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Kyiv Post | 05Dec2012 | Yulia McGuffie

Why the word ‘zhyd’ stirs fighting in Ukraine

I would like to tell a personal story about why the word “zhyd,” a derogatory [?] reference to Jews, stirs so much emotion in Ukraine. The reason I am doing this is discussion around a recent comment by my former university mate-turned-member of parliament from Svoboda Party, Ihor Miroshnychenko. He called the Hollywood actress of Ukrainian descent Mila Kunis is a “zhydivka.”  [Demonization of Svoboda and Mr. Miroshnychenko?]

My great-grandfather's name was Efim Abramovich Kalishevsky. The name is telling, but in Soviet days people used to hide very carefully the Jewish roots of one’s relatives. Actually, my great-grandfather was a christened Jew, and some years ago he married my [great-]grandmother Varvara Radzievska. They had two daughters, the elder Susanna and younger Agnessa, my grandmother.

In the 1930s, my great-grandfather was a bishop of the Ukrainian Autocephalous [Orthodox] Church. In 1937, he was shot in the dungeons of the October Palace for membership in counter-revolutionary church-based nationalistic organization. I only found out about it in 1990.  [Was not "The UAOC in Ukraine was dissolved following the Bolshevik occupation and annexation of eastern and central Ukraine in the 1920s" ? Were not the vast majority of the Christian clergy banished to the Gulags? Were the Jewish rabbis also banished to the Gulags?   As a hierarch in the UAOC, Rev. Kalishevsky must have spoken in Ukrainian and supported Ukraine's independence. Did he also speak Russian? Yiddish?]

Our big happy family lived in a semi-communal apartment on 24/7 Instytutska Street in the very heart of Kyiv. The reason I say it was semi-communal was that three of the vast rooms in this flat were taken up by my family, while the other one was used by the authorities for lodging various underclass [?] folks, with whom we had to share our everyday existence and the mailing address. [Did this big happy family speak Ukrainian? Russian? Yiddish? Did/do they support Ukraine's independence? Do they support the Ukrainian language?]

My grandmother's name was Agnessa Efimovna, and this Jewish name she also used to hide. For her colleagues and the rest of the people around her she was Alla. Until the age of five, I used to know her as “Granny Alla,” until one day I picked up the phone when her close friend was calling.

The friend asked to talk to Agnessa, and I was scared and said that Agnessa doesn't live here. I told this story to my parents and they explained to me that my granny, who headed a lab in one of Kyiv's infectious hospitals, wore shoes by Chanel at the age of 60, used bright red lipstick and smoked Belomor cigarettes, had two names. This is how my granny turned from Alla Efimovna to Agnessa Efimovna. 

Our underclass [?] neighbors also knew my granny's real name. In the late 1980s, the fourth room in our flat was taken over by Uncle Yura, his wife and two little daughters. Uncle Yura was a militiaman from Fastov, I think [a suburb town outside Kyiv]. It is because of his job that he was lodged in a room of a flat in the very center of Kyiv.

Uncle Yura had a tough job, so he got drunk rather frequently. A few times he got very drunk and called me “little zhydovka” because my granny's real name haunted him. One day my father heard him say it, and he simply smashed his face in our communal kitchen. [Was Uncle Yura speaking Russian or Ukrainian?]

So, when Svoboda, in an attempt to whitewash their party member Miroshnychenko, says that the word zhyd, or Jew, is a Ukrainian literary archaism, and the rest of their blah-blah-blah, I am not buying it. I know everything about it, and I know that the way this particular word is used in our country is unfortunately offensive. [Why does she find it offensive?]

The rest of my story has little to do with my main point, but nevertheless it's interesting and relevant. My fraternal grandfather, the husband of my favorite granny Agnessa Efimovna, was called Taras Hryhorovych Diachenko. He was a distant relative of another great Ukrainian, Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko, through artist Fotiy Krasitskiy, the grandson of Shevchenko's elder sister Kateryna.

