In an April 6 letter in your paper, Robert N. Meltzer disingenuously invokes my recent book, “In the Midst of Civilized Europe” as a defense of Vladimir Putin’s brutal and unprovoked war on the people of Ukraine. Meltzer inaccurately states that I argued “Ukraine’s first national project after its emergence as a state in 1918 was to slaughter its Jewish population as part and parcel of its attempt to create a pure ethnic monoculture.” In fact, as I point out in my book, Ukraine’s first act as an independent state was to grant broad national autonomy to each of its minority groups in the hopes of fashioning a multinational and democratic state. This dream, however, was crushed by the invasion of multiple armies, initiating a four-year conflict that resulted in the deaths of about one hundred thousand Jews, who were murdered by Russian, Polish, and, yes, also Ukrainian, national armies, as well by the Bolshevik Red Army.
That was over one hundred years ago. In more recent history, Ukraine has undergone three revolutions–in 1991, 2004, and 2014–each of which have sought to democratize the country and reorient it toward a more liberal and diverse Europe. It is not fascism that Putin fears from Ukraine; it is the spread of pluralism and democracy to Ukraine that he correctly sees as the biggest threat to his criminal rule.
Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies, University of Michigan
Submitted by Eric Kalas