LATEST UPDATE: FEBRUARY 2001
Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB officer and a former member of the Presidential Commission of Experts to Counter Political Extremism, was appointed prime minister by President Yeltsin in August 1999, as a relative unknown. Putin led in opinion polls from September 1999 when he ordered a 100,000-strong army into the rebel republic of Chechnya and, when Yeltsin resigned on New Year's Eve, transferring power to him, his success in the presidential elections of March 2000 was assured. This surge in Putin's popularity can be accounted for both by his hard-line approach in Chechnya and the extensive media coverage awarded to the Kremlin's candidate. With Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party coming second with over 29 per cent of the vote, and Grigory Yavlinsky, the liberal leader of Yabloko - which was outspoken in its opposition to antisemitic remarks made by Duma member General Makashov in 1998 - a poor third with 5.8 per cent, The Times (28 March 2000) observed that the most telling failure of the presidential elections was that of Russian liberalism.
Electoral support for extreme national-patriotic groups is dwindling, but the ideas and rhetoric of the extremist groups are spreading more widely, into hitherto 'centrist' parties. The Communist Party provides the best example of this, but the Moscow-based organization Panorama, which monitors and analyses extremism in Russia, also cites other examples of centrist politicians choosing to align themselves with national-patriotic ideology. Public support for the war against Chechnya, and the public response to NATO air strikes in the former Yugoslavia, might also be interpreted as reflecting a significant degree of sympathy for the 'national-patriotic' cause. Yegor Gaidar, the former prime minister, observed that NATO's bombing campaign was a 'gift' to Russia's nationalists.
The war in Chechnya has also affected the Jewish community in more ways than one. Increased xenophobia and racism in Russian society as a result of the war have given cause for concern, as has the antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric of Chechen warlords. The kidnapping of Jews and Israeli citizens in the Caucasus has been credited for increasing Jewish emigration from the mainly Muslim republics of Russia's northern Caucasus.
Jewish 'oligarchs' were prominent in the Duma and the presidential election campaigns of 1999 and 2000, both as contenders and as backers with financial and media resources to invest in the process. This prominence has had an arguably negative effect on public perceptions of Jews in Russia; however, it remains firm evidence that antisemitism has not hindered Jews from scaling the heights in both Russian politics and business. Boris Berezovsky, the most notorious of the Jewish oligarchs who is widely considered to have 'made' Yeltsin and Putin, was himself elected to the Duma in December 1999, sparking rumours that his decision to stand was an attempt to gain immunity from prosecution (a status awarded Duma members) for financial offences. Putin's subsequent crusade against the two most prominent Jewish media moguls, Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, while almost certainly an attempt to curtail the freedom of the press rather than an antisemitic persecution, has been interpreted as such by some, and been viewed as a licence to make public antisemitic statements by others.
The success of centrist parties in the 1999 Duma elections was viewed positively by Russian Jewish leaders. Mikhail Chlenov, president of the Va'ad, Jewish umbrella organization said: 'It is good that many leaders from the democratic wing have won seats in the new Duma . . . still more important is that all antisemitic blocs have been either banned from the race or have lost in the election.' Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt observed that 'less Communist influence and more democratic parties in the Duma is a sign that democracy is developing in our society'.
While the Duma election results appear to herald a more moderate era, perceptions of the level of antisemitism in Russian society vary. Antisemitism in Russia has attracted notable concern abroad. In March 1999 the US House of Representatives approved a non-binding resolution condemning antisemitic statements made by Russian legislators, and US senators addressed an appeal to Yeltsin in June 1999, asking him to confront the problem of antisemitism in Russia and threatening to withdraw economic and political support should he fail to do so. In Britain in March 2000, a paper on Russian antisemitism was published as part of a major report by the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. The four-page document reports that instability has led to people blaming Jews for Russia's troubles, and observes that, although legislation against antisemitism and extremism is on the Russian Federation's statute books, Russia's Duma members have taken advantage of their protected status to make antisemitic remarks. The ambassador to Russia Sir Andrew Wood is among British diplomats to raise the issue, and the Foreign Office has expressed deep concern. Putin also responded in March to a letter from US senators and members of the House of Representatives, voicing concern about antisemitism, by expressing his firm commitment to combat the problem.
In July 1999 the president of the Jewish community in Moscow criticized the government for not speaking out against antisemitism, and in August 1999 the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt, claimed that Jews were concerned about rising antisemitism in Russia and that the government's response was inadequate. Rabbi Adolf Shayevich also expressed his concern that perpetrators of antisemitic acts were not being arrested and punished. This concern was partially reflected in the increasing numbers of Jews emigrating to Israel, other factors being economic and political instability. The Russian Jewish Congress suggested that the increase in antisemitism in Russia was a result of the increasing number of antisemitic remarks and slogans in the political arena, the indifference of Russian citizens and the reluctance of the authorities to bring antisemites to trial.
However, criticism from the Jewish community over the government's failure to combat antisemitism in Russia adequately was not unanimous. One of the two rival chief rabbis of Russia - Rabbi Berl Lazar - who reportedly has close connections with the Kremlin, announced in July 2000 that he 'would not dramatize the situation in Russia today', and that antisemitism existed in most countries. The Russian Jewish Congress recognizes Russian-born Adolf Shayevich - who has held the post for some ten years - as the chief rabbi, but Putin has openly supported his rival Berl Lazar. Lazar is an Italian-born Jew supported by the ultra-religious Lubavitch movement, and Putin's preference is no doubt due to Gusinsky's links with Rabbi Shayevich.
Total population: 146 million (July 2000 est.) (CIA World Factbook)
Jewish population: estimates vary from 450,000 in 1998 (World Jewish Congress), to 900,000 (Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia). The 1989 census puts the figure at 536,800. The US State Department's 1999 Human Rights Report estimates that in 1999 between 600,000 and 700,000 Jews were resident in Russia, comprising 0.5 per cent of the total population.
The largest Jewish communities are found in Moscow and St Petersburg. According to the Washington-based Union of Councils for Soviet Jews the third largest community is often considered to be in the Nizhny Novgorod region, although no estimated figure is given. Other substantial communities include the Stavropol Kray region with 20,000 Jewish inhabitants; 18,000 in the Samara region; 15,000 in Kazan; 15,000 in the Novosibirsk region and 12,000 in the Krasnodar Kray region.
