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Whether the story turns out to be a "provocation," as the pro-Russian separatist leader Denis Pushilin, whose signature allegedly appears on flyers calling on Ukranian Jews to register themselves and pay special taxes is now claiming, or whether it is a precursor of "official" policies to come, the news has certainly grabbed the world's attention and provided a shocking reminder of a past some alive today who survived it still remember.
"Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to 'register' with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia," USA Today reported Thursday.
"U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that Jews in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk were recently given notices instructing them to officially identify themselves as Jews," The Washington Times added, showing the administration has not immediately dismissed the accounts as unofficial.
Pushilin's denial is giving cause for hope that his political opponents were attempting to create hysteria and resistance. Still, assuming (but not yet accepting) that's the case, why such a story would be initially perceived as credible should alarm all, and strengthen the conviction that now is hardly the time for Ukrainian Jews to be relaxing their guard.
It's not just the troubled history of the Jewish people in that part of the world, including that some Ukrainians collaborated with the Nazis on exterminating them. While post-WWII social developments may have given some encouragement, as recently as February, Ukraine's Chief Rabbi was urging Jews to flee Kiev after attacks on students there.
"I told my community to get out of the city and if possible out of the state … there are many warnings about planned attacks against Jewish institutions," Chief Rabbi Moshe Reuven Asman confirmed. "We have been told by the Israeli Embassy to not go outside."
Fleeing? Locking themselves up indoors? Appealing to the Israeli foreign minister to "help protect [the] community"? Are those the only options?
It would seem so, if possessing the tools of self-defense is off the table. Without an amendment proposed by the Ukrainian Gun Owners Association guaranteeing "Everyone has the right to freedom of owning a firearm to protect their life and health, housing and property, life and health of other people's constitutional rights and freedoms in the case of usurpation of power, the encroachments on the constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," and with "everyone" meaning Jews, too, that would seem the case, especially with the country's political future so uncertain.
Not that the government retaining power promises much in the terms of gun ownership reforms in a country with laws categorized as "restrictive" by GunPolicy.org, a Sydney School of Public Health project providing an online compilation of global gun statistics and law summaries. The law not only mandates "Applicants for a gun owner's license in Ukraine are required to prove genuine reason to possess a firearm," but also "requires that a record of the acquisition, possession and transfer of each privately held firearm be retained in an official register."
And should Mr. Putin prevail in his apparent quest for adding the Ukraine back into Russia's captured territorial holdings, don't expect a change in such policies from him. Despite a manly PR image that has him shooting guns at ranges, inspecting military weapons at manufacturing facilities, striding bare-chested through the woods with a scoped rifle and cozying up to "action star" Steven Seagal to push for firearm exports to the U.S., the former KGB operative has shown a decided preference for a state monopoly of violence after a gunman killed six people in southwest Russia last April.
True to "progressive" gun-grabber form, he blamed the people who didn't do anything wrong.
"Russian citizens should not be allowed to freely own guns for purposes of self-defense, says President Vladimir Putin," UPI reported.
"I do not support the idea of free arms distribution in Russia," Putin was quoted. "It is dangerous to artificially stimulate this process."
That would seem to cinch it for Ukrainian citizens if Putin's opinion holds any sway over areas his supporters there help him to dominate.
But back to the registration of Jews: As this is being written, doubt still exists both to the authenticity of the flyer being officially sanctioned, as well as to denials coming from the camp accused of distributing them.
"[Pushilin] claims he had nothing to do with the writing or distribution of the fliers, but seems to acknowledge that 'some idiots' from his organization did in fact hand them out," Politix is reporting.
And as history has proven time and again, registration, of people and of property they can use to preserve life and liberty, like guns, can lead to both being rounded up and eliminated by the state.
An historical example demonstrating both is the story of Alfred Flatow, an Olympic multiple gold and silver medal winner, a firearm owner and a Jew.
"In 1938, just weeks before Reichskristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass), in Nazi Germany, Berlin police arrested Alfred Flatow," attorney and author scholar Stephen P. Halbrook wrote in a scholarly paper examining the period. "His crime: being a Jew in lawful possession of firearms.
"The police knew he possessed firearms because he dutifully registered them in 1932 under a decree by the liberal Weimar Republic," Halbrook explained. "In anticipation of the pogrom, the Nazi leadership launched a campaign to disarm Jews. Flatow was one of many who were arrested and turned over to the Gestapo. He would eventually be deported and die in a concentration camp."
Registration of firearms in compliance with "the law" can clearly lead to confiscation of more than just guns. And fast-forwarding to the present, and to our part of the world, we see those who would do both calling for the incremental step of "universal background checks" as "reasonable commonsense gun safety" measures, conveniently ignoring that no less a source than the "Summary of Select Firearm Violence Prevention Strategies" by Greg Ridgeway, Ph.D. Deputy Director National Institute of Justice, notes "Effectiveness depends on the ability to reduce straw purchasing, requiring gun registration ..."
Still, some would insist that murderous totalitarianism "could never happen here," ignoring a bloody documented history of the world that irrefutably confirms "evil governments did wipe out 170,000,000 innocent non-military lives in the 20th Century alone."
That's not only a form of (potential) holocaust denial; it's a denial of observable reality.
Because where in the past has any civilization, including ours, been guaranteed stasis? Has not despotism and mass destruction plagued every civilization that preceded ours? Is it not, in fact, still commonplace throughout the globe? By what suspension of reality, by what denial of the observable and the probable, by what art, device or magic are we sheltered few immune from catastrophe?
Are we certain, from our brief and privileged vantage point, that such things will ever remain headline curiosities? Is it not whistling past the graveyard of history, not to mention just plain ignorant, to proclaim that our familiar way of life will forever be the norm, when everything that has gone before us shows we are, instead, the extremely lucky beneficiaries of a rare and fortunate convergence of circumstances?
One, by the way, that has only been preserved with arms ...?
David Codrea is a field editor at GUNS Magazine, penning their monthly "Rights Watch" column. He provides regular reporting and commentary at Gun Rights Examiner and blogs at The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance.