Jews and the Former Communist Bloc

A reasonable way to categorize a nation’s or political movement’s health is by assuming an inverse level of sanity to the level of anti-Semitism present at any given time. It is therefore unsurprising that much of the world — the dysfunctional, undemocratic, failing parts — tend to believe that Jews run the world and are personally out to destroy or control everyone else.

The wreckage of Communist Eastern Europe provides a handy series of contrasts in this regard. Poland, by any measure a healthy and thriving democracy, continues to grapple with the horrors of the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism — though undeniably present on the fringes — is considered a sickness. The government has planned tours to recreate the lost life of Polish Jews before the Holocaust; so great is the revulsion of the Holocaust and that so much of its happened at Nazi hands on Polish soil that a popular draft bill is being circulated to criminalize referring to “Polish death camps.”

In the Baltics, it is hardly a coincidence that Estonia, which welcomed back its Jewish populations after the fall of the Soviet Union, is the pre-eminent nation economically and politically. Azerbaijan is the rare Muslim country that boasts a sizable (and safe) Jewish population, and so enjoys not only good relations with Israel, but also a functioning democracy and a booming economy untainted by fears of an imaginary Jewish menace.

Yet this is not a universal condition. In Ukraine, the opposition nurtured and is now in part composed of Svoboda, a fascist group with a pronounced and growing history of anti-Semitism — the recent protests against the government were led by Svoboda thugs, who as these sorts always do provided the front-line fighters against police along with the xenophobia and anti-Semitism that are par for the course. The government and most Ukrainians reject this; the opposition bloc is ambivalent, which is usually a sign of a poor moral compass or a lack of confidence in their ability to command a majority. Armenia has seen an up-tick in anti-Semitism as its Jewish population fled the Soviet Union and then Armenia after Soviet independence; Armenia enjoys one of the worst economies in the world, and has a notorious propensity for brutalizing protesters.

This is not to say that anti-Semitism is uniquely confined to these states; rather, it is to say that in the absence of a healthy polity, anti-Semitism tends to take root, sickening civil society and government, which in turn breeds more anti-Semitism, and so on. These countries and political movements are suffering from that condition. It is a lingering illness that the Soviet Union did not merely fail to cure, but exacerbated. Only time will tell if these states will move beyond that cycle of moral illness and social despair, or remained forever trapped in one of the world’s oldest pathologies.

Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons