Moscow, April 21, 2004 … Anti-Semitism remains a perennial problem in post-Soviet Russia. But in 2003, while remaining at levels similar to previous years, anti-Jewish incidents across the Russian Federation turned more violent, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The increased violence against Jewish individuals and institutions comes at a time of positive steps in Russia's national governmental policy towards anti-Semitism, but some reluctance among lower-level officials to tackle a deeply entrenched problem in society.
"While the number of incidents remained stable in 2003, the nature of the attacks has become more violent," said Alexander Axelrod, Director, ADL Moscow Office. "It is encouraging that President Vladimir Putin has publicly denounced the nationalist ideology and has supported legal action against anti-Semitic publishers and skinheads. At the same time, we are discouraged by the reluctance by lower-level officials to take action in responding to anti-Semitic incidents."
The ADL report, Anti-Semitism in Russia: 2003 provides a detailed look at major anti-Jewish incidents reported across the Russian Federation and examines trends in anti-Semitism affecting Russian Jewish communities.
Among the more violent incidents reported in 2003:
- Kaliningrad, Western Russia (Sept. 20): Explosion of a small bomb in a Jewish kindergarten;
- Kostroma (Oct. 15): Rocks hurled through a synagogue's windows during High Holiday services;
- Cheliabinsk, Urals (Feb. 2); The attempted arson of a synagogue
- Bryansk (December): Swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans scrawled on a Jewish day school;
- Novosibirsk (June 28): A Jewish couple was beaten after receiving anti-Semitic threats;
- Nizhniy Novgorod (April 15): Skinheads destroyed a car belonging to the leader of the Nizhniy Novgorod Jewish youth.
- Yaroslavl (June 23): A rock-throwing incident against a synagogue resulting in property damage.
Numerous other incidents of vandalism against synagogues and Jewish cemeteries occurred in 2003. Also, in a continuation of a disturbing trend, a series of anti-Semitic signs – some booby trapped with homemade explosives – were discovered along the highways near Moscow and elsewhere around the country.
Other trends cited in ADL's report:
- Anti-Semitic articles and books produced by extremists are common and available for purchase. Although much of the content violates Russian law, the production of this material continues, and publishers are rarely prosecuted. Anti-Semitic literature is sold freely all over the country. Several Moscow-based publishing houses specialize in this type of literature. Among them are "Russkaya Pravda", "Vitaz" and "Peresvet".
- There are at least 80 Russian Web sites and three large Web portals regularly engaged in distributing anti-Semitic, racist and hate propaganda online. Russian law does not restrict hate Web sites.
- Anti-Semitic rhetoric was featured in comments by some candidates in the campaign for the State Duma (Parliament) in December 2003, The same tendency was observed during some mayoral and gubernatorial elections in a number of regions of the Russian Federation. While most Russian politicians did not include overt anti-Jewish propaganda in their political statements, some radical leaders continued to appeal to patriotic and anti-Semitic feelings of an element of the electorate.
- In a few instances, politicans and extremists used the prosecution of a number of prominent business leaders involved in YUKOS, commonly known as "oligarchs," some of whom have Jewish origins, to fan anti-Jewish attitudes and conspiracy theories. There is no evidence that the YUKOS investigation was motivated by anti-Semitism.