throughout the North Caucasus region. Moscow remains concerned about the growing number of jihadists from Russia and Central Asia. Many now fight with the Islamic State. On Monday, Putin met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem to pledge his support for President Bashar Assad and called on all Middle East nations to "pool their efforts" to fight the IS. Putin underscored that Russia's "policy to support Syria, the Syrian leadership, and the Syrian people remains unchanged." The U.N. has estimated that 220,000 Syrians have been killed since the conflict began in 2011. IS factions now control parts of Damascus. IS expanded its reach to Russia after declaring a governorate in the country's North Caucasus region in the past few weeks. #1g Ukraine: UN scales up food assistance in country's crisis torn eastern region United Nations, July 1, 2015 The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today it will scale up its emergency operation in eastern Ukraine to provide 500,000 conflict-affected people in the region with food assistance until the end of the year. Saying that it urgently needs for $30.3 million to continue providing aid through December 2015, WFP noted that food distributions in the Donestsk and Luhansk regions or oblasts have almost tripled the number of people the UN agency has been assisting since November 2014. With its current expansion of aid, WFP will carry out food distributions in the three additional regions of Kharkivska, Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhya. “The ongoing conflict has taken its toll on tens of thousands of people who are in desperate need of help,” said WFP Head of Office in Ukraine, Giancarlo Stopponi. “They are either trapped by the conflict or have fled their homes and are now living in difficult conditions.” In the new operation phase, WFP will be supporting people in schools, orphanages, hospitals and other institutions in non-government controlled areas. It will also provide supplementary food to prevent and combat malnutrition among children under age two. Mr. Stopponi stressed: “We are doing everything we can to deliver food assistance to as many people as possible and are particularly concerned about small children, who are most at risk.” WFP will continue to provide cash and voucher transfers to internally displaced people in government-controlled locations, and food rations to those in non-government controlled areas. It is estimated that more than 1.3 million people have been displaced in Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis last year. #2 Ukrainian Jew abducted by Russian separatists immigrates to Israel By Amanda Borschel-Dan Times of Israel, July 1, 2015 As on many days in the past months, David, 68, heard shots on his way back to his eastern Ukraine home near Donetsk last year on June 17. There had been fighting in the area since April, but this time the soldiers behind the guns grabbed him and forced him into a nearby vehicle. They put a dark bag over his head and took him to a compound nearby where he estimates some 1,000 Russian separatists were based, where he was questioned, beaten and tortured. He was stripped, tied to a chair while still blindfolded and made to hold live hand grenades while grilled by a Russian officer, says David, who was formerly part of a Ukrainian intelligence unit. One Russian-speaking fighter pressed a knife to David’s neck and told him he would be beheaded. David says another separatist barely stopped his companion from doing this, saying their commander would punish them. A day after his abduction, David was beaten again and thrown out of a car near his home. He woke up in a hospital where, among his injuries, a broken jaw was repaired. David, who immigrated to Israel on Wednesday morning, says he’s lucky his captors didn’t know he was Jewish. He feels sure they would have killed him had they known. But today David, while interviewed via translator by The Times of Israel, tears up in thanks for having been welcomed by Israel. His son-in-law, a volunteer for the Ukrainian army, was also captured by Russian separatists last July. David, who doesn’t want to be identified for fear of sabotaging his son-in-law, knows he is still alive somewhere in Russia. His daughter, penniless with two children, awaits her husband’s release in Donetsk. David and his wife, however, immigrated with another 89 Ukrainians this morning through the efforts of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. The IFCJ has brought over some 800 immigrants from Ukraine since December 2014. While awaiting the flight to Israel, David and his family did not flee Donetsk and for the past year, he says, he has been trying to help the Ukrainian army while pressing for his son-in-law’s release. But many Ukrainians have become internally displaced persons throughout the country, including some 100,000 from Donetsk. The Jews have been helped by organizations such as IFCJ, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and UK’s World Jewish Relief. Eckstein’s organization, funded by small donations from grassroots Christians around the world, provides each adult immigrant with a $1,000 grant and $500 per child for basic necessities upon landing in Israel. According to the IFCJ, “to further smooth” absorption into Israeli society, the organization works with local municipalities to secure housing and employment for the new immigrants. “Our motivation to bring Ukrainian Jews on aliyah is twofold — to rescue their physical bodies from peril, and to return them to the Jewish homeland,” said Eckstein upon the arrival of the new 89 Israeli citizens to Ben-Gurion International Airport. For David, who has always been proudly Jewish and had considered immigrating to Israel in the 1990s, his arrival with his wife Wednesday morning is the start of a new, secure chapter. He told The Times of Israel that he belongs in Israel, where he believes he will feel more secure than in Ukraine. His only regret is that his grandchildren and three children, a daughter in Kiev, a second daughter in Donetsk and a son in Crimea, remained behind, though he