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Newspaper pogrom

29.08.08 | Halya Coynash

On 29 July a banal though undoubtedly unseemly clash occurred in Lviv. The main players were activists from the youth Jewish centre “Shalom Khaverim” and the centre’s neighbours – a retired couple. It’s not entirely clear why Mr Pensioner suddenly decided to burst into the flat of his detested neighbours, although initial reports suggested that the conflict was over noise. He was met by Ms M. who, probably frightened, had armed herself with a teargas canister. Ms Pensioner apparently hurtled to her husband’s defence. She grabbed a water scoop from the kitchen and used it to break two windows to the flat of the youth centre. Armed with the same scoop, she then fell upon Mr N/ who had come out to help Ms M.

Can this be called an anti-Semitic attack? It depends what we understand this to be. The young people were undoubtedly Jewish, and their pensioner neighbours would seem to have on several occasions expressed anti-Semitic opinions about the Jewish centre. Certainly unpleasant, but it doesn’t quite muster up to a fully-fledged anti-Semitic crime, especially since we don’t know who else the couple had it in for. It is known, however, that the pensioners’ other neighbours did not support them.

The police arrived within 15 minutes. The Lviv Region Assistant to the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Human Rights, Taras Hatalyak also came, as well as an ambulance which proved unnecessary. Only the overheated pensioners received any injuries and those were not serious. The court hearing over the incident took place last week and the pensioners were fined.

There is of course little sensation here. In the later development of “events”, however, there are so many familiar features that it is difficult to feel surprise, probably just weary frustration.

On 1 August the first report appeared in the Jewish News (under the title: “The pogrom’s come!”), then on Interfax, first in Russian and soon afterwards in English. The report finally appeared that day, signed by Polish Press Agency correspondent Yaroslav Junko in Polish.  The aggressive pensioners had vanished, and instead the reports speak of a “group of Lviv anti-Semites carrying out a pogrom”. The water scoop had turned into “steel rods” and the group had supposedly “chanting anti-Semitic slogans, burst into the building of the Jewish centre and destroyed everything in their path. Two workers who were in the “Shalom Khaverim” Centre were brutally beaten by those taking part in the pogrom”.

The first report refers to “one activist of Lviv’s Jewish community”. Having jumped at the sensation, the other media outlets repeated or exactly translated what we can only loosely term the “source”. In fact, the English and Polish already refer to another source for the information, this, they say, being the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. Moreover, Mr Junko informs his Polish readers that the information was provided by the Ukrainian media, and says that it was they who quoted the Federation.

This is somewhat different from what the same Mr Junko writes on 4 August in “Ukrainska Pravda”,, but first let’s pay some attention to the origin and use of sources.

We have an entirely specific situation which when reported, was responded to not only by a police investigative operations team, but also by the Assistant to the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Human Rights. There is also a court ruling. With regard to the version of 1 August, there is an original article with reference to an anonymous “activist”. This text wanders around sites gaining yet another source on its way.

Then by 4 August Mr Junko’s authoritative sources have multiplied. It’s true that given the total anonymity of it all, we cannot know whether he had these sources on 1 August when he copied “information” from Interfax while for some reason referring to the “Ukrainian media”.

Going by the text, the journalist did not especially feel the need for specific information from specific and not anonymous people. He “doesn’t know all the details about the event”, but he has seen such Jewish communities in Warsaw and he therefore feels entitled to paint an entire picture. His version even has a pre-history with devout and tidy Jewish people creating order in a Lviv apartment block which irritates their neighbours who supposedly also don’t like the fact that “Jewish children are studying their own traditions”.

I imagine the reader is familiar with pictures of Chagall, the works of Sholom Aleichem or just old Jewish songs, and that he or she also feels the aching pain for a world destroyed. It is essentially this world that Junko describes in his article. One can only regret that, having decided to call his text “Lviv Pogrom”, with the words bringing to mind the terrible tragedy of 1941, while telling fairytales about a pogrom that never happened, the author forgot something else. And he ought to have remember how bitterly easy it is to create tension, stir up enmity and spread rumours which lead to the death of innocent people.

I am writing Junko but I mean all his anonymous sources. I would with respect like to hear from the journalist where he got his erroneous information about the police who, unlike him, were actually present.

I wouldn’t deem to foist on Mr Junko my thoughts on what constitute credible sources of information. I would just say that it wouldn’t hurt for him to compare his information with material about another event that never happened, a speech by Vasyl Tymchyna In November last year, a correspondent of the Internet publication MIGnews reported that Mr Tymchyna (also, incidentally, a pensioner) had sworn that the water of the Dnipro River would turn red with blood. I will not continue this quote of the journalist’s words, not because they’re terrible (although that’s not the word for it), but because he, or his anonymous sources, quite simply pulled them out of the air. The MIGnews journalist was, he said, most indignant over the silence of all the representatives of the authorities present. They were of course silent for the most banal reason: there was no terrible speech.

I don’t know why on 1 August Mr Junko refers to Ukrainian media however when after only three days he complains that Ukrainian journalists were silent about the “pogrom”, I would respectfully remind him that there is another explanation.

It is, of course, very convenient to insure yourself by complaining from the outset about silence and the likely lack of reaction from the police or authorities in general. Everybody starts looking around trying to understand who’s conning them. Maybe the cops are lying again, the court is mistaken, the pensioners are not really pensioners and the whole thing’s is gross deception?

They say that rumours fly. That does happen, but more often than not they are spread, with ill-intent or through carelessness, for the sake of an eye-catching headline, sensation, improved ratings, etc. They spread microbes, infecting with enmity, distrust and hatred. Through anonymity it is virtually impossible to track down the source of the infection. I would strongly urge journalists and the editorial boards of all publications to be more careful and professional: we are all responsible for avoiding infection.