From Nationalism to Universalism
Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky and the Ukrainian Question
The English translation of Vladimir (Ze'sev) Jabotinsky i ukrains'ske pytannia: vselijuds'skist's u shatakh natsionalizmu. The journalist and historian Israel Kleiner invites the reader to consider an old problem—the history of Ukrainian-Jewish relations—from a fresh perspective. The eminent Zionist leader Vladimir (Ze'sev) Jabotinsky (1880-1940) is well known for his role in Jewish political history, but his writings on the Ukrainian question and his relations with Ukrainian politicians have not been the subject of extensive scholarly research. Jabotinsky, who was born in Odesa, worked as a journalist in that city and witnessed the crisis developing in the Russian Empire as a result of the unrelenting policy of official Russification. As the empire's non-Russian peoples began to mobilize for political and cultural autonomy, there was an increasingly violent reaction from Russian forces, which instigated anti-Jewish pogroms and called for discrimination against inorodtsy (non-natives). Unlike most Jewish leaders of the period, Jabotinsky believed that Ukraine was crucial to the empire's future: the growing Ukrainian movement was powerful enough to break the wave of Russification, and its political orientation would help determine whether the post-imperial order proceeded in the direction of freedom or tyranny. Well aware that most of the empire's secular Jewish elite was culturally Russified and active mainly in Russian political organizations, Jabotinsky advocated a reorientation. If an accommodation were not reached between the Jewish and Ukrainian movements, he warned, the Ukrainian masses might be swayed by reactionary elements who would persuade them that Jews were their political enemies. The pogroms of 1919 in Ukraine confirmed the validity of Jabotinsky's fears. Nevertheless, he did not break his ties with democratic Ukrainian politicians: in 1921 he signed an agreement with his old friend Maksym Slavinsky, a representative of the Ukrainian People's Republic government-in-exile, providing for a Jewish gendarmerie to defend the Jewish population against pogroms in the event of a new anti-Bolshevik campaign by Ukrainian forces. When the exiled leader of Ukraine's government, Symon Petliura, was assassinated in 1926 by a Bessarabian Jew claiming vengeance for the victims of the pogroms, Jabotinsky did not join the wave of approval but pointed out that political benefit from the assassination would accrue to the newly established Soviet dictatorship. Often slighted as a marginal or eccentric figure, Jabotinsky emerges from this account as a thinker with a coherent view of nationalism and as an extraordinarily sensitive observer who often correctly foresaw the course of political developments. His fundamental principle of mutual respect between nations provides a sound basis for the development of relations among Ukrainians and Jews.
About the Author
Israel Kleiner was born in Kyiv in 1935. In 1971, he emigrated to Israel. His struggle with the Soviet authorities for permission to leave the country, which lasted more than two years, is described in the seriocomic Anekdotychna trahediia (An Anecdotal Tragedy), published in 1973. From 1972 to 1978, Kleiner worked at the Ukrainian section of Radio Liberty in Munich. While there, he completed master's and doctoral dissertations on the nationality question in the USSR at the Ukrainian Free University. His doctoral dissertation was published in 1978 under the title Natsional'sni problemy ostann'oï imperiï (Nationality Problems of the Last Empire). After returning to Israel, Kleiner worked as a journalist and pursued his interest in the history of Ukrainian-Jewish relations, doing research in European and American libraries and archives. For a time he worked at the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv. He was the Israel correspondent of the Munich-based Ukrainian journal Suchasnist's. Kleiner's annotated Ukrainian translation of Vladimir Jabotinsky's selected articles on the nationality question was published in New York in 1983 and reprinted in Kyiv in 1991. The Ukrainian version () i was published in Kyiv in 1995 and nominated for the Shevchenko Prize, Ukraine's major literary award. It won the award of the Ukraine-Israel Association in 1998. From 1984, Israel Kleiner worked at the Ukrainian section of the Voice of America. He passed away in 2008 in Jerusalem.
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