Kyiv keen to demonstrate European values at Babi Yar commemoration

The memorial at the sit of the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine. [Bordelais/Flickr]

Donald Tusk spoke at the 75th anniversary commemorations of the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine last week (29 September). Kyiv’s intentions at the ceremony were clear: to strengthen ties with the West and draw parallels between today’s Russia and Nazi Germany. EURACTIV France reports.

75 years ago last week, the Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators murdered 33,771 Jews at Babi Yar, a ravine just outside Kyiv. In total, nearly 100,000 Jews, Roma, Communists and prisoners of war were executed at Babi Yar.

Speaking first at the ceremony, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko paid homage to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust and the “righteous” people who helped or protected the Jews during the German occupation. But with remarks clearly aimed at his Western guests and the international Jewish community, Poroshenko made a point of drawing parallels between the 1941 tragedy and the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

“If the leaders of certain countries base their actions on the struggle for a historical ideal, like Hitler, who used this struggle to justify his crimes… If international law is once again trampled by an aggressor… If the UN of today sometimes resembles the League of Nations of then… If the annexation of Crimea is translated in Russia’s German propaganda as Anschluss… If this is how things are, how can we be sure that we will not see a repetition of other tragic chapters of the recent past?” the Ukrainian president asked during the ceremony, which took place at the site of the Babi Yar massacre.

Poroshenko hammered home the point, telling his Western allies that “This should remind us that tolerating an aggressor just encourages his appetite […]. The lesson of Babi Yar is a reminder of the terrible price we pay for political and moral sort-termism.”

Some historians believe that the complete absence of an international response to the Babi Yar massacre encouraged Hitler to enact the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem”, which he unveiled at the Wannsee conference a few weeks later in January 1942.

In a more measured speech, European Council President Donald Tusk alluded to Russia’s bombardment of Aleppo. “When we stand in silence at this mass grave, we need to remember that it is our daily duty to cry out at the top of our voice, and to act – always – when innocent people are killed, when the strong attack the weak, when children become the target of warplanes and rockets,” he said.

German President Joachim Gauck also tactfully avoided causing a controversy. “I stand here aghast and full of grief,” he said, “over the monstrous crimes that other Germans committed at another time.”

And to Kyiv, he said, “Since the end of the Cold War, the people of Ukraine have reminded us that they have their place in European history. They have reminded us that Ukraine is a rightful member, and will remain a member, of the family of nations – a sovereign nation in a state with territorial integrity that must be respected.”

At the ceremony, a European diplomat told EURACTIV that “Poroshenko could not help linking Babi Yar with Russian aggression in the East of the country. He is seeking to remind us that Ukraine is a victim, and this is understandable. He probably resorted to this exercise because he does not think Europe is offering enough support.”

The Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitchko, announced a project to construct a memorial to the victims of the massacre, with the support of several Ukrainian and Russian Jewish billionaires. Similar initiatives have been started and abandoned over the last 15 years, due to resistance from the state and divisions within the Jewish community over competing projects.

Ukraine concerned at wavering support from Europe

Ukraine’s newly-appointed Vice Prime Minister in charge of European integration is worried that EU support for her country is weakening. EURACTIV France reports from Kyiv.

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