The fact of distant kinship with the great Ukrainian poet, who used the archaic [?] word zhyd (Jew) in his literary work, did not prevent my grandpa from marrying the daughter of an enemy of people [Jews were not considered an "enemy of the people", people promoting Ukraine's independence were.] with a disreputable name and surname.  And he never used the word about my granny. My father was born in this complicated family, and so was I.

None of the people mentioned in this family story are living any more. Mila Kunis has probably not heard the words of my ex-university mate Miroshnychenko, but I did and it stirred a lot of emotions.

I don't mean to moralize. This is just my personal family story that demonstrates the complex connections. And it also shows why I am still ready to smash the face of anyone who calls someone a zhyd in my presence. I also think that people should avoid the word to make sure people don't start hiding who they are and what their real name is.

Yulia McGuffie is the chief editor of www.korrespondent.net, one of Ukraine's biggest [Russian language] online news portals.

[W.Z. We have inserted several question marks throughout Ms. McGuffie's rambling diatribe above. The question remains how and why did the Jewish inhabitants of Ukraine develop such an antipathy to the normal Ukrainian word zhyd? Orysia Tracz (see comments below and jpg image at bottom) has made available a 1964 statement of Solomom Goldelman defending the use of the word  zhyd in his scholarly writings since 1918. Roman Serbyn has posted several particularly enlightening comments on the Zhyd/Yevrei controversy. Allow me to add several of my own personal comments to the discussion.

Growing up in Saskatchewan in the 1940-50s, my parents and all Ukrainian and Polish acquaintances exclusively used the term Zhyd and never the term Yevrei. While on a PDF scholarship in Germany, I had occasion to drive through Ukraine in late August 1969 with a German friend enroute to a plasma physics conference in Bucharest, Romania. On our first evening at the "campgrounds" in Lviv, we were approached by a very inquisitive girl asking everything about the West, about the latest scientific developments, etc. (She probably reported to the KGB, since we later saw her carrying a radio -- or radio transmitter? -- as she walked between tents.) As the conversation somehow brought up the subject of Jews and I automatically used the term "Zhyd ", she interrupted me to say that the term now used in Ukraine was "Yevrei". I told her that nobody in the West used that term.

Years later in the 1980-90s, I had occasion to discuss the term with co-choir member of Ste. Sophie Orthodox Cathedral in Montreal, Walter Zymovetz from Eastern Ukraine. (After WWII, he barely avoided being forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union by diving out the window of a moving train.) He told me that the Jewish influence in Ukraine was so strong that using the term Zhyd was punishable by imprisonment for six months and the term "parkhatiy Zhyd" (lousy Jew) by a two-year sentence in the Gulags.

It is my understanding, that Ukrainians developed a split categorization of the two terms: "Zhydy" were the people who had lived for centuries amongst them; "Yevreii" were the Russified Jews sent or recruited by Moscow to subjugate Ukrainians to Muscovite rule. (Perhaps a similar dichotomy exists for the distinction between Russian and Muscovite.) Is it any wonder that patriotic Ukrainians resent being forced to use the Russian term Yevrei and are penalized/demonized for using the age-old Ukrainian term Zhyd? Why not use Zhyd when speaking Ukrainian, and Yevrei when speaking Russian? In my opinion, for a Ukrainian to use the term Yevrei is to show disrespect toward the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian independence. To use the term Yevrei is to condone the anti-Ukrainian and Russification policies imposed by Moscow for so many years.]


*** Edward Drebot 1 ***
The word in Polish for Jew is Zyd which is still prevelant in Western Ukraine as the word was in common usage in Polish and Ukrainian and by the Jewish orginizations in that area. In eastern Ukraine the word Zhyd because of Russian influence was a derogatory term.

*** Roman Serbyn 1 ***
In Soviet Ukraine the term did not simply become derogatory under Russian influence; it was prohibited by the totalitarian Communist regime towards the end of the 1920s, as a part of the Russification process of the Ukrainian language and of tying Ukraine to what is now referred to as "Russkii mir" -- the Russian world.

