Jabotinsky vs. Putin

Jabotinsky vs. Putin

How famous Zionist leader rebutted Putin’s anti-Ukrainian falsifications — more than a century ago

This story and map, from a French magazine published in early 1939, is about Ukraine’s problems with its aggressive neighbors.
This story and map, from a French magazine published in early 1939, is about Ukraine’s problems with its aggressive neighbors.

Vladimir Putin launched a criminal war against Ukraine in 2022 and has continued this bloody aggression into 2024, based on an ideological concept that denies the existence of Ukraine as such and Ukrainians as a separate ethnic group.

Starting with his July 2021 essay “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” Putin has been repeating the same propagandist constructs for three years now: Russians and Ukrainians are one people, two parts of one whole. There are no Ukrainians as a separate nation. Ukraine is an artificial entity, not a real state.

Putin’s statements, schizophrenically repeated in an interview with Tucker Carlson last week, included the following:

• Ukraine never existed in the history of humankind.

• Ukraine is merely a voluntaristic Bolshevik project spearheaded by Lenin.

• The communists drew arbitrary borders, cutting off substantial Russian territories in favor of Ukrainian nationalists.

Paradoxically, all of Putin’s delusional ideas about the non-existence of Ukrainians were refuted in 1911, more than 113 years ago, by Vladimir Jabotinsky, one of Zionism’s most brilliant leaders and visionaries.

Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky (1880-1940) not only believed in the existence of a separate Ukrainian nation, but also called on the Jewish national movement to partner with the Ukrainian national revival.

Jabotinsky was born in Odesa, in the south of Ukraine. As a young Zionist, in 1907, he ran for the seat of deputy in the parliament of the Russian Empire from the Volhynian province of Ukraine; to do so, he created an electoral alliance between Jewish and Ukrainian voters. Although Russian nationalists and monarchists defeated him in that election, Jabotinsky remained a lifelong supporter of the rapprochement of Zionism with the Ukrainian revival movement.

Jabotinsky emphasized the importance of the Ukrainian question for the fate of the entire Russian Empire. He noted that the czarist government totally suppressed the Ukrainian language and prohibited Ukrainian culture.

This German map, from 1753, is clearly of a place it calls Ukraine.

Jabotinsky wrote: “The resolution of the dispute about the national character of Russia depends almost entirely on the position taken by the thirty million Ukrainian people. If they agree to become Russified, Russia will go one way; if they don’t agree, she willy-nilly will go the other way.”

He traveled extensively around Ukrainian cities and towns, and friends noted that he even could speak in many Ukrainian regional dialects.

Here are some direct quotes from Jabotinsky’s articles, mainly from his 1911 piece about the great Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861). These quotes completely destroy the Russian president’s imperial concept that there is no separate and distinct Ukrainian people, and no separate and distinct Ukraine.

— “Behind these [Ukrainian] cities, a continuous, almost thirty-million-strong Ukrainian sea sways. Someday look not only into its center, look into its outskirts, into the Kharkiv or Voronezh provinces, and you will be amazed at how untouched and pure this continuous Ukrainian sea has remained.”

— “There are villages on this boundary, where ‘khokhols’ [a derogatory term for Ukrainians] live on one side of the river, and ‘katsaps’ [a derogatory term for Russians] live on the other side. They live side by side from time immemorial and do not mix. Each side speaks in its own way, dresses in its own way, keeps its own special customs; marry only their own; alienate each other, do not understand and do not seek mutual understanding. There is no such expressive ‘repulsion,’ they say, even on the Polish-Lithuanian or Polish-Belarusian ethnographic border.”

— “What is [the poet Taras] Shevchenko?… We must look at him as a vivid symptom of the national and cultural vitality of Ukrainians. Shevchenko is a national poet, and this is his strength. He is also a national poet in the subjective sense, i.e., a nationalist poet, even with all the shortcomings of a nationalist. But more importantly, he is a national poet in his objective meaning. He gave both his people and the whole world a vivid, unshakable proof that the Ukrainian soul is capable of the highest flights of original cultural creativity.”

— “Shevchenko will remain a dazzling precedent that keeps Ukrainians from deviating from the path of national renaissance. Honoring Shevchenko means understanding, recognizing, and giving a rightful place to a powerful brother, the second strongest in this empire.”

— “National Ukrainian parties recognize the right of Jews to Jewish national culture. Protesting against the Russification of the Jews, they do not demand that we turn into Little Russians and welcome every national glimpse of Jewry. This position is completely correct. These people consider us as an equal people — on the basis of good neighborly coexistence.”

— “I know well this type of Ukrainian nationalist intellectual with socialist views. I grew up with them, together with them I fought against anti-Semites and Russifiers — Jewish and Ukrainian. Neither I nor the other thinking Zionists of southern Russia will be convinced that people of this type can be considered anti-Semites.”

And now let us return to the clamor of Russian tanks and rocket explosions in the peaceful cities of Ukraine, which we have been observing in the last two years. Why does the president of Russia require such a deep dive into the historical sphere on the eve of and during the attack against Ukraine?

Because manipulating the past and inventing myths is needed to legitimize aggression.

The French map, printed in 1780, is labeled with the name Ukraine.

If the forty-million-strong modern Ukrainian nation does not exist, if the borders of Ukraine are not international borders at all, but simply erroneous lines on the map, if Ukraine as a state — it is, by the way, one of the founders of the United Nations in 1945! — does not exist at all as a legal sovereign of its territory, then everything is possible.

Then you can invade these lands, you can break these borders, which are not borders at all, according to the Kremlin. Then you can strangle an entire nation in the arms of “brotherly love.”  After all, it is not a nation at all, according to Putin.

If Ukraine and Ukrainians do not exist, then there is no invasion of Ukraine using the latest missiles, thousands of tanks, aircraft, a combat fleet, and a 250,000-strong invasion army.

However, if a separate Ukrainian people existed and flourished back in the time of Vladimir Jabotinsky, more than a century ago, then how can the Ukrainian people not exist today?

The truth is that back in 1911, the Ukrainian-born Zionist leader smashed all the anti-Ukrainian “arguments” and imperial fantasies of Vladimir Putin in advance.

He demolished those crazy fantasies that the Russian army is unsuccessfully trying to realize through the streams of blood and the ruins of Ukrainian cities.

For the Israeli right-wing Likud party, which has been in power in the Jewish State for many years, it is Jabotinsky who is a political inspirator and ideological beacon. And the father of the current Israeli PM, Bentzion Netanyahu z’’l, was an assistant to Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s personal secretary in his youth.

It remains to be hoped that the ruling party of Israel (and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) will be able to look at the problems that warring Ukraine faces through the prism of the pro-Ukrainian ideas of its political forefather, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, after seeing all the lies of Russian propaganda and Russian/Iranian axis of evil and terror.

Today, in 2024, we are witnessing a historical paradox when the U.S. Congress debates the simultaneous support of Israel and Ukraine. I am sure that Jabotinsky would dream of the support of both countries close to his heart and soul.

Shimon Briman is an Israeli journalist and historian, a specialist on the topic of Israel-Ukraine relations and Ukrainian Jewish heritage, and the author of a new book, “Ukrainian-Jewish Intertwinements,” which is scheduled to be published in English in the spring of 2024. He thanks the Canadian non-governmental initiative Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter for its help in collecting materials for this article.

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