The Reemergence of Political
Political anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise in Russia, where an unstable political situation and chaotic economic conditions have led some to blame Jews for societys ills. While the anti-Semitism that existed as official state policy during the Soviet era has not resurfaced, some prominent political figures, particularly those associated with the Communist party, have employed anti-Semitism to further their own political ambitions. Such anti-Semitism, espoused by government leaders in parliamentary hearings, on television, in newspapers and at mass rallies, threatens to create a hostile environment for the Russian Jewish community. Furthermore, as this practice of scapegoating Jews as the source of Russias economic and social problems has become increasingly common on both the national and local levels, some analysts suggest that these lawmakers are trying to garner support from nationalist voters ahead of the late 1999 general elections and 2000 presidential elections. Alarmingly, these politicians have made their anti-Semitic statements without penalty by their colleagues or the state.
II. Background Conditions
Faltering political and economic conditions in Russia today have brought fear and uncertainty to much of the population. President Yeltsins poor health and his apparent impulsive governing style have led to a general lack of confidence in the government. At the same time, nationalist groups and the Communist party appear to be gaining strength.
By failing to implement needed economic reforms, the government has permitted both the financial and political crises to persist. The August 1998 devaluation of Russias monetary unit, the ruble, sank the exchange rate and caused many Russians to lose their savings. It also attached a tremendous price tag on imports, including food and other consumer goods. The emergency measure of printing excess money to pay back wages and pensions also caused inflation and frustration among the population to soar. Meanwhile, a bad harvest this yearconsidered the worst in decades has Russians concerned about food supplies lasting throughout the winter.
III. Growing Anti-Semitism in Russia
Amidst these difficult circumstances there has developed an increased sense of insecurity among Russian Jews, who in recent months have confronted strident anti-Semitic rhetoric in the political arena on both the national and local levels and a number of highly public acts of anti-Semitic violence.
a) Political Anti-Semitism-National Level
On the national level, the case of Communist Party General Albert Makashov is particularly striking. As a member of the Duma, the National Parliament, General Makashov has become infamous worldwide for his anti-Semitic outbursts blaming Jews for the countrys economic problems, and his advocacy of the establishment of a quota on the number of Jews allowed in Russia. He has also publicly supported the reinstatement of the Pale of Settlement, territory in which Jews were restricted to live during the 19th century.
Other outrageous pronouncements by General Makashov include an editorial by him in the Russian newspaper Zavtra, printed in October 1998 which stated that a "Yid," a derogatory term used in Russia to mean Jew, is "a bloodsucker feeding on the misfortunes of other people. They drink the blood of the indigenous peoples of the state; they are destroying industry and agriculture." He caused the greatest splash later in October when he led two fiery rallies, in Moscow and Samara, commemorating the 81st anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which were repeatedly shown on Russian television. At these rallies Makashov angrily shouted "I will round up all the Yids and send them to the next world!"
The Duma has failed to explicitly censure General Makashov for his anti-Semitic remarks, and in particular for his comments calling for death to Jews. In November 1998, the Communist members blocked two different motions to censure the retired General, which had been put forward by the opposition Yaboloko party. Rather, the parliament adopted a vaguely worded resolution, condemning ethnic hatred, with no reference to Jews, anti-Semitism or General Makashov. The Communist party has also failed to condemn General Makashov or to discipline him. Instead, the General has found a number of vocal supporters within his party and among Russias many nationalists.
In reaction to General Makashovs October comments and the Dumas failure to censure him, President Yeltsin requested a statement from Communist Party Leader Gennady Zyuganov regarding his partys position on anti-Semitism. Mr. Zyuganovs response reiterated the accusations made by the most anti-Semitic members of his party. In the form of a letter to the Ministry of Justice and the National Security Chief, Zyuganovs response contained harsh anti-Semitic references reminiscent of the old Soviet era and served only to heighten concerns about anti-Semitism in Russia.
The letter stated open opposition to Zionists, contending that Zionism is among the "most aggressive imperialist circles striving for world domination. In this respect it is related to fascism," and further asserted that, "Communists rightly ask how it can be that key positions in a number of economic sectors were seized by representatives of one ethnic group. They see how control over most of the electronic mediawhich are waging a destructive campaign against our fatherland and its morality, language, culture and beliefs is concentrated in the hands of those same individuals." To many, Mr. Zyuganovs remarks came as no surprise, as he has long been known to use anti-Semitism for political gain.