According to the Jamestown Foundation, Jewish emigration from Russia to Israel rose in July 1999 for the first time since 1991. In 1998, about 14,000 Russian Jews emigrated to Israel, but for the first six months of 1999 Israeli officials reported emigration from Russia at 12,188. By September 1999, Israel Wire reported that annual immigration from Russia stood at approximately 60,000.
Ethnic minorities: some 100 nationalities comprise the population: ethnic Russians make up 82 per cent, the remaining 18 per cent being composed of Tatars (3.8 per cent), Ukrainians (3 per cent), Chuvash (1.2 per cent), Bashkir (0.9 per cent), Byelorussians (0.8 per cent), Moldavians (0.7 per cent), Chechens and others (8.1 per cent). Some 10 per cent of the population are Muslims.
Political system: executive branch (comprising an elected president and a government headed by a prime minister), bi-cameral legislature (comprising the state Duma and the Federation Council) and a judicial branch.
The electoral system requires parties to secure 5 per cent of the vote in order to enter parliament, but smaller parties have tended to form 'blocs', allegiances of convenience that often fragment once Duma seats are secured, in order to overcome this rule.
Head of state: President Vladimir Putin (since March 2000, acting president from New Year's Eve 1999 when Boris Yeltsin resigned)
Head of government: Acting Premier Mikhail Kasyanov (appointed by President Putin on 7 May 2000); previously the post was held by Putin from August 1999 when Yeltsin appointed him after sacking Sergei Stepashin (Yabloko)
Government: the Kommunisticheskaya partiya Rossiskoi Federatsii (KPRF, Communist Party of the Russian Federation) remains the largest single party in the Duma, although arguably more politically isolated than in the past, as their traditional allies, the smaller 'peasant' parties, were wiped out in the December 1999 Duma elections. The recently created Unity party, also called Medved (The Bear), is the second largest party, having won nearly a quarter of the seats. This vaguely centrist party is backed by Putin, and has been described as 'Soviet lite' by Jamestown Foundation journalist Jonas Bernstein. The leader of Unity, Sergei Shoigu, declares that their intention is to take the best from Communism, namely discipline, order and public service.
The Fatherland All-Russia bloc (OVR) is a centrist party formed in August 1999 and led by former Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.
The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) is a centrist, pro-business party of 'young reformers' led by Sergei Kiriyenko and Boris Nemtsov.
Yabloko is a liberal party led by Grigory Yavlinsky
Duma elections December 1999: Results of elections for the 441 seats of the Duma were as follows (the number of seats includes those allocated from the party list according to the vote and those won in single-mandate districts):
|KPRF||24.3 per cent 113 seats|
|Unity||23.3 per cent 72 seats|
|OVR||13.3 per cent 67 seats|
|SPS||8.5 per cent 29 seats|
|Zhirinovsky's bloc||6 per cent 17 seats|
|Yabloko||5.9 per cent 21 seats|
|other parties||18.6 per cent 16 seats|
The far-right parties generally did badly, but a representative of the antisemitic Russia's fundamentalist Russian Orthodox movement, Spiritual Heritage, managed to gain a seat, and Zhirinovsky's bloc won 6 per cent of the vote. The right-wing journalist Stanislav Govoroukhin was also elected to the Duma with 38 per cent of the vote, in a St Petersburg district election.
Presidential election March 2000: Acting President Putin won with over 52 per cent of the vote; Gennady Zyuganov (KPRF) came second with over 29 per cent of the vote, while Grigory Yavlinsky, the liberal leader of Yabloko, came a poor third with 5.8 per cent; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the LDPR, came fifth with 2.7 per cent; and Konstantin Titov (SPS), the liberal governor of Samara who publicly condemned the war in Chechnya, was sixth with a mere 1.5 per cent. Voter turnout for the election was over 69 per cent.
Next presidential election: 2004 (for details of all elections, see Panorama and Russia Votes)
GDP (1999 est.): purchasing power parity US$620.3 billion
GDP per capita (1999 est.): purchasing power parity - US$4,200
GDP growth rate (2000 est.): 7.6 per cent (US State Department's 2000 Human Rights Report)
Inflation (1999 est.): 86 per cent (CIA World Factbook)
Unemployment (2000): 10.2 per cent with considerable additional underemployment (US State Department's 2000 Human Rights Report)
According to the US State Department's Bureau of European Affairs briefing notes for Russia (May 2000), one-third of the Russian population lives on just over US$1 a day. Average wages were US$66 per month in October 1999, compared with US$68 per month in October 1998. By the end of 2000 the average wage had reached US$89 per month, but poverty remains endemic and the gulf between the 'new Russian' elite and the vast majority of ordinary Russians remains shockingly apparent. The Russian Journal reported in February 2001 that, according to the Russian State Statistics Committee, over a quarter of Russians (39 million people) were living below the poverty line - that is, on less than US$42.70 per month - during the latter part of 2000.
According to tradition the penetration of Jews into the territories that comprise Russia began in the border regions beyond the Caucasus mountains and the shores of the Black Sea in the seventh century BCE; ruins and inscriptions on tombstones testify to the existence of important Jewish communities in the Greek colonies on the Black Sea shores. Religious persecutions in the Byzantine empire caused many Jews to emigrate to these communities.
The invasion of the Mongols (1237) and their rule brought much suffering to the Jews of Russia. In the principality of Moscow, the nucleus of the future Russian empire, a negative attitude towards Jews was connected with a negative attitude towards foreigners in general, who were considered heretics and enemies of the state. In the 1470s the religious sect known as the 'Judaizers' was discovered in the city of Novgorod and at the court in Moscow: the Jews were accused of having initiated its establishment. When Tsar Ivan 'the Terrible' (1530-84) annexed the town of Pskov he ordered that all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity be drowned in the river.
In the following two centuries repeated decrees issued by Russian rulers prohibited the entry of Jewish merchants in their territories.
In 1738 the Jew Baruch b. Leib was arrested and accused of having converted the officer Aleksandr Voznitsyn to Judaism. Both were burned at the stake in St Petersburg. In 1742 Tsarina Elizaveta Petrovna ordered the expulsion of the few Jews living in her kingdom, stating: 'I do not want any [commercial] benefit from the enemies of Christ.'
At the close of the eighteenth century, hundreds of thousands of Jews were placed under the domination of the tsars as a result of the three partitions of Poland. From the beginning of its annexation of the Polish territories the Russian government viewed the Jews there as the 'Jewish problem', to be solved ultimately by assimilation or expulsion. The early nineteenth century saw the restriction of Russia's Jewish population to the Pale of Settlement, which extended from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
The promulgation of the first 'Jewish statute' in 1804 led to the beginning of the expulsion of Jews from the villages. In 1822 this expulsion was systematically resumed. In the 1840s Tsar Nikolay I divided the Jews into those who were 'useful' - wealthy merchants, craftsmen and agriculturalists - and 'non-useful' - small tradesmen and the poorer classes - an act that provoked the intervention of Western European Jews.
The emergence of Jews into mainstream economic, political and cultural life under the reformist Tsar Aleksandr II provoked a sharp reaction in Russian society. Leading opponents of the Jews included several of the country's most prominent intellectuals, such as the authors Ivan Aksakov and Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Jews were accused of maintaining 'a state within a state', an accusation exemplified in the 1869 Kniga kagala (Book of the Kahal) by the apostate Jacob Brafman, and the blood libel charge was renewed by agitators (e.g. Kutais in 1878). The principal argument was that the Jews were an alien element, invading Russian life and gaining control of economic and cultural positions, and a destructive influence. The anti-Jewish movement gathered strength especially after the Balkan war of 1877-8, when a wave of Slavophile nationalism swept through Russian society.
The year 1881 was a turning point in the history of the Jews in Russia. In March revolutionaries assassinated Tsar Aleksandr II. The Russian government encouraged the notion that the Jews were responsible for the misfortunes of the nation. Pogroms broke out in southern Russia; similar pogroms were repeated in 1882-4. Commissions appointed by the government of Aleksandr III stated that the pogroms had been caused by 'Jewish exploitation'. In 1886 the number of Jewish students in secondary and tertiary institutions was limited by law to 10 per cent in the Pale of Settlement and to 3-5 per cent outside it. Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the head of the Holy Synod, the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church, formulated the objectives of the government when he declared that 'one-third of the Jews will convert, one-third will die and one-third will leave the country'.
In 1903 many Jews were murdered in a pogrom in Kishinev. In subsequent years pogroms became a part of government policy. The establishment of the imperial Duma brought no change to the situation of the Jews. While there was a limited Jewish representation in the Duma it was confronted by the Soyuz russkogo naroda (SRN, Union of the Russian People) and related parties whose principal weapon in the struggle against liberal and radical elements was a virulent antisemitism.
In 1913 Mendel Beilis was acquitted after a celebrated trial in Kiev involving the blood libel.
The pogroms, restrictive decrees and administrative pressure caused a mass emigration of Jews from Russia, especially to the United States. From 1881 to 1914 about 2 million Jews left Russia.
The October 1917 revolution brought to an end institutionalized antisemitism and accorded the Jewish minority equal rights.
In 1939-40 over 2 million Jews, residents of the territories that had been annexed by or incorporated into the Soviet Union, were added to the Soviet Jewish population. As a result of the annexations, on the eve of Hitler's invasion of the USSR, the Jewish population of Soviet Russia numbered over 5 million.
In the first few weeks following the Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union in June 1941 the German invaders occupied most of the areas annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939-40, including all of Byelorussia and the greater part of western Ukraine. Vilna, Minsk, Riga, Vitebsk, Zhitomir and Kishinev were all taken by mid-July. The total Jewish population in the areas occupied by the Germans was 4 million. Of these, about 3 million were murdered.
In the late 1940s to early 1950s what remained of Jewish institutional life was virtually obliterated. The Jewish Anti-fascist Committee was dissolved and those associated with it were arrested. The Soviet media conducted a vicious campaign against 'cosmopolitans', directed principally against the Jewish intelligentsia. Stalin's anti-Jewish campaign culminated in the so-called 'doctors' plot', the supposed discovery of an assassination attempt on the Soviet dictator by a group of Jewish doctors. Rumours of the impending mass deportation of Jews to regions in the eastern USSR began to circulate. Stalin's death in March 1953 brought some relief.
Despite his policy of de-Stalinization, Khrushchev's rule was not devoid of anti-Jewish elements. This was particularly demonstrated by the so-called economic trials, in which an apparently disproportionate number of defendants were Jews. Although officially proscribed in the Soviet Union antisemitism found expression in violent outbursts such as riots in Malakhovka in 1959, blood libels in Tashkent, Vilna and elsewhere, and literary controversies such as the reaction to Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poem 'Baby Yar'. In 1963 Judaism bez prikras (Judaism without Embellishment), a book by the Soviet Ukrainian writer Trofim Kichko, provoked a worldwide protest, in particular over its Nazi-style cartoons. It was eventually withdrawn by the Soviet authorities. Jews continued to be barred from the higher echelons of the Communist Party, the foreign service and the senior military command.
In the Brezhnev era an anti-Zionist campaign aimed at countering the emigration fantasies of Soviet Jews was heavily influenced by propagandists who introduced antisemitic themes in a Marxist-Leninist guise.
During the Gorbachev period of liberalization of Communist rule antisemitism was a characteristic feature of ultra-nationalist and neo-Stalinist groups which emerged on the fringe of Russian politics, including Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR, which subsequently penetrated mainstream politics.
The Russian experience of the Great Patriotic War (as it is known), like Russian war-time historiography, adds a unique dimension to the Russian perspective on the Holocaust. Historians agree that, while the number of civilian and military dead is debatable, of all the Second World War participants, the Soviet Union suffered the greatest losses. Some Soviet historians now estimate the number of dead at around 43-7 million; Richard Overy (Russia's War, Penguin 1999) offers a total of 17 million civilian casualties, including those murdered and starved to death during the period, with a further 8.6 million military dead.
Whatever statistics one chooses to accept, the number of Soviet dead is enormous, and the suffering experienced is engraved on the consciousness of the Russian people. The magnitude of Russian war-time suffering allows Russian propagators of 'revisionist' material easily to distort and minimize the Holocaust by comparison. However, amongst the generations that experienced the war and/or the Soviet education system, Hitler remains an intensely hated figure. Extreme nationalist groups who have any aspirations for political power must therefore deny any connections to German fascism, National Socialism or Hitler. Furthermore, right-wing extremist groups who might be tempted to introduce Holocaust-denial material into their propaganda must do so delicately or risk alienating their audience. There remain, of course, individuals and groups that make no attempt to disguise their admiration for Hitler or his methods - Konstantin Kasimovsky, the leader of the Russian National Socialist Party, for example - but they remain on the furthermost fringes of the national-patriotic movement.
Soviet war-time historiography has generally made little of the Holocaust. One of the most positive western writers on Soviet attitudes to the Holocaust, Zvi Gitelman, observes: 'While most Soviet writers either ignored the Holocaust or submerged it in more general accounts of the period, none denied it, and some did treat it not simply as German atrocities but as a uniquely Jewish fate.' Other observers, however, have perceived the Soviet treatment of the Holocaust as a conspiracy of silence. It is fair to say that the general population, as a result of this historiography, has little knowledge and understanding of the fate of the Jews or other minorities singled out for elimination in the Holocaust, although awareness is growing.
One common tendency in the propaganda of Russian extreme nationalists is to compare the Holocaust with the Soviet 'genocide of the Russian people', or even to talk of a 'Russian Holocaust'. Oleg Platonov, an antisemitic writer, complains in his foreword to the Russian translation of Jürgen Graf's Myth of the Holocaust that 'not on one page in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust is there a mention of the tens of millions of victims of the genocide of the Russian people, carried out under the direction of Jewish leaders, in the first two decades after 1917'.
In March 1999, the Duma approved a bill on indigenous ethnic communities, providing them with support, permitting the creation of self-governing bodies, and permitting them to seek compensation if economic development threatens their lands. According to the US State Department's 1999 Human Rights Report, most indigenous ethnic communities believe that they are treated equally with ethnic Russians, although some groups believe that they are not represented or are under-represented in regional governments. According to unconfirmed press reports, in May 1999 Nogais in Stavropol met and called for the resignation of the regional and educational administration in the Nogai okrug, after a police officer reportedly killed two Nogais.
Anti-Chechen feeling escalated as a result of the fearsome bombing campaign that began on 31 August 1999 with an explosion in a Moscow shopping centre that resulted in one dead and 40 injured. On 4 September a car bomb exploded on a military base in Buynaksk, a town in central Dagestan, killing 64 people and injuring 145. On 9 and 13 September explosions in apartment buildings in Moscow killed at least 212 people. Government officials implied that Chechnya-based Islamic extremist groups were responsible for the bombings, but had failed to present any evidence or press charges against any individuals by the end of 1999. Various theories abounded, including that the Russian government had organized the campaign in order to impose martial law (a poll in late September found that 16 per cent of Russians considered this a credible theory), or that the Union of Revolutionary Writers, an antisemitic, anti-capitalist group whose pamphlet was found at the scene of the first bomb attack in August, was responsible. The latter theory was ruled out by investigators in early September.
According to the US State Department's 1999 Human Rights Report: 'Police and other security forces in various parts of the country continued their practice of targeting citizens from the Caucasus and darker-skinned persons in general for arbitrary searches and detention on the pretext of fighting crime and enforcing residential registration requirements.' Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov launched 'Operation Foreigner' in response to the September bombings, which required the re-registration of all non-Muscovites in the city, targetting in particular anyone who might be construed as being of southern origin (e.g. dark-skinned), and this model was repeated in Krasnoyarsk, the Altai Republic and Sverdlovsk. Mass detention and deportation of Caucasians followed.
In August 2000 another explosion in a crowded underpass in the centre of Moscow killed 12 people and resulted in further restrictions of Muscovites' freedom of movement, through residence registration measures. These restrictions, although again challenged (with success) in the courts in September 2000 by a human rights organization, remain largely in force and tolerated by the federal government. Although, again, Chechnya-based Islamist groups were suspected of being responsible and four suspects from the Northern Caucasus arrested, investigators have not yet ruled out the possibility that it was the work of criminal gangs.
Reports of police beatings and torture of ethnic minorities have been numerous, although police brutality and corruption affects ethnic Russians as well, particularly those working in the sphere of human rights. According to the US State Department's 2000 Human Rights Report, both environmental and human rights groups complained of harassment from the procuracy, tax police and the FSB. Also in August 2000 armed masked men accompanied by a local police official in uniform held staff of the Glasnost Public Foundation, a human rights organization, at gunpoint for nearly forty minutes while they raided their office in Moscow. There is some justification for the widespread suspicion that the tax police and similar bodies are being misused for political ends, and are investigating 'opponents' of the government and turning a blind eye to those whom the government favours.
Ironically, in August 1999, the media ministry used anti-discriminatory legislation to prevent television stations showing footage of Chechen leaders in their reports on the conflict in Dagestan, stating that this 'violates Article 4 of the Law of the Russian Federation on the Mass Media' which forbids the inciting of racial violence or hatred.
Skinheads were responsible for most of the xenophobic violence in 1999 and 2000. Between summer 1998 and summer 1999 a group of Moscow skinheads attacked and killed several foreigners and tramps, including a thirty-year-old Angolan man. In September 2000 up to a hundred skinheads caused a riot in the Moscow metro station Vladykino, attacking people who did not appear to be Slavic. In October 2000, in a Moscow hostel for Vietnamese, a group of skinheads attacked residents although they did not seriously injure anyone. In Tula, skinheads killed a man from Cameroon studying at Tula State University. According to the foreign students currently at Tula, racial attacks occur almost daily. Reports indicate that similar attacks have been made on foreign students in Penza.
Following the controversial 1997 law on freedom of conscience and religious association, the Russian Orthodox Church has remained firm in its opposition to foreign influence. In February 1999 Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksey II called for the continuation of the struggle against foreign religions, which he believed were threatening the spiritual health of the nation. There is significant evidence that many Russians continue to feel hostility towards 'foreign sects', perhaps influenced by negative reports in the mass media and public criticism by Russian Orthodox Church officials and other influential figures. Growing fundamentalism within the Russian Orthodox church is being exploited and encouraged by many nationalist groups, and anti-ecumenism, antisemitism, xenophobia and anti-democratic sentiments are symptomatic of this fundamentalism.