*** Walter Szafranski ***
Zhyd in Ukrainian Means Jew
The Encyclopedia of Ukraine, published by the University of Toronto Press, says that the word Jew has two Ukrainian equivalents: Zhyd and Yevrei. Zhyd is the common and correct word in Western Ukraine, as it is in Poland, while Yevrei is more common in Eastern Ukraine due to Russian influence. Some Jewish scholars such as Solomon Goldelman insist that Zhyd is the only correct word in Ukrainian for Jew. In the Ukrainian language Zhyd (Jew) and Yevrei (Hebrew) mean simply Jew and neither is pejorative. However, it should be noted that the Russian language uses Yevrei for Jew and does use Zhid as a pejorative.

*** Roman Serbyn 2 ***
The lady doth protest too much. I suggest she read Professor Aleksandr Ponomariv's interview in the generally Ukrainophobic Russian-language Kyiv newspaper 2000: В украинском языке слово «жид» не имеет негативной окраски, - профессор КНУ. posted 28.11.2012. http://news2000.com.ua/news/sobytija/v-ukraine/218112#artbot

The word zhyd is common to all Slavic languages and only in Russia did it become derogatory in the first half of the XIXth century and was recognized as such by the Russian intelligentsia, but not all of it. I have a French-Russian dictionary composed by N.P. Makaroff (approved by the Russian Academy of Sciences), titled Dictionnaire français-russe complet. Saint-Petersbourg (onzième édition), published in 1902. Page 624 has the following entry:

Juif, -ive, adj. жидовскій, іудейскій; || s. жид,-жидовка; ||* et fam. ростовщик, лихоимецъ․

This entry is very interesting and useful because it shows that in Russian the term originally meant simply the same thing as the term "juif" in French, i.e. -- a Jew. The second (familiar or popular) meaning reveals why the term acquired a pejorative meaning, according to Makaroff, both in French and in Russian. ростовщик, лихоимецъ mean: moneylender, deceitful man.

The above explanation concerns the Russian language. In the Ukrainian language the term zhyd was the only popular and literary term for that people throughout Ukrainian history and it was only under Soviet rule that it was outlawed. Actually the question of the term zhyd was raised by a Jewish student in 1861 and became a subject of heated discussion. I shall explain the fascinating debate after lunch. =))

*** Roman Serbyn 3 ***
Just to continue... The first public discussion on Ukrainian-Jewish relations in the Russian empire took place in 1861-62. It began with an exchange of jibes between the Russian-language Jewish journal Sion, published in Odesa and the Ukrainian journal Osnova printed in St.-Petersburg, in Ukrainian and Russian. The debate was over the use of the term "zhyd" by Osnova and ended with the question of whether the Jewish minority in Russian Ukraine should integrate into the Ukrainian or the Russian milieu.

I discuss this debate, in which eventually all the major newspapers of the Russian empire participated, in my paper "The Sion-Osnova Controversy of 1861-62" in Peter J. Potichnyj and Howard Aster (eds.). Ukrainian-Jewish Relations in Historical Perspectives. (Edmonton, 2010), pp.85-110. A synopsis of the discussion can be found online in my article "Шовкова русифікація української діяспори″ (підрозділ: «Дев'ятдесят жидів» чи «девяносто євреїв») у книжці: Роман Сербин, За яку спадщину? Див․ онлайн Українське життя в Севастополі
( http://ukrlife.org/main/evshan/serbyn10.htm )
Відповіді на дві теми редакції Сіону:

″Мы находим смешным, когда немецкий еврей обижается словом Jude из уст християнина тогда как он сам себя иначе и не называет, и словом Judenthum (по буквальному переводу: жидовство) обознамает всю совокупность своих национальных и религиозных особенностей.[...] Пока редакция доказывает, что в слове «жид» нет ничего обиднаго и что в южно-русском наречии не следует его заменять никаким другим, с нею нельзя не согласиться во всем.″ (Основа и вопрос о национальностях//Сион № 10, 10․08․1861․) In other words, Sion agreed with Osnova that as long as the editors claim that there is nothing insulting in the word zhyd and that in Ukrainian [South-Russian in text] it should not be changed, then there is no reason not to agree with them.