As of January 1999, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) closed a criminal case against a number of Russian extremists, including General Makashov, after determining that his anti-Semitic rhetoric does not constitute criminal activity.
At the same time, many believe that General Makashovs anti-Semitic activity has permitted other nationalists to feel free to unleash their own anti-Semitism. Indeed, some nationalist factions sharing the parliamentary majority have become increasingly willing to use anti-Semitism as a political strategy. In December, the head of the Dumas Security Committee and Communist party member, Victor Ilyukhin, asserted at a parliamentary session that Jews were committing genocide against the Russian people. He complained that there are too many Jews in President Yeltsins inner circle and called for ethnic quotas in government posts to remedy the situation. In support of Ilyukhin's anti-Semitic comments, Russia's Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov stated that ethnic Russians should have a special status in Russia. "The Russian idea [anti-Semitism] is being voiced. And it should be voiced in a country where the majority of the population is Russian."
Krasnodar: On the local level the most outstanding case of political anti-Semitism is that of Nikolai Kondratenko, Governor of the southern Russian region of Krasnodar. For the past two years, residents of Krasnodar have been bombarded with his anti-Semitic rhetoric on television, at youth forums, and at mass rallies where he regularly charges Zionists with brutal oppression of ethnic Russians, and blames Jews for the political and economic problems plaguing Russia. "Today we warn that dirty cosmopolitan brotherhood: You belong in Israel or America," Kondratenko said at a Russian Victory Day rally in March 1997.
More recently, in March 1998 at a youth congress in Krasnodar he addressed his audience with a two hour speech dedicated to the "Jewish Question." Elected on a platform of Russian patriotism, since becoming Governor, Kondratenko has transformed this position into one of ultra-nationalism, declaring that ethnic Russians are the only ethnic group which belongs in the region. Kondratenko recently won re-election in Krasnodar which will keep him in power until the year 2000.
St. Petersburg: In November 1998, the election campaign for the local legislature in St. Petersburg was loaded with anti-Semitic undertones, from anti-Semitic newspaper and television appeals to defaced campaign posters and leaflets disparaging Jewish candidates. The St. Petersburg Times reported anti-Semitic graffiti that read, "Bash Yids; Save Russia," smeared across the wall of the campaign headquarters of a Jewish candidate, Victor Krivulin. In response, the citys residents overwhelmingly elected liberal candidates for city council in the December run-off election. But the anti-Semitic flare-ups that characterized the campaign shocked many who had viewed the citys population as generally well-educated.
b) Popular Anti-Semitism
Numerous incidents of popular or "street" anti-Semitism also took place in 1998, as they have for the past several years. It is important to note that there is no evidence of an increase in physical attacks against Jews from past years. However, these attacks, in conjunction with the mood of political anti-Semitism throughout the country, have made the Jewish community feel particularly vulnerable. Among such incidents have been the May bombing of the Marina Roscha Synagogue in Moscow; the beatings of two rabbis; a number of neo-Nazi marches in central Moscow; and the desecration of several Jewish cemeteries around the country.
For many years ultra-nationalists and anti-Semites have found a place within Russia. Neo-Nazis and Skinheads have been spreading anti-Semitic propaganda and committing violence against Jews. Currently, some 80 nationalist political parties and organizations exist in Russia, 3 of which have adopted neo-Nazi symbols, ideology and behavior. These parties disseminate copies of more than 150 different extremist periodicals, many including neo-Nazi literature, to the Russian-speaking population throughout the former Soviet Union.
For example, the virulently anti-Semitic extremist group, Russian National Unity, is a paramilitary group registered in twenty-five Russian regions. It is thought to have at least 6,000 active members and up to 50,000 non-active members and has a presence in some of Russias ruling bodies. At the same time the Skinhead movement in Russia, which first appeared in the mid-90s already claimed 10,000 members by 1997. In July 1998, the Russian Government proposed a ban on Nazi symbols and literature, but the legislation is still awaiting approval from the Russian Parliament. Locally, however, the Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov, a contender in the 2000 presidential race, prohibited the National Unity from holding its convention in Moscow in December 1998.
