Mayor of Dnipro: “The Jewish community is a pearl of the city”
Borys Filatov, who is in his third year as the head of the city administration of Dnipro, was the only guest from Ukraine at the world forum of mayors in Jerusalem in February 2018. The forum was conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel together with the American Jewish Congress headed by Jack Rosen. After the forum, Filatov was interviewed by the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter.
A few days prior to our conversation with Mayor Filatov in Israel, Serhii Sukhanov, a deputy in the city council of Dnipro, wrote in his Facebook page that after the victory of the Maidan “the entire Jewish community of Ukraine has financed Nazis for three years” and “Ukrainians need to start a liberation movement” because “it is time to say goodbye to Jews.” A criminal case has been opened against him by Ukrainian authorities for fomenting inter-ethnic hatred. This is the first time authorities have pursued a case against someone for hate speech on social media. Our dialogue with Filatov began exactly with this theme.
Shimon Brіman: Borys, let’s start from the hottest topic—the scandal that erupted in your city in connection with the anti-Semitic statements and threats in an address to the Jewish community from the deputy of city council Serhii Sukhanov.
Borys Filatov: This deputy from the Opposition Block long ago expressed anti-Semitic opinions in private conversations. At a minimum, seventy thousand Jews live in our city. They are educated people, economically active, and locomotives of municipal life and the local economy.
Sukhanov’s statements provoked a very large resonance. There was a serious scandal. The Opposition Block immediately excluded him from the party, but they did not condemn him, and did not deprive him of his deputy’s mandate. But I will not let this be. I will demand the city council remove his mandate. We will politically condemn anti-Semitism in all factions and groups. We will see if Sukhanov returns at all, because according to information from the border guards, he went to Crimea twenty-four hours after the opening of a criminal case against him.
Shimon Brіman: Speaking about anti-Semitism, did you succeed in finding out in Israel the reasons for the high ranking of Dnipro in the report of our Ministry of Diaspore on Internet anti-Semitic threats?
Borys Filatov: I discussed this topic in Jerusalem with the developers of this monitoring program. Someone probably sits in Dnipro and generates content from our providers. Israeli authorities must send this information to our SBU (Security Service of Ukraine). Israelis should show the SBU: here are those people who generate anti-Semitic content. For example, a city mayor from Peru told us during the forum that “Hezbollah” is already operating in Peru, and we discussed how to counteract these threats. Nobody has eliminated the possibility that we have some underground cell in Dnipro that generates anti-Semitic content throughout the world.
Shimon Brіman: What role does the Jewish community play in the life of Dnipro?
Borys Filatov: The Jewish community is our pearl. In addition, local Jews are very active people. The world’s biggest Jewish community center was built in Dnipro. The historian Andrii Portnov says that the Jewish heritage of Katerynoslav (the first historical name of the city—Ed.) is an unopened book. At that time, the Jews comprised more than thirty percent of the city’s population. In 1989, we had 150 thousand Jews. Now there are about 70 thousand. It is a big part of our city’s history and heritage.
Some people live in two houses. Someone may have children in the Israel Defense Forces. Some may have parents living in Israel. Dnipro is actually the Jewish capital of Ukraine. It is an active part of the population that lives in the global world in the United States, Israel, and Germany. It is golden capital that is necessary to attract to the city.
In Dnipro, a Jewish economic cluster was created. We studied this question with Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky. It included all religious professionals, kosher cafes and stores, service, transport, and bakeries. This cluster generates facilities and an enormous number of jobs.
When the rabbi asked for support for believers who did not have a stable domestic situation, we allocated a parcel of land to them, and the community will build there a dormitory with support services and a Shabbat elevator.
Religious Jews in Dnipro do not have problems on the streets, as in Paris, where it is impossible to walk calmly in public in a yarmulke [skullcap]. Recently we took the Jewish elderly home onto the municipal budget. Someone criticized me for it, and I told them: it is not a Jewish home, OUR elderly people live there! If an Armenian house is created, we’ll help them also.
Shimon Brіman: What new insights did you get from the Jerusalem forum?
Borys Filatov: The Mayor of Jerusalem said that he has the most difficult city in the world, with all these different people obliged to coexist together. There is such a concept as the “status quo.” In politics, this means we consider our position undesirable, but understand that change would be too risky and acknowledge that maybe in the future we will find a better solution. And I, as a mayor of all the citizens of Dnipro, must take into account the opinions of all people. We have political differences, but we must adhere to the status quo.
I also studied the case of Tel Aviv. It is a tolerant and liberal city that attracts initiative, and free and enterprising people. In addition, it has infrastructural possibilities for self-realization and leisure.
Shimon Brіman: How popular is Israel now among Ukrainians?
Borys Filatov: We now have a trend—to always compare yourself to Israel in matters of state building, relationships with aggressive neighbors, and the creation of an army. People often live by myths and want to see examples from other nations. We were even glad that Golda Meir (Israeli prime minister in 1969-1974—Ed.) was born in Kyiv, although she left when she was five (laughs).
In 2014, we were like Israel in 1948, although the analogies are not fully appropriate. When Jews searched for contraband weapons for the creation of their army.
Our people are very alike. One plus is the synergy of a million repatriates in Israel. We are mentally very alike—you also have perpetually dissatisfied people. People are always unhappy with mayors, as the mayors of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa told us.
Shimon Brіman: And what is Israel personally for you?
Borys Filatov: I can’t say that it is my second home, but it is a country with which I am very closely tied. You were a witness to history four years ago, when we in arrived in Israel as “political refugees.” The speaker of the Knesset Yuly Edelshtein himself called and invited us to a meeting. He said: “We understand what kind of regime [referring to ex-President Yanukovych—Ed.] is in Ukraine now, but here you can feel like free people.”
There was another story—a very close friend became ill, but was saved in Israel. I remember the moments of horror here, but all ended well. This is impossible to forget and this remains heartfelt. Israel twice supported me. And for me this is an invaluable experience.
Text and photo: Shimon Briman (Israel).
Edited by Peter Bejger.
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