Apr. 17, 2014 by Darius
In the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk earlier this week men in paramilitary uniforms handed out flyers demanding that all Jews register themselves and their property with the authorities. It isn’t clear who is behind this flyer (whether it’s a genuine instance of anti-Semitic intimidation or whether someone is trying to make the separatists in Ukraine look bad), but it underscores an important point either way. When trying to harness a right-wing movement, as Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to do in Ukraine, one constantly runs the risk of affiliated extremists wrecking everything.
The flyer circulating in Donetsk is deplorable from all angles. On its face, it is a return to a time of fear and pogroms best left behind. From the perspective of supporters of Ukrainian separatists, it is also a public relations nightmare, especially if it is confirmed as genuine.
Vladimir Putin is hardly likely to endorse such an overtly thuggish tactic. But the entire pro-Russia movement could be in jeopardy because of the stupidity of someone loosely affiliated with his goals.
It wouldn’t be the first time a mainstream campaign was brought down through the actions of a hater on the fringes. In the US, it happens all the time in political campaigns. For example, the 2012 Republican candidate for US Senator in Missouri, Todd Akin, made comments about “legitimate” rape that lost the entire Republican Party votes nationwide. Were Akin’s views those of Mitt Romney or the party as a whole? Probably not. But they tarred the entire party nonetheless.
Leftist groups have their wing nuts, to be sure, but racists, anti-Semites, and other haters tend to be attracted to rightist groups. At times, rightist groups provide an acceptable face for social undercurrents that are, at their heart, reactionary and intolerant. At other times, rightist groups are undone by affiliates’ ill-advised expressions of their true colors. The line is a very fine one, often just an incident away.
Even if the flyers in Donetsk were not authorized by a pro-Russia paramilitary group, the fact that people think they could have been says a great deal.