A leader of Russian National Unity, Igor Semyonov, was sentenced in 1998 to two years in prison for inciting hatred toward Jews and people from the Caucasus Mountains. At the trial, a local Communist leader denied the massacre of over 33,000 Jews at Babi Yar in 1941 and a Russian Orthodox Priest testified that according to the Talmud, Jews "kill children, gather blood" and use it to make matzah. Although the judge sentenced Semyonov, no objection was made to the anti-Semitic testimonies used at the trial.
In June 1998, the Russian Government ordered the reburial of Czar Nicholas II and his family in St. Petersburg. During the preceding months, the Russian Government and the Russian Orthodox Church conducted an investigation into the killing of the Czar and his family, which included a probe into whether they perished in a "ritual murder" perpetrated by a Jewish conspiracy. The Church also published this xenophobic assertion in a final report on the death of Czar Nicholas II.
In December 1998, residents of a number of apartment buildings in the Kuban region of Krasnodar found leaflets circulated by a local fascist group in their mailboxes with the message, "Help save your dear, flourishing Kuban from the damned Jews-Yids! Smash their apartments, set their homes on fire! They have no place on Kuban territory Anyone hiding the damned Yids will be marked for destruction the same way. The Yids will be destroyed. Victory will be ours!" The leaflets also called on voters to support Governor Kondratenko, known for his anti-Semitism, for president. However, citizens reacted by immediately reporting the leaflets to local authorities as an incident of anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, also in December residents of the city of Novosibirsk in Siberia found their mailboxes stuffed with anti-Semitic messages blaming Jews for the nations economic hardships. This took place after a spurt of racial graffiti around the city and the distribution of hundreds of stickers with the slogan, "Jews are Rubbish."
At the same time, local education officials in Krasnodar recommended that an anti-Semitic book be used as a high school history textbook. "The Secret History of Russia in the 20th Century," was published with public funds, and contains anti-Semitic myths about the negative influence of Jews in Russia since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
c) Russian Reaction
Whatever these troubled economic and political times suggest for Russias future, during the past year the Yeltsin administration has made various efforts to work against the nationalist and extremist forces in their nation. In an historic address to the nation on the occasion of the 57th anniversary of Nazi Germanys invasion of Russia in June 1998, President Yeltsin warned for the first time of an increasing threat to Russia by the active neo-Nazi movement. In addition, throughout the year he and other senior members of his government have condemned a number of manifestations of anti-Semitism in Russia.
In July 1998 the President again spoke out against neo-Nazism by criticizing his Justice Minister for allowing extremist and ultra-nationalist groups to receive official certification in Russia. He said that the Russian Constitution prohibits registration of such groups. In September he attended an historic ceremony for the opening of the Holocaust Memorial and Synagogue in Moscow and called for a moment of silence for those who perished in the Holocaust, while Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov presented an 18th century Torah scroll to the synagogue.
In November 1998, following the Duma debate on General Makashovs anti-Semitic remarks which ended in a failure to condemn the General, President Yeltsin issued a public statement against extremism and ethnic hatred. His top security and defense officials also met at that time with the Presidents Chief of Staff to discuss the growing threat of anti-Semitism and extremism in Russia.
Furthermore, a number of Jewish and liberal lawmakers have been outspoken in expressing their outrage at the new trend in political anti-Semitism ahead of the upcoming elections. Following the Dumas failure to censure General Makashov, Duma member Iosif Kobzon asked his legislative colleagues to shield him and other Jewish lawmakers from such nationalist supporters. He said, "The Duma is supposed to represent the nation. Instead it seems to be condoning Makashov and his open anti-Semitism." As Makashov supporters rallied outside the parliament building shouting anti-Semitic slogans, some Jewish and liberal lawmakers responded by walking out on the Duma session.
One particularly ardent advocate of human rights, who frequently spoke out against anti-Semitism in Russia was Galina Staravoitova, a member of the Duma and adviser to President Yeltsin on nationality issues. In November Ms. Staravoitova was assassinated, startling Russia and human rights activists worldwide. She was one of the leading voices of democracy in Russia and a true friend to the Jewish community. In fact, shortly before her death, she aggressively spoke out against General Makashovs rhetoric and criticized her colleagues for their failure to censure him. While there is no evidence that her murder was an act of anti-Semitism, it indeed underscores the political chaos and rampant, unchecked corruption raging through Russia today. During her funeral in St. Petersburg, the nationalist, anti-Semitic group The Black Hundreds, marched in front of the parliament in Moscow in support of General Makashov.
A recent poll sheds light on the popular Russian reaction towards the trend of political anti-Semitism. The independent poll taken in October in Moscow by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion revealed that a majority of Russians agree that anyone insulting the national dignity of the Jews should be prosecuted with all the severity of the law and that it is necessary to guarantee that Jews continue to enjoy equal rights in access to institutions of higher learning. At the same time, however, the poll demonstrated that of 1,509 respondents, 52% would respond negatively to Jewish social-political organizations and parties operating in Russia, while 34% believe records should be kept of Jews holding leading positions in Russia, and that quotas should be kept on such numbers.
IV. Russian Jewish Community
The Jews of the Russia Federation comprise the worlds third largest Jewish community, with an estimated population of 500,000-600,000. For the past several years, a revival of Jewish life has been taking place in the community, including efforts to re-establish religious and cultural life and to provide for the well-being and security of its people. Well over 100 Jewish organizations and groups operate in Moscow today. They range from religious and cultural, research and education, to charitable and welfare institutions.
The organized Russian Jewish community has taken the current precarious political situation very seriously and has expressed concerned about the future well-being of the Jewish population in Russia. The Russian Jewish Congress (REK), an umbrella organization recently established to assist in rebuilding Jewish life in Russia, has met with the Russian National Security Council as well as Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov regarding the anti-Semitic statements made by General Makashov and Victor Ilyukhin. The REK succeeded in encouraging the Israeli parliament, Knesset, and the European Parliament to pass resolutions condemning the lawmakers statements and has publicly challenged the Communist leadership. The VAAD, another Jewish umbrella group, which offers guidance and takes public stands on issues affecting the Russian Jewish community, has been increasingly active in light of the recent political atmosphere, speaking out on the issue of anti-Semitism in Russia.
As a whole, the organized Russian Jewish community has urged its members not to engage in contact with Communist Party leader Zyuganov or other Duma members who espouse or support anti-Semitic rhetoric. The community has asserted that the Communist Party should be isolated, until it rescinds its anti-Semitic manifesto and prosecutes party members who espouse anti-Semitic hatred.
V. Action Recommendations
Today the former Soviet Unions weak democratic structures, allow these manifestations of ethnic hatred and violence to go unchecked. Ultra-nationalist forces, such as those cited above, do not display concern for human rights, and demonstrate harsh views toward minority groups. The transition toward a democratic and pluralistic society in Russia continues to proceed slowly, as does the development of an appropriate infrastructure to support economic development, law enforcement and minority rights.
The Government of Russia must undertake a comprehensive and sustained campaign to counteract these increasingly vocal voices of intolerance and divisiveness. Such a campaign must be fought through legislation, law enforcement, education and popular culture.
1. Legislative/Law Enforcement Initiatives: While Soviet-era laws intended to combat fascist propaganda and extremism remain on the books in Russia, police and judicial enforcement and implementation of these laws are lackluster. In addition, elected officials are immune from prosecution for inciting ethnic hatred. President Yeltsin has pledged to initiate legislation to counter anti-Semitism and extremism, but the Russian Parliament, comprised largely of Communists and nationalists, is not expected to pass such legislation.
2. Educational Initiatives: The Government of Russia and opinion-molders in that society must initiate an intensive and sustained campaign promoting democratization, a civil society, tolerance, and the combating of racism, prejudice and anti-Semitism. This campaign should involve high-level government representatives, the business community, religious leaders, educators, athletes, musicians, actors and writers and be conducted in urban and rural areas.
Effort might include the following components:
Advertising campaign in popular media including public service announcements (PSAs) advertisements in newspapers, public areas, to feature prominent Russians in popular culture speaking out against hate. (see ADLs sports personality poster series and PSAs with popular television personalities)
3. United States Involvement: Just as the United States took the lead in support of freedom for Soviet Jewry during the Soviet era, it must continue to take the lead in assisting Russia through the transition toward a democratic society.
The effort should include:
Presented to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Anti-Defamation League,
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