does not judge them and says they need to make their own choices. While ending our brief conversation, David began crying. “Thank you for welcoming us,” he said, “and thank you for accepting us.” #3 Ukraine leader lays out vision of new war-time constitution Agence France Presse, July 1, 2015 Kiev - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday proposed constitutional changes designed to give sweeping new powers to the regions but critically fails to address demands of pro-Russian fighters in the separatist east. Poroshenko's new vision of the ex-Soviet state's basic law trims presidential controls over the provinces and extends to local towns and councils the right to oversee how their tax revenues are spent. But it also refuses to add to the constitution the semi-autonomous status demanded by insurgency leaders who control an industrial edge of Ukraine that is home to 3.5 million people and accounts for a tenth of its economic output. The westward-leading leader -- elected in the wake of the February 2014 ouster of Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych -- said the amendments would decentralise power but never turn Ukraine into a loose federation that Moscow has sought. "Decentralisation would bring our political system closer to that of Europe," Poroshenko said in a nationally televised address. He argued the changes -- still to be approved by parliament -- would hand locally-elected administration leaders and councils "a vast amount of rights and financial resources that today are overseen by the president and the government." "Decentralisation safeguards us from authoritarianism and dictatorship," said the 49-year-old former business baron. "Decentralisation will be our civilised distinction from our neighbours in the Soviet camp," he added in apparent reference to Russia and Belarus. Militia-controlled parts of the mostly Russian-speaking Lugansk and Donetsk regions would like to see their semiautonomous status spelled out in clearly-defined constitutional amendments that would be enormously difficult to overturn. But Poroshenko's draft only makes reference to an existing piece of legislation that gives insurgency leaders partial self-rule for an interim period of three years. The rebels fear that the law could be revoked or suspended by Ukraine's strongly pro-European parliament. - 'Shooting from all sides' "This declaration was made for foreign consumption," separatist leader Andrei Purgin told the official insurgency news site. Kiev's Western allies have long pushed Poroshenko to loosen the central authorities' dominant role in Ukrainians' lives. Washington believes regional rights would make politics more transparent and help break the corrupt bonds forged in the past two decades between decision-makers and tycoons. But Moscow has argued that only a "federalised" Ukraine in which regions form their own diplomatic and trade relations with other nations can finally end a bloody insurgency that has claimed more than 6,500 lives in nearly 15 months. Poroshenko fears such rights could see the two main separatist regions block Kiev's attempts to join the European Union and apply for eventual NATO membership. The rebel-run parts of the war zone -- now strewn with landmines and the smouldering remains of coal mines and steel mills -- have cut all ties with Kiev and receive humanitarian and diplomatic support from Moscow. They and the Kremlin both fiercely deny the presence of Russians soldiers and arms on their lands. But Purgin said Poroshenko's proposal would hardly appease insurgency commanders, who stage periodic attacks aimed at expanding their holdings far past the heavily fortified frontline. "The Ukrainian battalions know who they are really up against," Purgin warned. An AFP team in the frontline city of Gorlivka -- home to nearly 300,000 people who depended on the local coal mine before the war -- heard intense overnight shelling that forced the remaining residents to seek shelter in basements for the second consecutive week. "We do not know who is doing the shooting. It comes from all sides", said a 49-year-old resident who identified herself only as Alla out of security concerns. If the rebels "decide to continue attacking, we will have a lot of victims. We need a peaceful solution", she said. #4 Jewish leader Josef Zissels discusses Ukraine’s European values UCCA, June 26, 2015 NEW YORK – The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) hosted Josef Zissels, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and executive vice-president of the Congress of Ethnic Communities of Ukraine, at its New York City offices. The June 11 gathering, which was attended by members of the local Ukrainian community, allowed for Mr. Zissels to share his thoughts on the current situation in Ukraine and the plight of ethnic minorities in a country under military attack. Mr. Zissels, a 69-year-old former dissident who spent time in the gulag on charges of “defaming the Soviet political and social system,” did not hold back when addressing the political and military realities on the ground as they relate to Russia. Far more pressing in his mind is the fight against corruption in his native Ukraine, which will require a generational shift in attitudes towards everyday graft. He said he believes that, without a concerted effort in educating Ukrainians on this issue, fighting corruption will continue to be an uphill battle. Most importantly, Mr. Zissels talked about the incredible spirit of Ukrainian civil society. Since his time on the Maidan during the protests of 2013-2014, Mr. Zissels said he has seen a reanimated populace that has defied expectations again and again. He emphasized that the Maidan came to be through the efforts of the NGO community and various ethnic minorities, and not through the work of any political party or politician. Moreover, he stated that due to this natural upsurge of volunteerism there are now roughly 7 million to 8 million volunteers – a “historical phenomenon” that future generations will study and write about when discussing 21st century social activism. As for the Russian claims that “fascism has taken over Ukraine,” Mr. Zissels said he could attest only to the incredible spirit of cooperation he has witnessed among people of all backgrounds in Ukraine, with respect for Jews and other ethnic minorities demonstrating the increased dedication to human rights and Western values. He further described Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity and the subsequent Russian invasion as a war of civilizations – Europe and its Western democratic values versus Eurasia and the revival of Soviet identity. Ukrainians have chosen the European path, he underscored. Ending his observations on a hopeful note, Mr. Zissels remarked that although many may think that Ukraine is losing the hybrid war Russia has launched, in fact, Ukraine has shown signs that it can win in the end. Ukrainians today stand on the front lines of democracy and have shown the world they are willing to sacrifice their lives to defend European values. “Were we like our Russian aggressors, we would bomb the occupied territories into submission without hesitation. But Ukrainians are not like that,” Mr. Zissels stated. “We respect human rights and the right to liberty, even in the face of the enormous struggle against an opponent who does not share such values – our European values.” #5 Armenian Protests Continue Despite Suspension of Price Hike Reuters, June 30, 2015 YEREVAN — Thousands of Armenians launched a second week of protests on Monday against a hike in electricity prices, rejecting the government's concession to suspend the increase temporarily. The government decided on Saturday to cover the price rise out of state funds, rather than increase customers' bills, until an independent audit of the electricity supply company is completed. But thousands of protesters remained at their sit-in on an avenue near the presidential palace in the capital Yerevan, while hundreds moved to nearby Freedom Square. "We will stay here until our demand is fulfilled. … Electricity tariff rises will lead to rises in all other prices," activist Hmayk Mkrtchyan told Reuters. The crowd, which has tended to dwindle during the day but swell again at night, has made barricades of rubbish bins and carries posters with slogans like "I'm not going to pay! Will you?" and "Stop robbing people!" The rally has been peaceful since last Tuesday, when police used water cannons against demonstrators and detained about 200 but were unable to break up the rally. The cash-strapped southern Caucasus nation of 3.2 million was once part of the Soviet Union and has been hit hard by an economic downturn in Russia, its main ally. The state regulatory commission decided in mid-June electricity prices paid by the public should rise from Aug. 1, after the distribution company, a subsidiary of Russian firm Inter RAO, said it was needed because of a decline in the dram currency. Armenian officials have called the planned increases justified but have proposed an independent audit of the company. President Serzh Sargsyan on Saturday did not rule out the possibility that the electricity distribution company would be returned to the state. Inter RAO said on Monday it did not plan to sell its Armenian unit. "We are not in talks and not planning a sale," a spokesman said. #6 Yerevan Shows Fragility of Post-Soviet Regimes By Vladimir Ryzhkov Moscow Times, June 29, 2015 Armenia is Russia's main ally in the Caucasus and, at the same time, one of the poorest countries of the world. The mass protests that broke out in Yerevan a few days ago could become a serious test for the regime of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan as well as a test of the strength of Russia's position among the former Soviet republics. Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus, member states of the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Community, all have authoritarian political systems, unstable economies, strong monopolies and widespread corruption. They also lack the means for achieving a peaceful transfer of power. As a result, each of those ruling regimes is vulnerable and Moscow knows that the collapse of just one of them could destabilize the entire region and strip Russia of its influence over that particular country. Armenia has not managed to avoid coups and political terrorism in its post-Soviet history. A quiet revolution by the country's siloviki in 1998 replaced the first Armenian president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, with the Defense Minister and former leader of Nagorno-Karabakh Robert Kocharyan. Gunmen shot Armenian parliament members in October 1999, killing, among others, Speaker and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan. The current president, Serzh Sargsyan, was then head of Security and Internal Affairs and succeeded Kocharyan as head of state in 2008. Essentially the same group of individuals has held power in Armenia ever since 1998. Armenia is a landlocked country sandwiched between unfriendly Azerbaijan on one side and Turkey on the other. To the south is unpredictable Iran and to the north — Georgia. Locked in a geographic near blockade, Armenia derives 20 percent of its gross domestic product from money sent home by members of the enormous Armenian diaspora living abroad. Russian companies control the largest sectors of the Armenian economy — with energy foremost among them. Russia also guarantees Armenia's security: its 102nd military base in Gyumri is equipped with the latest weapons, including air defense systems. In terms of per capita income, Armenia is ranked 152nd in the world, with individual annual incomes averaging just $7,400 — less than all of its neighbors, including even Georgia and Ukraine. In Russia that indicator is more than three times higher, at $24,800 a year, and in Azerbaijan just over two times higher, at $17,000 a year. A visitor flying in to Yerevan is immediately struck by the huge disparity in wealth there. Endless casinos with gilded columns line the road leading from the airport into town, with luxury cars bearing Armenian and Iranian license plates parked out in front every night. Motorcades carrying local oligarchs and their numerous armed guards speed through the streets of Yerevan, and residents say they must occasionally stop for the motorcades of the country's leaders. The vast majority of Armenians are very poor and more than 40 percent of all employees work in agriculture. Unemployment remains steady at 15 percent and for decades the Armenian authorities have encouraged ablebodied workers to emigrate in search of greater opportunity. The population numbers approximately 2.9 million, and approximately 1.5 million Armenians live in Russia. The republic has a major trade deficit, with import volumes double that of exports. That deficit is masked by Armenians abroad sending money home and by the country's growing foreign debt — now almost half of GDP. As much as 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In Armenia I learned that a small clique of just seven or eight oligarchs owns the main export business — such as famed Armenian brandy — as well as the import business — including fuel, medicines, food, tobacco and sugar — and also strongly influences politics. Russian companies control a significant portion of the production and distribution of electricity, the delivery and sale of gas, and have a major share of Armenia's nuclear power, communications, transportation and construction industry. Local monopolists with close ties to the authorities team up with Russian monopolists to fix prices and tariffs at artificially high levels and skim off excess profits while the majority of the population struggles with poverty and unemployment. On June 17, the Armenian government decided to implement a sharp 16.7 percent increase in electricity tariffs, even though electricity rates in Armenia are already the highest among all the former Soviet republics, and twice higher than in neighboring Georgia. Energy supplier Electric Networks of Armenia is part of Russian energy company Inter RAO. Thousands of residents demanding a repeal of that decision took to the streets in protest and remain there to this day. After riot police beat protestors under the cover of night, demonstrators increasingly began demanding that the president and government resign. Armenia chose to link its future with Russia rather than the West, primarily for reasons of national security. But the people are tired of poverty, high prices, corruption, social stratification, injustice, oligarchs and the stubbornly entrenched authorities. The main problem facing the authoritarian regimes of the former Soviet republics is not the machinations of the West that, with the help of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, nongovernmental organizations and U.S. State Department "dupes" are designed to overthrow them and turn those countries away from Russia. Their main problem is their chronic inability to provide economic development and a decent standard of living for their citizens. Under such conditions, even something as seemingly trivial as a price hike in electricity rates could spell disaster for their regimes. Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, is a political analyst. #7 Why We Can Walk Without Fear in Prague By Don Snyder Forward, June 28, 2015 He’s the most visible Jew in Prague. And yet, Rabbi Manis Barash, a bearded, black-hatted Hasid who’s been the Chabad rabbi here for 20 years, has never experienced an anti-Semitic incident. By contrast, his Chabad colleague, Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, the most visible Jew in Malmo, Sweden, has been called the most persecuted Jew in Europe. While Barash feels welcome as he walks the streets of Prague, Kesselman has endured repeated physical attacks. That, in fact, is an experience reported frequently by European Jews who dare to appear as visibly Jewish in public places: for instance, by wearing a yarmulke. Jews have been murdered for being Jews in Toulouse, France; Brussels; Paris, and Copenhagen. How to explain the dramatic difference between the experiences of the Chabad rabbis in Prague and in Malmo? According to the Anti-Defamation League’s global survey of 100 nations that was published last year, only 13% of citizens in the Czech Republic harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. That is one of the lowest rates in Europe. But at 4%, Sweden scores even lower, indeed the lowest of all. Also scoring lower than the Czech Republic are the Netherlands (5%), the United Kingdom (8%) and Denmark (9%). Yet, in all these low-scoring countries, it’s often dangerous to be visible as a Jew. One possible explanation is that all these low-scoring countries except the Czech Republic have large immigrant Muslim populations whose attitudes are not accounted for in the European surveys. These Muslim attitudes are better reflected in the surveys of the Middle East and North Africa, from where many of the Muslim immigrants to Europe come, and where anti-Semitic attitudes are at 74%. But the relative absence of Muslims in the Czech Republic, while a factor, is not sufficient to explain the Jewish experience in the Czech Republic. Consider the country’s neighbors. As measured by the ADL survey, the prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes in those countries are Poland, 45%; Hungary, 41%, and Ukraine, 38%. These countries also have no significant Muslim populations. But Jews who wear yarmulkes on their streets, or who are otherwise identifiable as Jews, still invite public expressions of anti-Semitism, if not worse. In contrast, a 2010 survey by the respected Czech Factum Invenio poll found that 68% of Czechs say they like Jews, and 70% see Jewish culture as a positive force in Czech society. Marcela Zoufala at the Prague Center for Jewish Studies at Charles University cited the 2013 candidacy of Jan Fischer, an openly Jewish candidate for the presidency, as a concrete example of the country’s philo-Semitism. Fischer, who served as an interim prime minister earlier in his career, finished third, winning more than 800,000 votes as an independent. “Anti-Semitism is not a part of our agenda,” said Jiri Dienstbier, the republic’s minister for human