«Jewish Observer»
August 2002
5762 Elul

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We met Stepan Ilkovich Khmara in the building of the Standing commissions of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

A very experienced human rights' activist, one of the leaders of Ukrainian national-democratic movement, he was re-elected as the parliament deputy. This time from oppositional party "Batkivshchina" which deputy chairman he is now. The Ukrainian conservative republican party headed by Stepan Ilkovich joined the "Batkivshchina" earlier. We talked about an interethnic situation in Ukraine, and, first of all, about Ukrainian-Jewish relationships.

- Stepan Ilkovich, the Jewish community in Kiev and Ukraine on the whole is worried about the accident near the Brodsky synagogue when after the football match scores of guys broke the windows in the synagogue and beat up several parishioners.

- I am sure, there is no political subtext here. These guys are just hooligans. I believe we should make the conclusions. We must work with the youth, with these fans - football supporters. Unfortunately, the society doesn't pay much attention to them. The police control the situation at the stadiums, nothing more. Neither voluntary nor state organizations educate them. I imagine it like this - they are fuddled young people, full of energy, they do not know how to display it, one of them just says: throw stones over there! By the way, they broke windows in some other buildings, too. I don't know whether somebody instigated them, but I doubt that some political power could interfere in this case. The state doesn't pursue the policy, which would provoke interethnic conflict. We complain a lot about our power but not in this sphere.

- The slogans "Kill the Jews!" and "Hail Hitler!" arouse other thoughts.

- There could have been an instigator. Perhaps, enemies of our state need such excesses in Ukraine. One or two people may shout out these Nazi slogans in order to provoke a scandal and undermine authority of Ukraine on the international arena. I want to say that during the Soviet times attempts of power to provoke conflicts between Ukrainians and Jews fell through. I remember such an attempt was made yet in 1970' s. The periodical "Ukrainian visnyk" I edited after Vjacheslav Chornovil wrote about it. The Ukrainian intelligentsia always took a friendly stand in their attitude to the Jewish minority dwelling on the territory of Ukraine. It's a well-known fact

- How would you assess Ukrainian-Jewish relations now?

- I'd like to say that they could be more fruitful. They are quite estranged; authorities of some Jewish public organizations are to blame for it. This is, primarily, the problem of the Jewish community, but there is no doubt that both your community and the entire society are interested in honest, decent people among your leaders. It will stimulate closer cooperations and will be of benefit to the Jewish minority in Ukraine, to the Ukrainian society and state.

- Have you ever been to Israel?

- My dream, which seemed unrealizable, was to visit Israel. It came true in 1995. I visited historical places, Christian sacred places, including Bethlehem, the temple of the Nativity. We happened to be present at one holiday in October, I don't remember its name exactly. We saw ethnographical dances. I must admit that native Israelis are very different from Diaspora Jews, from our Jews, in particular. There is estrangement and anxiety in the country because visitors are very different. Some of them bring in dirty money, which may influence the state negatively. All in all, Israel is a very interesting, peculiar country with a very good climate, the Mediterranean Sea, picturesque sceneries. I saw the Dead Sea in Jerusalem. My friend Yakov Souslensky was my guide, he devoted the whole day to us. We were very grateful to him for a wonderful excursion.

- Nowadays Israel is in a very difficult situation. What do you think about the situation in the Middle East?

- It is very dangerous, it should be solved by means of negotiations. Any conflict which takes violent forms may involve outside powers. It is very dangerous. I hope it's not going to deteriorate.

- The leader of one of the parties to the conflict - Yasir Arafat - was awarded with the Ukrainian order of Yaroslav the Wise.

- I can only say I would never have hit upon such an idea.

- What do you think about the status of Russian minority in Ukraine?

- I know it form my own experience that the majority of Russian people residing on the territory of Ukraine, except members of some public organizations, respect Ukrainian statehood being normal citizens. The previous elections showed that all these "Russian blocks" became an utter failure; even financial support from abroad didn't help them. It shows that, in general, the situation with Russian minority in Ukraine is quite normal. If there hadn't been any instigations from abroad, I believe, the problem wouldn't exist at all. The same can be said about other ethnic minorities.

Ten years of independent Ukraine showed that the process of development of civil society is slow but still under way. There are no clashes of interests. The problems that exist in Ukraine - I mean social, political, legal ones - are not ethnical, they concern all our citizens. There is a certain social gradation. Oligarchs have their own interests opposed to those of the majority of citizens of different nationalities. Oligarchs can be considered as a separate "ethnos". The hunger for constant enrichment is their prevailing trait. Interests of a Ukrainian citizen - be him a Ukrainian, Jew or Russian - are quite different: a free, decent life in prosperous Ukraine.

Interview by Leonid Milyavsky

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