The image is blurry, black and white, perhaps a little out of focus. It shows a dishevelled, shoeless woman running in the street in her underwear, her arms flailing, her bloodied mouth wide open in a silent scream. Behind her, chasing, are a man and a boy with clubs.

This picture was taken in the early summer of 1941 in what is now Lviv, western Ukraine. Once seen, it is hard to forget. Because it makes us witnesses to what the hate of the Second World War actually looked like.

The woman was a Jew. She was one of the victims of racially motivated beatings, murders, lynchings, robberies and rapes carried out in her city that summer.

Nobody knows exactly how many people lost their lives as local far-right militias and angry mobs, under the watchful eye of newly occupying Nazi forces, turned on their neighbours. The death toll was certainly in the thousands.

The atrocities were certainly of their time, like Kristallnacht two years earlier, a foretelling of Adolf Hitler’s “final solution”, the deliberate attempt to murder all of Europe’s Jews. But the events of Lviv in June and July 1941 went by an older Russian name, one that had long before entered English and other languages.


The blurry picture of the woman in western Ukraine offers a rare glimpse at what this words means in practice.

We tend to think of pogroms happening earlier, late in the 19th century and early in the 20th, when action photos were even less common. And we perhaps associate the word, and its reality, with the oppression of Jews, first in the Pale of Settlement in the western part of the old Russian Empire, and then in the rest of Europe and the Middle East.

Pogrom has come to mean more than that. In English it has been applied to racially motived roustings of minorities of various kinds. But, this, surely is not a word to be used lightly?

It was this week. In another dismaying low for Scottish public discourse, an Airbnb host in Edinburgh described new licensing of short-term lets as a “pogrom” when interviewed during a protest outside the Scottish Parliament.

Now there are obviously strong feelings among some holiday-let landlords and landladies about attempts by Scottish national and local authorities to regulate their sector. I am not going to waste your time by relitigating their grievances, which strongly echo those of their industry in other parts of the world where similar rules are being imposed.

But I want to stop for a moment to reflect on just how ignorant, how preposterous, how offensive, how gobsmackingly insular and shallow this particular comparison to a “pogrom” was.

Do we really have to say out loud that having to, for example, check your holiday home for deadly water-borne diseases or apply for a licence or planning permission is not the same as being raped, robbed and murdered because you’re Jewish? I am afraid so.

Do we have to explain that using this kind of language diminishes the experiences and insults the memory of Jews and others who endured horrendous atrocities. Apparently we do.

Hey, our natural conversational language can be full of exaggeration, sometimes for comic or dramatic effect. And, sure, sometimes people who are upset - usually in the heat of the moment - dial their rhetoric off the gauge and say, well, really dumb things.

This does not appear to be one of those occasions. The landlady who used the word even came to the protest prepared with its definition, albeit a bizarrely wrong one that appears to be a crude misreading of Wikipedia.

There was a placard at the demo with the slogan “pogrom parliament”. And the use, or rather abuse, of this term was not new.

The social media account of the Save Self-Catering Scotland campaign had described STL reforms as a “pogrom” as early as April of this year.

The latest usage of this term was initially reported in Edinburgh without comment. But it provoked a pretty negative reaction on social media, not least from people whose families had been pogromed.

To be fair, I saw one or two opponents of the new regulations say they thought the term was unacceptable. I guess the word pogrom was screeched that bit higher than what had already been, in my view, a pretty shrill campaign.

I guess some people might think this is just an isolated episode. I am not sure it is.

We have always had people who used hyperbolic language and compared everything they did not like to Adolf Hitler. But it is hardly an original point to suggest this has become more common, and more salient, in the social media age.

Indeed, this stupid habit has left us without the vocabulary we need to describe the return of actual far-right narratives in to our politics.

But I do think it is worth reflecting on some of the practical dilemmas which over-the-top language poses for our political and media system.

For starters, how do we reporters cover people who make such ridiculous remarks? Should we filter out hyperbole? Should we document what is said but tell readers or viewers why it is detached from reality? Do we just air idiocy and damn the consequences?

There are questions for civil servants and local officials too. Should they engage in stakeholder discussions with the calibre of people who liken them to mass Jew murderers? And if they do, are they supposed to take anything such cretins say seriously?

What about politicians? Should they indulge allies who use overblown language? Tory MSPs last week lined up next to the “Pogrom Parliament” placard. I have no idea if they saw it.

This was months after nationalist elected members were pictured at a trans rights demo next to a sign calling for TERFs to be decapitated. Again, they may not have clocked that crazy, completely inappropriate message. But perhaps they should have?

Is it unreasonable to ask our politicians to walk away from, to use Scottish internet jargon, complete zoomers. I don’t think so.

And please, please, please before we talk again of “pogroms” let us remember the woman fleeing for her life through the streets of Lviv.