rights and equal opportunities, during an interview in Prague. “Jews are considered Czechs. Jews are absolutely integrated in the country.” This insistence on integration may have a dark side. The minority that’s least integrated into Czech society are the Roma, an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 out of a total Czech population of 10.5 million. The challenge of integrating this group occupies most of his time, Dienstbier said. He said also that the Czech Republic would not yield to European Union pressure to absorb large numbers of Muslim refugees now fleeing countries in the Middle East. The Czech Republic has rejected the E.U.’s quotas. “We will accept only such numbers as we are able to integrate,” Dienstbier said. Strains of xenophobia underscore this hard line on integration in parts of Czech society. There’s a “We Don’t Want Islam in the Czech Republic” movement with organized and well-attended demonstrations. “Czechs are absolutely intolerant of the Roma and Muslims,” said Ivan Gabel, a sociologist and Christian Democratic parliament member who served as a top aide to the late president Vaclav Havel. But this same impulse also serves the goal of maintaining a cohesive, homogeneous society in a small and historically beleaguered country. There’s prejudice toward those who are different, but the Jews, small in number and highly assimilated, are not perceived as such. According to Jan Fingerland, a prominent journalist and frequent commentator on Jewish history and life in his country, the invisibility of Czech Jews is both physical and cultural. “It’s hard to find an identifiable Jew here,” he said. And this is key to Czechs’ acceptance of them. If Hasidic Jews who looked like Barash were common on Prague’s streets, his experience might be a less welcoming one. This deep assimilation goes back generations, pre-dating World War II. According to records from the Jewish Community in Prague, the rate of intermarriage in the 1930s was as high as 40%. “Many did not know they were Jewish until Hitler came, and he told them they were Jewish,” said Jan Munk, director of the Terezin Memorial and chairman of Prague’s Jewish community. In 1938, just before World War II, the Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia, which constitutes today’s Czech Republic, was 118,320, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Some 26,000 Jews were able to emigrate before 1941. More than 70,000 from this region were murdered in the Holocaust. Today there are about 3,000 listed as members of the Federation in Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, with about 1,700 of these in the Prague Jewish Community. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, and reflects another way that Jews are invisible here. Membership in the Prague Jewish Community is restricted by Halacha, or traditional Jewish religious law, to those with a Jewish mother or those who undergo an Orthodox conversion. But many Czechs identify as Jews who do not meet this halachic standard. If these individuals with Jewish ancestry are taken into account, the number for the entire Czech Republic could be as high as 20,000, with half of them in Prague, said Thomas Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic. Kraus stressed that this was his personal speculation. There are no reliable data. Kraus acknowledged that the community’s outreach activities to this larger population were inadequate. And according to Fingerland, “Most of the members, and generally most of the Czech Jews, are nonbelievers or agnostics and do not care about Halacha whatsoever, including the top representatives.” But the chief rabbi of Prague, David Peter, dismisses critics who say the Prague Jewish Community must become more open and representative of the larger community that includes non-halachic Jews. “Even if they feel Jewish, they are not Jewish; this is the Halacha,” Peter said. “If they feel they want to be Jewish, they can do something about it. They can convert. Jewish is about doing something.” Under a compromise reached in the 1990s, the community did agree to offer “special status” membership to individuals who meet the same criterion as Israel’s Law of Return, which recognizes as Jews those with one Jewish grandparent, the definition used by Hitler. But those admitted under this status have no voting rights in the community and are denied religious recognition. Only about 100 Czechs took up the offer. Other small, informal communities of Jews exist, including Reform groups. But their numbers are insignificant. And the government recognizes only the Prague Jewish Community for the purpose of compensating it for properties lost as a result of the Holocaust and expropriations under Communism. In 2011, at the request of Prague Jewish Community, Gabel conducted a survey of Czechs who identify as Jewish both within and outside the official community. Overwhelmingly, respondents said they were more concerned about community needs than religious needs. “Many members of the community said it should be open to non-Jews to bring it closer to our history and place here than those who saw it strictly as a religious community,” he said. Peter said this simply showed that “Jewish people here do not know what it means to be Jewish. My biggest challenge is to get them involved, to know how to live a Jewish life.” The pronounced secularism of Czech Jews, however, is part of their integration into Czech life. A 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life found the Czech Republic to be the most secular, least religious country in the world. The study found that more than three-quarters of the population did not identify with any religion, and only 23.3% claimed Christian identification. This, too, may offer a clue about the country’s welcoming attitudes toward Jews compared with those of its neighbors. Despite the long decades of state-sponsored atheism they all experienced under Communism, in Hungary, 81% of the population identifies as Christian; in Poland, 94.3%, and in Ukraine, 83.8%. “We are in a completely different culture,” Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka said during an interview in the Archbishop’s Palace, which overlooks the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral towering over Prague. Asked about the traditional Catholic anti-Semitism that organizations like Radio Maria in neighboring Poland promote, the prelate stressed that nothing like this exists in the Czech Republic. “Jewish culture is an integral part of Czech society,” he said. The suppression of religion in the Communist era had an impact on Czech Jews that cannot be underestimated. Following the Holocaust, survivors, already reluctant to talk about their experience or to impart a Jewish identity to their children, became part of a society in which all religion was suppressed. It was imprudent to identify as a Jew in the Communist bloc, and later with the ascendance of an anti-Israel, antiZionist ideology, it was dangerous. The Czech Republic was found to be the most secular, least religious country in the world. And so are its Jews. Martin Smok, a documentary filmmaker and senior consultant to the Shoah Foundation who was born in 1971, related that when he was about 9 he happened to go through his grandmother’s papers and found her birth certificate written with strange letters. When he asked her about the letters, she told him they were Hebrew. “We are Jews. Don’t tell anyone. They will come and get you,” he was told. Smok said that he had been taught in school about the evils of Zionists and about how badly the Jews treat the Palestinians. And now he learned that he was Jewish. “I cried all night because I knew that Jews were bad, and I didn’t want to be one of them,” he said. The fall of Communism in 1989 allowed Smok, like many other Czech Jews, to freely embrace his Jewishness. “I have been everything. A Reform Jew, Zionist, quite frum,” he said, using the Yiddish word for traditionally observant. Today, he said, he doesn’t need labels to define him: “I am a Czech Jew, whatever that means.” Petra Koutska Schwarzova, born in 1987, just before the fall of Communism, works for the Jewish community as a security analyst but is not a member of the Prague Jewish Community and has no interest in joining. She would be eligible to join only as a special status member. She is among those who believe that the Prague Jewish Community should be more open. “Many young people are repelled by the Jewish Community,” she said, calling it too rigid, too old and too Orthodox. Schwarzova’s paternal great-grandfather and paternal grandfather were deported to Terezin and Auschwitz. Her grandfather survived. Her paternal grandmother, hidden by a non-Jewish family, was also a Holocaust survivor. Schwarzova’s maternal grandfather was also Jewish, but not her maternal grandmother. Asked about the prospects for Jewish communal survival in this situation, Fingerland, who is a halachic Jew but has no interest in joining the Jewish community, pointed hopefully to the Lauder School of Prague as a guide for the future. Although started by the Prague Jewish Community in 1997 — with financial support from the American philanthropist Ronald Lauder — the school is nondenominational and nonreligious. It is a state school with a state curriculum that incorporates Jewish studies and Hebrew. The student body consists of 250 students from kindergarten through high school. According to a published guide to the Lauder Schools, it is “open to all children of Jewish origin, and all who respect Jewish educational, cultural and ethical traditions and values.” “It’s important to serve the population,” said Teresa Gafna Vanova, the school’s deputy director and teacher of Judaism. Gafna Vanova noted the assimilated and intermarried nature of the Czech Jewish population. “We teach Jewish studies with the weight of religious precepts, but [accept] that there are many different approaches to Judaism,” she said. Gafna Vanova, born in 1979, grew up in a Jewish family thinking she was Jewish, only to learn later that she is not Jewish because her mother is not. “My story is a very typical one,” she said. She eventually converted to Judaism in what she referred to as a rather demeaning process, and now considers herself “liberal Orthodox.” The Lauder School engenders a strong Jewish identity in students who may someday be confronted with their status as non-halachic Jews, Gafna Vanova said. But she defends the school’s open, positive approach to Jewish studies and Jewish identity. “When one of the rabbis who is not here anymore insisted that the kindergarten should only be for halachic Jews, I said no, because these children have a Jewish parent and they have a Jewish soul, and we have to take care of it,” she said. #8 Ukraine's 'history laws' purge it of communist symbols but divide the population Lionising nationalists and removing Soviet monuments helps protect Ukraine from Russian aggression, supporters say - but others see praise for Nazi collaborators and an assault on the past By Tom Parfitt Telegraph UK, June 30, 2015 Lviv, Kiev and Zaporizhia - Almost blind and 82 years old, Yury Shukhevych leans heavily on a stick topped with an ornamental axe-head. “It’s a Hutsul axe from the Carpathians,” he says, with an impish smile. “You could cleave a head in two with this.” His stooped body and eyes squeezed almost shut do not suggest much of a warrior, but Mr Shukheyvch has pedigree. His father, Roman, was the head of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a nationalist group that fought both the Germans and the Soviets during the Second World War, collaborating for a time with the Nazis. For some in Ukraine, members of the UPA were heroic freedom fighters who resisted all intruders in an attempt to preserve a national homeland. But for others in this deeply divided country of 45 million people, they were traitorous fascists, bent on mass murder and ethnic cleansing. Now the argument is being stirred anew after Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, approved a series of controversial new “history laws” last month. Under one law, Ukraine is to be purged of communist symbols, including hundreds of statues of Vladimir Lenin. Under another, UPA veterans – and other 20th century “fighters for Ukrainian independence” – acquire a special status, making it illegal to express “public contempt” towards them or deny the legitimacy of their struggle. The contentious laws feed into a wider battle for identity and survival as government troops fight pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas region, where a ceasefire is disintegrating. 