Mainstream political life
Vladimir Putin remains enigmatic, and Jews in Russia have received him with mixed feelings. In November 1999 Putin met with leaders of the newly-created Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia to express his sympathy for Jewish causes and, according to Vremya Novostei (30 March 2000), has authorized a federal programme for the 'creation of tolerance and the prevention of extremism in Russian society'. Putin also apparently promised Rabbi Zinovy Kogan, one of the leaders of KEROOR, the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations of Russia, that he would personally supervise the investigation of the recent synagogue bombings. Kogan amongst others sees Putin's rise as positive for Russian Jews, but Putin's stance on Chechnya has caused some Jewish leaders to view him with suspicion. The director of the Council for Soviet Jews, Micah Naftalin, suggests that Putin 'has risen to power on the back of a racist war that appeals to the worst xenophobic instincts of the Russians'.
In December 2000 Putin made a high-profile visit to a Jewish centre during a celebration of the Hanukkah holiday, possibly in an attempt to dampen protests made by Jewish groups earlier in December who had accused the Kremlin of doing nothing to bring an end to antisemitic attacks. Putin clearly sought to improve relations with the Jewish community, accepting a menorah and announcing that 'the light and the kindness that this [menorah] will radiate will always illuminate the Kremlin'.
Putin has also met with individuals who are clearly unsympathetic to Jewish causes. On 10 August 2000 he included Aleksandr Prokhanov - the editor of the nationalist and antisemitic paper Zavtra - in a meeting of the editors of national newspapers. The meeting was described as 'part of a disturbing pattern' by Leonid Stonov, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews' director for International Bureaus and Activities. The launch of antisemitic advertisements by ORT, Boris Berezovsky's television company, against Putin's rival Yavlinsky during the presidential election campaign also caused concern. The advert suggested that Yavlinksy was backed by Jews and homosexuals, and funded by Israeli citizens.
In July 1999 the former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, with regard to the media war between Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, reportedly said: 'Two Jews have clashed, and now the whole country has to watch this farce.' He was congratulated by antisemitic extremists and severely criticized by the Jewish community. The mainstream business daily Kommersant interpreted the remark as evidence of a looming 'antisemitic epidemic' in the run-up to the December 1999 Duma elections.
In September 2000, Nezavisimaya gazeta published an article by the director general of the Information Analytical Agency of the Department of Affairs, Aleksandr Ignatov, a member of the presidential administration, which accused a 'Hasidic-paramasonic group' of controlling the processes of globalization that are adversely affecting Russia.
In November 2000 Alexander Mikhailov, the newly elected governor of the Kursk region, declared that he and President Putin were in harmony over the policy to 'liberate' Russia from 'filth', stressing the former governor Alexander Rutskoi's Jewish roots. Mikhailov also claimed that Putin sent his personal adviser to assist him in his election campaign, a claim that the administration quickly denied.
Kommunisticheskaya partiya Rossiskoi Federatsii (KPRF, Communist Party of the Russian Federation)
The KPRF, the largest but not the only communist party active in Russia, officially has 500,000 members and remains a significant force in Russian politics
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov continued to make antisemitic and racist remarks in the mainstream political arena, along with his colleagues General Albert Makashov and Viktor Ilyukhin. In an open letter in December 1998, he declared his belief that there is a Zionist conspiracy to take power in Russia, and that Zionist capital was responsible for destroying the Russian economy. Zyuganov declared to journalists in February 1999 that people with 'non-Russian-sounding last names' are undermining Russia's 'distinctive character'. Zyuganov's popularity has demonstrably decreased: he received 23.6 million votes in 1996, and 20.7 million in 2000.
Makashov was internationally condemned for antisemitic comments made in October 1998: in an editorial in nationalist paper Zavtra (Tomorrow), he wrote that a 'Yid [is] a bloodsucker feeding on the misfortunes of other people; they drink the blood of the indigenous peoples of the state'; and in a speech to rallies in Moscow and Samara commemorating the Bolshevik revolution (later shown repeatedly on television), he said: 'I will round up all the Yids and send them to the next world!' Attempts to curb Makashov were made in November 1998, when a motion in the Duma censuring him for his 'harsh, abusive statements' and for inciting racial hatred was defeated by 121 votes to 107.
Makashov continued his public display of antisemitism in a speech made in February 1999 in a predominantly Cossack mining town in the Rostov region to a conference sponsored by the ultra-nationalist grouping DPA, considered by some to be allied to the KPRF. Makashov suggested transforming the group into a 'Movement against Yids'. He also distinguished between 'good Jews' and 'bad Jews', saying that 'good Jews' would 'continue to live', while those who fell into the category of 'bad Jews' would 'have a hard time'. He also reportedly made the comments that 'we will be antisemites and must be victorious' and 'Jews are brave. They are so brave because none of us has yet knocked on their door.' Following the speech, which was enthusiastically received by an audience of around 2,000 people, the Rostov regional prosecutor refused to take action against Makashov: he claimed that there was some ambiguity in Makashov's use of the word 'zhid' (Yid) since it was used in Pushkin's time to refer to money-grubbers and plunderers.
In April 1999 the justice ministry absolved the Communist Party of responsibility for the antisemitic remarks of both Makashov and Ilyukhin.
In July 1999 the Stavropol mayor Mikhail Kuzmin, a Communist, publicly voiced his support for the neo-fascist RNE in a meeting with Vladimir Rushailo, Russia's interior minister.
In May 2000 the notorious antisemitic Communist governor of the southern Russian region of Krasnodar Kray, Nikolai Kondratenko, called Zionism 'the most aggressive and bloody force' since Nazi Germany, announcing that 'Zionists and American imperialists' are in league to divide Russia, and declared that only ethnic Russians belonged in the region. Anti-fascists who gathered in Krasnodar Kray for a May Day rally were detained and subsequently expelled.
Antisemitic propaganda is regularly in evidence at Community Party rallies. For instance, at one held in Moscow in June 2000 to protest against Putin's economic policies, demonstrators carried placards bearing slogans such as 'Down with the Jewish Counter-revolution'.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberalno-demokraticheskaya partiya Rossii (LDPR, Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia)
The LDPR, led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has experienced declining popularity since its high point in the 1993 election, although it won 6 per cent of the vote in the 1999 Duma elections and still can boast 300,000 official members and a sizeable number of supporters amongst the electorate. Zhirinovsky's behaviour is unpredictable, and in recent public statements he has attempted to dispel the image of his party as antisemitic. Since his party entered the Duma, it has moved further to the political centre; while continuing to make outrageous statements to ensure his 'newsworthiness', Zhirinovsky has supported the Kremlin on most significant issues. His nationalism is of the imperial kind; essentially he desires to restore the Russian or Soviet empire.
