Academic Year in Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Begins With Scandal

The National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” (NaUKMA), one of the leading Ukrainian universities, has traditionally begun with a lecture for all students, usually read by important scholars, writers, and public figures before they are awarded professor emeritus of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Previously, such September 1 inaugural lectures were read by figures of such caliber as Paul Ricoeur, Sergei Averintsev, Adam Michnik. This year, to the surprise and indignation of many, the man invited to address the students was Sergei Byelokon' – a Ukrainian historian, unfortunately famous not only for his archival studies, but for an anti-Semitic position openly voiced in his publications.

Belokon' did not mince words in his articles dedicated to the first decades of the Soviet government: he stressed the Jewish heritage of many Bolsheviks, especially those who were part of the punitive organs, and even said that the 1918-1938 period could be seen as the “20 years of Jewish government in Ukraine.” Despite the many letters and addresses to the NaUKMA administration, the university's leaders decided not to cancel the awarding of professor emeritus to this anti-Semitic historian and allowed his inaugural address to take place.

The students of the Academy took an active stance on this, first and foremost due to the efforts of the student trade union “Pryama Diya” (“Direct Action”). Activists spread fliers with Byelokon's anti-Semitic statements among the listeners, and during the address itself unfurled a banner reading “Anti-Semitism is Barbarism.” The lecture, whose topic was changed without warning, took place in an atmosphere of tension. The administration of the Academy had denied its students the right to ask the historian questions after his lecture. The awarding of professor emeritus to Byelokon' took place to shouts of “gan'ba!” (“shame on you!”). Journalistic attempts to take Byelokon's comments on his anti-Semitic publications were also rather brutally suppressed by the administration of the Academy.

The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (VAAD Ukraine) also made a statement on Byelokon's inaugural lecture in Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. The statement stresses the following: “The fact that the administration of NaUKMA invited such an odious historian for its inaugural lecture is extremely perplexing to the Ukrainian Jewish community, as the Academy is well-known for its highly professional and humanitarian standards.” “There is no need to repeat that anti-Semitism is incompatible neither with scholarly integrity, nor with the contemporary European system of values.”

“NaUKMA is one of the most authoritative Ukrainian universities, famous not only for its high teaching level and scholarly activity, but for its unique atmosphere, in which a new generation of Ukrainian intellectuals is educated and formed,” the VAAD Presidium states. “It is thus all the more regretful that an anti-Semite was invited to give the opening address for NaUKMA students at the beginning of the academic year.”