Anti-Semitism in Russia: 2000

Introduction

Anti-Semitism remains one of the most common expressions of ethnic and religious intolerance and xenophobia in Russia today. Russia's record of anti-Semitism throughout most of its history is well known. But anti-Jewish prejudices and conduct are not only a heritage of the Tsarist and Communist past. At any given moment in Russian history, anti-Semitism and the type of response it receives reflects the current economic, social and political situation in Russia and the level of maturity of its civil society. In 2000, similar to previous years in post-Communist Russian history, the Russian response to anti-Semitism remained ambiguous while the number of anti-Semitic incidents remained consistent with levels reported in 1999.

The statistics of Russian anti-Semitism are not impressive. This has less to do with the reality on the ground and more to do with lack of a monitoring structure in place and with a justified lack of public trust in law enforcement agencies with regard to their willingness and ability to combat hate-based crimes and activities.

Nevertheless, the problem of anti-Semitism remains an issue of considerable concern to the Jewish community in Russia and abroad mainly due to two reasons.

  • Contemporary Russian anti-Semitism is rooted in the language and ideology of Soviet anti-Jewish campaigns, and Russian society has yet to realize the extent of this bias to be able to remedy the situation.


  • Russian officials and law enforcement do not do enough to combat anti-Semitism and to openly condemn its manifestations when a need arises. Russian leaders’ statements criticizing anti-Semitism are usually intended for the international community. Officials do not feel comfortable enough to come out domestically against anti-Semitism and xenophobia.


Violence Against Jews

Eighteen major attacks on Jews and Jewish property were reported during the year, though many more likely went unreported to police or human rights organizations.

There were two cases involving violence against individuals on the basis of their Jewish religion or ethnicity, compared to one such incident a year ago. The number of incidents involving vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, one of the most common types of hate crimes, decreased from 6 in 1999 to 2 in 2000. The only category of incidents that saw a significant increase in 2000 was personal harassment. Six such cases were reported to ADL, Jewish communities and law enforcement agencies in 2000 compared to only one case in 1999.

Anti-Semitic incidents occurred in at least nine cities across the country in 2000, compared to seven locations a year before. The communities that were directly affected by the manifestations of anti-Semitism in 2000 included such varied locations as the western-most Russian city of Kaliningrad, Chelyabinsk in east Russia, the central Russian city of Ryazan, the southern city of Nalchik in the Caucasus mountains, and the small Siberian town of Samotlor.

Among the incidents that took place in 2000 were:

  • the looting of a synagogue in Nalchik in May;


  • arson attacks on synagogues and community centers in Moscow and Kaliningrad in September and October;


  • a raid on a Jewish Sunday school in Ryazan by neo-Nazi youth, who broke windows and furniture and threatened teachers and students in September;


  • vandalism in Jewish cemeteries in Nalchik and Nizhniy Novgorod in February and June;


  • the fire-bombing of a Jewish-run newspaper in Volgograd in November;


  • the beating of three Orthodox Jewish schoolboys in Moscow in March.


Anti-Semitism in Politics

In recent years anti-Semitism has become an obvious weapon in the political life of Russia.

The fact is that anti-Semitism remains an underlying theme in many major political and public debates in Russia. Many Russians perceive anti-Semitism as par for the course and sometimes are not even able to recognize anti-Jewish bias.

One example is the standoff between President Putin and the oligarchs. While the public is largely welcoming Putin’s battle against the business moguls, among some sectors of the population no clear distinction is made between the class of rich and influential tycoons and the Jewish people in general. A wide public approval of the government’s actions against the oligarchs, whom many see as exploiting the Russian people, coincides with an undercurrent of resentment against Jews in powerful positions that has become widespread in Russia since the collapse of Communism in 1991.

Major purveyors of anti-Semitic rhetoric among Russian political parties are the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), Russia’s largest and best organized political organization, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) whose leaderships have repeatedly alluded to conspiracy theories that can be traced back to both the Tsarist and Soviet times. Current Russian anti-Semitism uses the language and ideology of Soviet anti-Jewish campaigns. Potentially greater threats are those instances when the political mainstream echoes anti-Semitic ideas, using for example such stereotypes as an alleged lack of Jewish loyalty to Russia. One such example was an attack on liberal candidate Grigoriy Yavlinsky, who is partly Jewish, on a state-controlled television channel in March 2000.

While none of the parties seeking election in the late 1999 and 2000 included overt anti-Semitic slogans in their electoral campaigns on the federal level, ultra-nationalism and xenophobia figured prominently in the pre-election propaganda of a number of blocs. Two of the organizations that resorted to xenophobia and thinly veiled anti-Jewish rhetoric in the 1999-2000 campaigns were KPRF and LDPR, led by the flamboyant ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

On the local level, the most notorious case of political anti-Semitism was that of Alexander Mikhailov, the governor-elect of the central Russian region of Kursk. In his first interview with a major national newspaper after being installed in the office in November, Mikhailov, a senior member of the Communist Party, lashed out against an alleged anti-Russian conspiracy that included a Russian Jewish umbrella group and his predecessor who was half-Jewish.

Nikolay Kondratenko, the former governor of the southern Krasnodar region, who has used anti-Semitism heavily in his public rantings over the last several years, did not seek re-election late last year. He still remains a cause for concern for human rights watchers and the Jewish community since he was appointed to represent his home region in Russian parliament’s upper house.



Ultranationalist Organizations

Radical extremists continued to operate openly in more than half of Russia’s 89 regions. While most of these organizations are small and their political influence marginal, there is also little social or governmental opposition to them. There are at least ten ultranationalist groups in Russia with memberships between 100 and 5,000 members each. These groups range from far-left neo-Bolsheviks to Russian Orthodox monarchists to overtly neo-Nazi types such as Russian National Unity, or RNE.