Zhirinovsky, who won 7.81 per cent of the votes in the 1991 presidential elections when he was perceived as an extremist politician, gained a mere 2.7 per cent in his more moderate guise in the 2000 elections.
Approximately 100 organizations comprise the 'national-patriotic movement', i.e. groupings of an ultra-nationalist orientation. All but Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR operate on the fringe of Russian politics, and some probably consist of no more than a small group of individuals and a website and operate in the virtual sphere alone. In October 1999 the Presidential Commission of Experts to Counteract Political Extremism recorded more than fifty extremist organizations registered with the justice ministry and legally operating within Russia. According to a report by the Anti-Defamation League Moscow, in the year 2000 there were at least ten ultra-nationalist groups active in Russia that each have a membership of between 100 and 5,000 individuals.
Activists are constantly at odds with each other, whether for doctrinal or personal reasons; organizations frequently change their names, and repeated attempts are made to unify ultra-nationalist forces. By all indications the extremist groups are making little, if any, political headway, although there is a case to be made for their activities influencing the tone of political life. In the Duma elections of December 1999, the vote for far-right parties fell from its 1996 peak.
Antisemitism is an integral element of the ideology of most organizations of this type, right-wing ultra-nationalist and neo-Stalinist alike. The major themes of antisemitic (and anti-western) propaganda include attacks on 'Russophobia' (a euphemism for 'anti-patriotic' Jews), prominent Russian Jewish bankers, industrialists and high officials, who are often described as being either of Jewish extraction or as 'Jewish puppets'. Antisemitic propaganda also repeatedly makes use of the following:
Russkoe natsionalnoe edintstvo (RNE, Russian National Unity)
Until its recent split in August 2000, RNE was the most prominent and influential ultra-nationalist group on the fringe of Russian politics, and their increasing success in the regions in part precipitated the leadership crisis that resulted in the division of the RNE into Russkoe Vozrozhdenie (RNE-RV, Russian Revival) and Aleksandr Barkashov's (Moscow-based) RNE.
Originally, RNE was founded in Moscow in October 1990 when its membership consisted mainly of former members of Dmitri Vasiliev's Pamyat. Until March 1993 the RNE was a member of the RNS. In October 1993 RNE members helped to defend the White House against Yeltsin's forces. Members of this group wear black shirts and berets, and greet each other with a stiff-armed salute and the cry 'Glory to Russia!' Their symbol is a swastika combined with a cross. In contrast to most other ultra-nationalist activists in Russia, Barkashov does not hesitate to describe himself as a 'fascist'. The organization is virulently antisemitic, racist and homophobic.
In 1994 Barkashov published a collection of his articles entitled Azbuka russkogo natsionalista (ABC of Russian Nationalism) in which he labelled as overt enemies liberals, democrats, Jews and Freemasons, and as covert enemies members of most of the other extremist parties. Each RNE member is given a copy of the book, which is also available on the Internet.
The stated goal of the organization is to develop Russian youth to establish 'Russian order', a vision of a great Russia with Russian Orthodox values, a goal for which they claim to be ready to shed blood. RNE activists run paramilitary clubs where they prepare teenagers for military service, and recruitment targets soldiers, workers and students in particular. Activists are known to have distributed leaflets among both students and troops, and enlisted as security guards at military bases. The group also runs kindergartens in Stavropol and trains Russian youths of various ages.
Before the split the RNE boasted 25,000 members, although security force estimates placed the true figure at closer to 7,000. The Russian News Agency RIA-Novosti estimated the support base (including sympathizers) of RNE at 150,000-200,000, while some journalists have recorded hard-core membership levels at 10,000. Panorama estimated that RNE had 15,000 members, while observing that a large proportion of them were teenagers attracted by free martial arts training, who would probably drop out relatively quickly. The group, which claimed to have branches in fifty-three cities, has had a high level of support amongst army, police and state security officials. It appears that RNE also has had some support amongst the Russian Orthodox clergy.
RNE published two national newspapers and a number of regional ones: Russky poryadok (Russian Order) has been published since October 1992 in Vladivostok, Moscow, Samara and Stavropol, and its print-run in 1996 was 5 million; it is now available on-line. Russky styag (Russian Banner) was revived in October 1995 with a print-run of 55,000. In February 1999, it was reported that RNE also began publishing an ultra-nationalist Russian-language newspaper in Riga, Latvia.
RNE's influence has been strongest in the regions. In March 1999 the organization reportedly held meetings in a number of towns in Russia, including St Petersburg (with thirty attendees) and Stavropol, where 300 uniformed members participated. Regional authorities have reportedly established joint street and market patrols composed of police and RNE members in the major provincial cities of Voronezh, Bryansk, Kstovo and Kostroma, and in July 2000 RNE leader Grigory Trofimchuk was appointed to a panel that advises the Saratov regional parliament. Trofimchuk was arrested earlier in the year, with a RNE colleague, for possession of ammunition, but was released after a few hours while his companion was imprisoned.
RNE has faced some recent external setbacks alongside its internal crises. It was named by the Presidential Commission of Experts to Counter Political Extremism, created in October 1997, as one of the first groups that would come under scrutiny. However, Stepashin (then-chairperson of the Commission) observed that in fact RNE no longer existed officially, since in December 1997 it lost a court case to renew its registration with the ministry of justice. After a dramatic increase in antisemitic activity by local RNE members, in March 1999 the Duma in Borovichi banned the group from holding meetings or demonstrations, wearing swastikas and distributing propaganda. In April 1999 RNE activity was banned by a Moscow court, after a public dispute between Barkashov and Mayor Luzhkov over RNE plans to hold a conference in Moscow; members of the organization demonstrated against the decision in Yekaterinburg, following which thirty of them were arrested but freed soon afterwards. The RNE were also banned in Primorsky Kray in October 1999, and in Karelia in the summer of 2000.
RNE were prevented from participating in the December 1999 Duma elections, because 10 of the 47 branches claimed by Barkashov were found to be fictitious. On 13 November 1999 a Moscow district court invalidated the registration of Spas (Salvation), a party bloc set up by Vladimir Davidenko in order to provide an electoral base for Aleksandr Barkashov after RNE was barred from running. The court based its decision on a ministry of justice review of Spas's registration materials, which found inaccuracies and false statements.