'Let the Russians not tell us who are our heroes' Mr Shukhevych, an MP with the nationalist Radical Party since October, drafted the law on freedom fighters. He says his father and comrades resisted Moscow’s dominance and as a result were subjected to a Soviet – and now Russian - smear campaign. “Let the Russians not tell us who are our heroes,” he says. Fighting together with the Germans against Soviet forces during the war was a temporary and pragmatic move for Ukrainian nationalists, Mr Shukhevych adds, and they did not sympathise with Nazi ideas. “This is all Russian propaganda,” he says. “The Ukrainian people were denied their right to independence. How can this be? This is the legal right of every nation. We know of many nations that have fought for their independence, including in Europe. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland. Serbia against Bulgaria; Poland fought in the 19th century. Byron fought for the independence of Greece. So to deny the legitimacy of Ukraine’s struggle is illegal.” Introducing the new legislation protecting the UPA drew a predictably frothing response from Russia, where Ukraine’s government is derided as a “fascist junta”. But it has also provoked disquiet in the West. Ethnic cleansing A group of 70 scholars on Ukraine appealed to Mr Poroshenko to call off the “history laws”, saying they would stifle debate and make it “a crime to question the legitimacy of an organisation (UPA) that slaughtered tens of thousands of Poles in one of the most heinous acts of ethnic cleansing in the history of Ukraine”. The UPA was established as a guerrilla group in 1942. The previous year, Roman Shukhevych and other Ukrainian nationalists had formed the Nachtigall and Roland battalions under German command to support the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Members of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and UPA, its military wing, massacred between 60,000 and 100,000 Poles in Volhynia and Galicia, and also helped kill Jews, according to historians. While the Communists were its main enemy, the UPA later turned on the Nazis too after Adolf Hitler failed to support the establishment of a Ukrainian state. The partisans continued to fight Soviet rule for several years after the war had ended. A place of pilgrimage Mr Shukhevych met the Telegraph in the former safe-house where his fugitive father hid and was finally assassinated in 1950 by agents of the MGB, predecessor of the KGB. The house, on the edge of Lviv in western Ukraine, a nationalist stronghold, is now a museum and a place of pilgrimage. It was set up after the Soviet collapse in 1991 and funded by the descendants of UPA members who had fled to the US after the war. Visitors come to see Roman Shukhevych’s wartime uniforms and a mock-up of a partisans’ forest bunker. In one wall of the house is a bullet-hole; left, it is said, when the UPA leader fired a final shot from his revolver as he was struck down by an MGB machine-gun volley. The shot was to warn his assistant to swallow a cyanide capsule. “We get a lot of men from the army and the volunteer battalions visiting before they go off to fight in Donbas,” says Volodymyr Karanda, the museum’s director, referring to the war against Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed more than 6,400 lives since April last year. “For them it’s an example of how to fight for one’s motherland even against uneven odds, an inspiration.” Mr Karanda does not deny that the UPA murdered civilians in the 1940s, but he questions the scale of the killings and says they took place at the time of a ruthless, internecine conflict. Mr Shukhevych, sitting at a table a few steps from where his father was shot, adds: “I don’t justify everything that was done. But we can also talk of tragedies.” The Poles killed many Ukrainians and destroyed churches, he said, while the Soviets slaughtered, deported and imprisoned millions. 'Lenin is a man with blood on his hands' Besides giving status to the UPA, Mr Poroshenko’s new “history laws” make it a crime to deny the "criminal nature" of both the Nazi regime and the "communist totalitarian regime of 1917-1991 in Ukraine". Using their symbols is also banned – meaning that over the next year communist monuments will be pulled down, street names changed and souvenirs prohibited. The aim is to “tear up the link with our Soviet past” says Mr Shukhevych, who spent more than 30 years in Soviet prisons and penal colonies because of his father. “We must understand that Lenin is a man with blood on his hands, a symbol of an anti-human system. He can be left in a museum but not on our streets.” In Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, many see the new laws as part of an existential struggle in the face of Russian aggression. Oleg Sinyakevich serves in the OUN Battalion, a volunteer unit which adopted its name from the wartime nationalist group. Last year he fought against Moscow-backed separatists around Donetsk airport. UPA veterans are unfairly maligned as Hitler supporters, he says. During the Second World War, they “did not go to fight in Poland, or in Russia, or in Belarus. We did not go anywhere, we were in our own land. The fascists invaded, then the communists, then the fascists again. We fought the aggressor. “It’s just the same now. Russia attacked us. Russia kills people, burns them alive, tells horror tales about us and then calls us fascists. Where’s the logic?” Some say the laws make hero-worship compulsory The “de-communisation law” was drafted by Ukraine’s Institute of National Memory, headed by Volodymyr Vyatrovych. He believes the uprising in Kiev last year which led to