RNE, one of the largest ultranationalist groups, split last year, giving rise to at least two more new groups whose level of influence and activity has yet to be seen. Other groups that functioned in 2000 included the National-Bolshevik Party, Russian Action, the National Front, Russian All-People Union, Christian Revival Union, Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods, National Republican Party, People's National Party, various neo-Nazi skinhead groups and some others.

While radical nationalists and anti-Semites continue to operate at the margins of the Russian political scene, some of them have showed interest in participating in various elections to win broader support for their political platforms. No hard-line ultranationalist group had any political representation as of 2000, and most of them focused on enlisting new members, mostly youths from underprivileged groups of society.

RNE was barred from running for parliament (under a different name) and its leader Alexander Barkashov was not allowed to run for president. In both cases, authorities cited purely technical breaches when preventing these extreme nationalists and anti-Semites from seeking national offices.

The main activity of nationalist organizations is the publication of periodicals. At least 37 newspapers and magazines of ultranationalist bent published anti-Semitic materials in 2000, ranging in circulation from a few thousand to 100,000. (It should be noted that the print-run of most of these periodicals tends to be disproportionately higher than the membership of the organization that publishes that particular weekly or monthly.)

In some cases, the groups such as RNE not only enjoyed official recognition (RNE is officially registered as a public organization in more than 30 Russian regions) but were also given semi-official police powers or were officially involved in providing paramilitary training of the young men preparing for military service which is obligatory for all Russian men.

The year 2000 witnessed increasing cooperation between Russian extremists and their ideological counterparts abroad. The most notorious example of such cooperation was that of David Duke, the U.S. white supremacist, who visited Russia twice during the year. Duke’s most recent anti-Semitic tract was prepared exclusively for the Russian market.



Hate on the Internet

Russian ultranationalists of various shades increased their presence on the Internet in 2000. As of December, there were at least 64 Russian Web sites and three large Web portals regularly engaged in distributing anti-Semitic, racist and hate propaganda online. Although most of the Internet access providers have adopted policies prohibiting dissemination of racist materials by their clients or subscribers, few monitor the Web pages and sites they host. When alerted to a particular hate site, some of the providers responded quickly by denying service to groups and individuals that engaged in hate propaganda. More common, however, is a situation when a Russian Internet provider does not have a proper user agreement or when hatemongers use services of the providers based outside of Russia, which allows them to pursue hate activities fully unrestricted.

While the Internet becomes available to increasing numbers of Russians, it allows hate groups to share information and freely disseminate materials. Yet, there has been little indication that Russian law enforcement take racist and anti-Semitic Web activities seriously.



Russia's Response to Anti-Semitism

In 2000 the official response to anti-Semitism remained ambiguous at both the federal and local level and there has been no indication that authorities were poised to change their largely ambivalent stand on countering extremist trends, protecting minorities' rights and promoting democracy.

Since his inauguration in March 2000, President Vladimir Putin has made several strong verbal commitments to fight anti-Semitism and extremism. He has also demonstrated his support to the Jewish community by attending two events at the Moscow Lubavitch Center in September and December. Yet, the year 2000 has shown that fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia was not a priority for the Kremlin. This is an especially troubling observation given that the President gained his popularity largely due to the nationalist tint of the military campaign in Chechnya he re-launched in 1999.

The Russian leadership’s failure to openly condemn such acts as Governor Mikhailov’s blatantly anti-Semitic statement caused anxiety among Russian Jews. The storm of protest that Mikhailov’s conduct generated among Jews and the mainstream media in Russia and abroad moved Russian leaders to chastise Mikhailov. Yet the local prosecutor in Kursk refused to examine the matter from a legal perspective which could result in prosecuting the governor for ethnic incitement.

A policy of non-enforcement of the law against evident manifestations of anti-Semitism continued, including an obvious reluctance of prosecutors to enforce the existing legislation that provides criminal responsibility for hate crimes (article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code.) While Russian legislation bans the incitement of ethnic and religious animosity, not one hate crime case saw its way through a Russian court in 2000, with all the charges that were brought either dropped or delayed indefinitely.

The most serious anti-Semitic incidents in 2000, including a neo-Nazi rampage at a Jewish school in Ryazan in September, were not treated with due respect either by federal or by local authorities. In this and some other cases, authorities tried to present anti-Semitic and xenophobic behavior as acts of hooliganism. In one case of vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Samara in June, culprits were found but only after a Jewish organization offered a cash prize to the police.



Recommendations

Remaining one of the most common types of societal phobias in Russia, anti-Semitism tends to be cyclical in nature. There is a certain correlation between the state of economic and social affairs and the level of anti-Semitism in a society with not yet fully developed democratic institutions such as in Russia.

ADL has urged political, religious, educational and cultural leaders to take steps to prevent the future spread of political and other forms of anti-Semitism. The situation that appeared to be relatively stable in 2000 can worsen if Russia's economic and social conditions worsen.

Russian leaders still have to reinforce their previous calls against anti-Semitism, xenophobia and extremism by practical steps to combat aggressive nationalism.

By coming out more vigorously against aggressive nationalism and anti-Semitism, Russian leadership may set the right tone and create a public awareness of the need to promote tolerance and protect minority groups in Russia.

ADL expects Russian leaders to send an unmistakable message to law-enforcement agencies, including the Prosecutor's Office, the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, that all hate-based crimes should be investigated and prosecuted under the currently existing law against the incitement of ethnic, religious and racial hatred.

Local and federal authorities should be doing more to provide security assistance to Jewish facilities that are subject to vandalism more often than other minorities' institutions.




© 2001 Anti-Defamation League