Natsionalno-bolshevistskaya partiya (NBP, National Bolshevik Party)
The NBP is considered to be the second strongest neo-fascist party after RNE, with approximately 6,000 members. It is led by the eccentric former novelist Eduard Limonov, formerly internal affairs minister in the 'shadow cabinet' of Zhirinovsky's LDPR. The NBP came into being in May 1993 but, as a political organization, first became known in November 1994 with the appearance of its weekly newspaper Limonka, which has a circulation of 9,000. Previously only Limonov and Aleksandr Dugin, a so-called 'metaphysician', were publicly known. (One example of Dugin's 'metaphysical' thought was provided in Limonka, no. 61, published in March 1997: 'The Indo-Europeans and Aryans labour while the Semites appropriate the results of their labour etc. For fascists it is of no importance to which class the Semites belong: they are guilty at all times and of everything, and if they speak out against anything really bad (in the eyes of fascists), then it is out of "vile deviousness" and for the sake of appearances.') While the official ideology of the NBP is 'imperialist patriotic', focusing on a strong state rather than an ethnic nationalism, and claiming that those from non-Russian nationalities are eligible to join the party, their propaganda is less than welcoming. Limonka, virtually alone among publications of its kind, often displays a humorous (and semi-pornographic) inclination, and is one of the most popular national-patriotic publications.
Since February 1996 the NBP has been allied to the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist organizations UNA and UNSO. The party's ideology, which was determined by Dugin until he broke with the NBP, supports centralized power on a hierarchical principle and a review of Russia's borders together with plebiscites in the former Soviet republics, the termination of western investment in Russia and the total elimination of crime. No calls to antisemitic violence have been identified in NBP propaganda, or the propaganda of other 'imperialist patriots'.
The NBP has branches in more than half of the Russian regions, despite its low electoral potential.
Pamyat National-Patriotic Front, led by Dmitri Vasiliev, is perhaps the most notorious of all the extremist groups in post-Soviet Russia. Created in the 1980s, allegedly with support from security forces, it was one of the most active, antisemitic and nationalist groups of the glasnost period, attracting support from notable intellectuals with a programme to 'defend cultural monuments'. The original Pamyat movement split acrimoniously and many Pamyat activists went on to found and develop other nationalist organizations, such as the RNE. Vasiliev's Pamyat, while far less influential today, is still active and, in 1998, for example, published a Russian translation of Robert Wilton's Last Days of the Romanovs, which blames the Jews for the Bolshevik Revolution and the murder of the royal family. The book is currently on sale in mainstream bookshops.
The Dvizheniya v podderzhky armii (DPA, Movement in Support of the Army), led by Viktor Ilyukhin and Albert Makashov (who remain KPRF members), is sometimes viewed as the KPRF's extreme wing. The DPA ran as an independent party in the 1999 Duma elections, and is more national-patriotic than communist in orientation. They received 0.58 per cent of the vote.
The Soyuz russkogo naroda (SRN, Union of the Russian People), led by the teacher V. Birulin and the former KGB colonel I. Kuznetsov, regards itself as the successor to the reactionary and antisemitic SRN that existed at the beginning of the twentieth century. The SRN calls for the prohibition of marriage between people of different nationalities. In December 1996 its chairman condemned the so-called destruction wrought on his country by the 'Judeo-commissars', claimed that the 'real name' of the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was Moisei Solomonovich, and that in the year 2000 'Zionism' would prevail in Russia. The largest SRN branch, in Tsaritsin, is registered as the Union of the Russian People-Russian Community of the Volgograd area. The SRN's newspaper Kolokol (The Bell) is published in Volgograd under the editorship of another ex-KGB officer, Stanislav Terentev. In 1998, it published an article by N. Kozlov that declared history 'knows only two ways of struggling with Jewish invasion: massacre and deportation.' Ultimately unsuccessful legal proceedings against the newspaper were initiated in 1998.
The Russkoe natsionalnoe-osvoboditelnoe dvizhenie (RNOD, Russian National Liberation Movement) was founded in October 1994 and comprised a group of readers and supporters of the Moscow-based paper Russkaya pravda (Russian Truth), which was registered in June 1994, and in 1996 had a print-run of 10,000. Aleksandr Aratov, the paper's founder and publisher, had previously been a member of Viktor Korchagin's Russkaya partiya Rossii (RPR, Russian Party of Russia) and in 1992-3 was the deputy chief editor of the antisemitic paper Russkoe voskresenie (Russian Resurrection). The chief editor of the Moscow edition of Russkaya pravda is Valery Yemelyanov, a 'pagan' and veteran antisemite active during the Brezhnev era. The RNOD holds 'Zionism' responsible for usurping power in Russia in 1917, for the alleged mass genocide of the Russian people and for inciting class and national enmity.
The 'initiative group' responsible for founding Russky natsionalny soyuz (RNS, Russian National Union) emerged in early 1993 following its split from Dmitri Vasiliev's Pamyat. The leaders of the 'initiative group' were Aleksey Vdovin and Konstantin Kasimovsky. They were supported by the editor of Chernaya sotnya (Black Hundreds), Aleksandr Shtilmark, who left Pamyat the previous year. In the spring of 1997 Vdovin was expelled from the party (he subsequently joined RNE) and Kasimovsky became the sole leader. The RNS is a neo-Nazi organization that adheres to an ethnic concept of Russian Orthodoxy. Members of the RNS have repeatedly attacked disseminators of 'heretical' literature as well as (according to Shturmovik) dark-skinned people from the Caucasus and Blacks. RNS members (according to Kasimovsky) also 'defended' the White House in the autumn of 1993.
Panorama notes that the RNS gradually shed its religious orientation and re-named itself the Russian National Socialist Party (RNSP). Konstantin Kasimovsky appears to have established the RNSP after six years with RNS, but recently replaced the RNSP website with a version that describes him as leader of Russian Action (RD). He describes his main rivals (RNE and NBP) as 'ideologically powerless', and calls for a new 'ideologically effective' organization built on the foundations of the RNS. RNS-RNSP published one of the most extreme newspapers in Russia, Shturmovik (Storm Trooper), which was closed down in 1998 and is now published electronically, as well as the journal Natsiya (The Nation). The newspaper Pravyi Soprotivlenie (Right Resistance) is now published as the successor to Shturmovik and has a circulation of about 1,000 and, while not the official organ of the RNS-RNSP, declares itself close to them. From the spring of 2000, it has appeared as the semi-official newspaper of Russian Action, publishing the manifesto of Kasimovsky's new party in issue 4, 2000.