the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych, the president, was an “anti-Soviet” one. “It is extremely important for Ukraine to have given a legal evaluation to the crimes of the communist period and to move away from that totalitarian past.” Other former states of the USSR or Soviet bloc – like Poland or the Baltics - went through that process long ago and are now on an “irreversible” democratic path, says Mr Vyatrovych. “By contrast, in Belarus, especially in Russia and until recently in Ukraine, the failure to condemn the past has resulted in its gradual rehabilitation.” The result, he says, was the hardline governments of Vladimir Putin and Mr Yanukovych, bringing censorship, political repression, and a fondness for calling Joseph Stalin "an effective manager" rather than a tyrant. Yet some feel the history laws themselves veer towards intolerance. Mikhail Pogrebinsky, a political analyst, says they are the initiative of a “party of victors” around Mr Poroshenko, who are unwilling to counter other points of view inside Ukraine, especially in the Russophone east. “Glorifying UPA might be understandable if the country was only ‘Little Ukraine’ in the west and Kiev. But only about a third of the population supports the Russophobic, nationalistic viewpoint, and when they impose their will on the rest then I see a mass of problems ahead.” The de-communisation law is an unnecessary “stupidity” that will only drive Donbas further away, Mr Pogrebinsky added, even as Kiev tries to claw it back from the separatists and Russia’s embrace. Andrew Wilson, author of Ukraine Crisis, says one problem with the legislation is that it is “so prescriptive” and makes hero-worship compulsory. “The most controversial is OUN-UPA. Some people say they were heroes, some people say they were Nazis. The reality is that most of them were were locals just defending their local territories. But they did bad things, they did good things. You can’t say they were all heroes.” Soviet lives For many in Ukraine, Mr Wilson says, the anti-communist law jars because Lenin is less a political symbol than a reminder of lived experience, and “they don’t want that entire Soviet part of their lives dismissed”. Inevitably, opposition to the history laws is strongest in Donbas, where the Moscow-backed rebels cherish their links to the communist past, recalling the relative prosperity of this coal-mining region. In the rebels' eyes, members of the Kiev government are “Banderovites” – a reference to Stepan Bandera, another Ukrainian nationalist who dallied with the Nazis. With a distinctly Soviet ring, the rebels call their separatist territories “People’s Republics”. By contrast, in Ukrainian government-controlled territory demonstrators have already torn down scores of Lenin statues, Yet hundreds more remain across the country and in many places there is deep ambivalence over the Bolshevik leader’s future. There, his likeness lives on – for now. One such spot is the city of Zaporizhia on a bottleneck in the Dnieper River in southern Ukraine. Zaporizhia is known for its Lenin Hydroelectric Power Plant, its Lenin Avenue – one of the longest avenues in Europe – and its 66ft tall Lenin monument, erected in 1964. At least twice since last year activists have gathered by the imposing statue to discuss his toppling. Other residents quickly surrounded Lenin to protect him. As a compromise, a crane was used to put a traditional embroidered Ukrainian shirt over his torso. It was later removed. Oleksandr Sin, the city’s mayor, says that more than 70 per cent of townsfolk are against removing Lenin. Reluctantly, he has decided to comply with the law, and hopes to rebrand the city by replacing him with a statue of a 17th century Cossack leader. Soviet street names will also get Cossack replacements. Denis Bushtets, 36, a Zaporozhiya resident, says he is against the plan. A former advertising manager, he now volunteers to deliver pork fat and other food supplies to Ukrainian troops at the front. “I’m a patriot but I don’t want Lenin to go,” he tells the Telegraph. “People think we’ll take him down and – ‘bang’ - we’re all Europeans and all the holes in the roads get filled. It doesn’t work like that. It’s the mentality you need to change.” Goodbye Lenin, hello Superman The Zaporozhia Lenin statue stands at the end of Lenin Avenue, his arm raised towards the huge sweep of the dam which he conceived and which was built not long after his death in 1924. “I want him to stay, he’s part of our landscape, our history,” says Valentina, a hotel receptionist who works nearby. “My grandmother came here in the 1930s to help build the hydro-electric plant. I visited Lenin on trips as a Pioneer and my girlfriends all had their wedding pictures taken next to him. “Taking him down and changing all the communist street names will cost a lot of money. The country is at war and the economy is falling apart. Let’s feed people first.” Yury Barannik does not agree. An artist, he is curator of the ironically named Lenin modern art gallery on a street corner by the statue. “Lenin was a criminal, he wrote orders for executions,” he says. “If there was debate and people of the communist generation repented and admitted they were wrong then perhaps we could do without a law to remove all this. But they won’t.” To ease the process of getting rid of Lenin Mr Barannik has been holding workshops where students sketch alternatives for his vacated square: a swimming pool, a concert hall, a Superman statue and a marble toilet. At the hydro-electric plant, Viktor Kucher, its general director, is tight lipped. Inside the turbine hall, a large socialistrealist painting shows senior Bolsheviks opening the dam in 1932. As a state enterprise, the plant would comply with the new laws and remove its Lenin nameplate and hammer and sickle emblems from the doors if ordered to do so, he says. Leading the Telegraph on a two-hour excursion of the dam, Mr Kucher preferred to talk about the squirrels and pheasants in its 43-hectare grounds rather than the politics of the past. “Any change means upset,” he says.
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