As to the question of Jewish integration, while Osnova was complaining that while living amongst Ukrainians, Jews were integrating into the Russian language, culture etc., Sion's answer was the following. Jews are living in the Russian empire and integrate into the main culture etc., which has all the benefits of a culture of state, which the Ukrainian culture lacks. It is interesting to note in this respect the attitude of one of the Jewish organizations in Ukraine, during the recent debate over the new language law. Yosyf Zisels, head of VAAD Ukraine put out a declaration which ended with the following:

"Запропонований документ становить загрозу українському суспільству, оскільки нехтує державним статусом української мови, не захищає загрожені (миноритарні) мови і вносить розбрат і напругу в українське суспільство.

Національні громади України прагнуть інтеґрації у громадянське суспільство України, вони хочуть будувати спільний дім, який не руйнуватимуть заради кон'юнктурних інтересів."

It should be noted that this Jewish community, followed the same logic that did their ancestors 160 year ago: desire to integrate into the state and society within which they are living. If only Ms. Julia McGuffie would follow their lead...
(to be continued...)

*** Roman Serbyn 4 ***
The Ukrainian National Republic was very liberal in the treatment of its ethnic/national minorities, their languages, etc. Even in the first years of Soviet rule the term "zhyd" was regarded as the normal designation of that ethno-cultural population. Thus in 1928 the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences published a first volume of articles under the title "Збірник праць жидівської історично-археографічної комісії" and a year later as "Збірник праць єврейської історично-археографічної комісії." This was part of the gradual Russification of the Ukrainian language.

In the beginning of 1990s I had the privilege of meeting an eminent archivist in Kyiv who told me how the term "zhyd" was physically beaten out of high school kids in Poltava, when school authorities overheard them using the term. The archivist's story came to mind when I read Ms McGuffie's bellicose "still ready to smash the face of anyone who calls someone a zhyd in my presence." I chalk it to the unbridled bravado of the youthful editor (she is only 37) and even though she boasts that "Настроение в редакции у нас всегда боевое," I don't really believe she would have smashed my face if she heard me use that word when I gave my paper at a Holocaust conference in Dnipropetrovsk, and later laid my brick in the corner foundation of the new standing Holocaust museum. Still, an editor of an important periodical publication must be more knowledgeable of controversial subjects, more sagacious in her arguments and duly circumspect in her choice of appropriate words.

*** Orysia Tracz ***
John, the words you mention were meant to be derogatory from the very beginning. But zhyd is/was the term for a Jewish person, that's it. There was no subjectivity to it. This person was a poliak, and that one was a zhyd. And the Jewish population identified itself as zhydy. Again, it was only because of the influence from the northern "neighbour" that it changed. Maybe someone will call up that quote from Minister Goldelman that was posted here a while ago.

*** Orysia Tracz ***
So zyd/zhyd in Polish is ok, and juif in French is, just as zhyd was ok in the Ukrainian National Republic of 1918, when there was a Ministry of Zhydivskykh Sprav, headed by Goldelman. It was because of russification that the word got a negative connotation as it had in Russian. Before Soviet times, there was no negativity connected with zhyd in Ukraine. Dr. Roman Serbyn of Montreal has written on this.

*** Lubomyr Luciuk 1 ***
It's how you say/use the word "zhyd" that counts. In western Ukraine (and Poland) it did not necessarily have any pejorative import, but it might have depending on who used it, when, where and why….stating that you will smash in the fact of anyone who says "zhyd" suggests to me that you need help yourself.

*** Edward Drebot 2 ***
Talked to a few people from various parts of Ukraine. In the Kyiv region a person using the word Zhyd is usually one who doesn't like them. The same goes in the Volhyn region. There one would never use that word in the presence of someone Jewish. However it's usage by person is at times innocent. In the Lviv district I always heard and used the word Yevray and once Zhyd, when talking to some elderly ladies whose usage was innocent. The one place that it was in usage was by a fascistic rally in the town center by speakers in a negative way. They also started their rally with "Slava Isysu Khrystu" which I thought was a disgrace as they at time would give straight arm salutes as if we were back in the second world war times. A few years ago a comedian used that term at a malanka which was broadcast on TV in the Toronto area which caused me to write and complain about this insensitive action to the TV station.
After living in Ukraine it was impossible to use the word Zhyd with a clear conscience. To my ears one using the word now is insensitive except where there is innocence and no malice intended.
The word Zhyd is now used to connote persons of wealth, being cheap etc. and covers both Jew and Gentile.

*** John Shep ***
I also grew up thinking that the word, "zhid" was the common word for Jew or Jewish. But history has a way of teaching us wisdom, so "yevrei" is fine by me. If "zhid" is too hurtful and offensive, then have the sensitivity and courage to change. Afterall, I take offense at the word, "kokhol" or "malo ros" so be nice and open to our Ukrainian brother who is hurt and offended by depicting him as "zhid." In the states, we no longer have Indians but Native Americans. We have no negores in America but African- Americans, and, thank God, I am no longer a "bohunk" but a Ukrainian-American.

*** Roger Kovaciny ***
You never were a Bohunk! I was a Bohunk! (Or rather my grandfather was ... kind of. Slovakian, rather than Bohemian.

*** John Shep ***
In the early 20th century, Ukrainians were called "bohunks" in places like the coal mines and steel mines of Pennsylvania, and even the prairies of Manitoba, Canada. Ukrainians were lumped together with the other slavs.
We should also remember that during WWII, the slavs were next to be exterminated after the Jews

*** Elmer Mack ***
So in English we would eliminate the word "Jew" and just use the word "Hebrew."

That doesn't make sense.

Or we should eliminate the word "Yiddish," maybe.

Your analogy to the word "khokhol" is misplaced.

Using the word "khokhol" is akin to using the word "hebe" -- or, for that matter "katsap" (to denote Russians) -- all are intended by their nature to be derogatory and pejorative.

"Jew" and ""Hebrew" and their analogues in Ukrainian are not.

*** Elmer Mack ***
Well, I grew up with the word жид not being pejorative or derogatory.

Jew is akin to жид or жидівське -- Jewish.

Hebrew is єврей, or in adjective form -- єврейське.

Hebrews in the plural is євреї.

Jews in the plural is жиди.

For some reason, in certain parts of Ukraine, the word жид or Jew is taken as pejorative by some people.

Vitaly Portnikov is Jewish -- he is a brilliant analyst. He is probably the best Ukrainian patriot and defender and upholder of democracy, along with his friend, Mykola (Nicholas) Knyazhytsky, in Ukraine.

Firtash is Jewish -- the self-styled "savior of Ukraine." But Firtash is a crook.

Pinchuk is Jewish -- but he is also a crook.

Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest thief, is a Tatar.

It seems to me that the above article dwells on artificially implied meanings, rather than on facts -- or, for that matter, what is important.

*** Lubomyr Luciuk 2 ***
I recall quite clearly being called a "garlic eater" and a "bohunk" as a young lad in Kingston, Ontario, and I certainly heard the word "bohunk" applied to Ukrainians (and other Slavs) when I lived in western Canada. "Bohunk" has been used as a pejorative in reference not only to Ukrainians but to other eastern Europeans as well.

*** Daria Jmil ***
Don't smash the face of anyone. Just explain that the word zhyd is pejorative.

Solomom Goldelman letter of January 1964 re zhyd
Solomom Goldelman letter of January 1964 re zhyd