The RNS cultivates links with neo-Nazi skinheads and similarly inclined youth organizations. The party operates a 'training room', the use of which is mandatory for members of its 'storm trooper detachment'. The group sometimes holds joint meetings with the Soyuz Khristianskoe vozrozhdenie (SKhV, Union of Christian Rebirth).
While no reliable figures are available for membership of NBP, SRN, RNOD and RNS/RNSP/RD, there are probably no more than 100-200 members in each case.
The Black Hundreds - a resurrected movement infamous for inciting pogroms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries - is now a marginal, quasi-Russian Orthodox group that publishes its own newspaper online and in hard copy. True to the movement's historical roots, it remains extremely antisemitic.
According to a recent report by the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, in March 1999 a new antisemitic, extremist organization called the Empire Party of Russia reportedly held a founding conference in Moscow. One of the group's leaders declared that the party will follow the Black Hundreds movement and save Russia from 'unclean Yid hirelings' and spiritual slavery.
Other marginal groups that are active, at least in the publishing and virtual sphere, include the Narodnaya natsionalnayai partiya (NNP, People's Nationalist Party), led by Aleksandr Ivanov. This group which maintains a quasi-Russian Orthodox profile was formed by Ivanov allegedly with the help of Vladimir Osipov and Vyacheslav Demin, who have been active in the Black Hundreds.
|Also founded in 1994 as a split from the RNE was the ultra-nationalist Russian Nationalist Party, under the leadership of Barkashov's former deputy Aleksandr Fyodorov. The present leader, Nicolai Bondarik, was in the news after his August 1999 appearance on the St Petersburg television talk-show Sobitiya.
David Duke, a former leader of the notorious US Ku Klux Klan, has in recent years been cultivating ties with Russian ultra-nationalists. In September 1999, he met with General Makashov in the Zavtra offices in Moscow. In a public statement, they said they discussed 'the New World Order orchestrated by the Jews'. In December 1999 Duke again attended meetings in Moscow, the first of which, hosted by the editor of the antisemitic newspaper Natsionalnaya Gazeta (National Newspaper), took place in a government-owned 'house of culture'. Antisemitic newspapers such as Chernaya sotnya (Black Hundreds) were distributed and the crowd applauded as Duke described the recent US election as a 'battle between two Jewish political groups'. The second meeting was held at the 'Free Word' publishing house, which has just published a Russian-language version of Duke's new book The Jewish Question through the Eyes of an American. Both the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods and the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers met with Duke during this event.
In August 2000 Konstantin Kasimovsky and Aleksandr Prokhanov, the editor of Zavtra, also apparently played host to Duke. In a speech in Moscow during that visit, Duke told the audience they should fight 'world Zionism' and that dark-skinned people should be expelled from the city.
In December of that year Duke made what would appear to be his fourth visit to Moscow in two years, at the invitation of the Union of Russian Writers, some of whose members are well known for their antisemitic beliefs. The host of the event was Boris Mironov, a former press minister under Yeltsin with strong ties to neo-Nazi groups. In a summer 2000 article entitled 'Is Russia the key to white survival?', Duke refers to Moscow as 'the whitest' of Europe's capital cities and writes: 'The Russian people also have a much greater knowledge of the power of International Zionism and the dominant Jewish role in orchestrating the immigration and multiculturalism that is undermining the West.' Calling for Russo-American unity in the fight against the Jews, Duke writes: 'We cannot win this struggle unless we stand indivisible against an implacable enemy whose hatred for us has grown and deepened for two millennia . . . I think Russia is so important to the worldwide efforts for our people that [my] new book will actually have its first printing in Russia a few weeks before the English edition will appear.'
Neo-Nazi skinhead groups
Neo-Nazi skinheads first appeared in Russia in the early 1990s. According to a number of observers, there are already several thousand in some of the major cities (Moscow, Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Irkutsk, Vladivostok) as well as smaller groupings - from a few dozen to a few hundred - in other big cities (St Petersburg, Voronezh, Yaroslavl and elsewhere). In Moscow there are two major neo-Nazi skinhead groups numbering several hundred people: the Moskovsky skinlegion (MS, Moscow Skin Legion) and the Russian branch of the international Blood & Honour network. Over 100 neo-Nazi skinheads are members of the St Petersburg group Russky kulak (RK, Russian Fist). The journal Pod nol (Below Zero), the only exclusively neo-Nazi skinhead publication in Russia, is published in Moscow.
In June 2000 more than 150 skinheads, reported by Russian media to be members of the Russian Purpose group, fought with police after a neo-Nazi rock concert. The leader of Russian Purpose was recently released after serving 17 months of a 3-year sentence for attacking an African-American US marine.
Skinhead violence against non-Russians resulted in several deaths in 2000 (see Racism and Xenophobia).
Physical violence and bombs
The most serious recent antisemitic incident occurred in June 1999 when Leopold Kaimovsky, director of a Moscow Jewish cultural centre, was stabbed repeatedly by an assailant with a swastika painted or tattooed on his chest, along with the initials RNE. The attacker said: 'We will knife you all. We will burn down your synagogues. We are not going to let you live here any longer. There are 50,000 of us.' Chief Rabbi Adolf Shayevich blamed the prevalence of antisemitic slogans in political life for the attack, and the lack of political will to tackle extremist groups and publications. Jewish leaders criticized the government for failing to condemn the attack openly. Weeks after, Nikita Krivchun, a student, was charged with the attempted murder of Kaimovsky, motivated by ethnic, racial or religious hatred; he was later found not guilty for reasons of 'insanity'.
Jewish institutions in Borovichi - a town of some 80,000 about 100 miles south-east of Novgorod - were the target of repeated attacks. Having seen a dramatic increase in antisemitic activity by local RNE members, the local Jewish community of 200 responded by appealing for help from outside organizations. In April 1999 - a month after specifically banning RNE and as a result of a campaign by US Jewish groups - the Borovichi authorities banned neo-Nazi activities, granted a public space to the local Jewish community and initiated a seminar to counter antisemitic propaganda amongst local youth. Only days after the opening of the new Jewish community centre it was seriously damaged in an arson attack. In September 1999 a shotgun was fired at one of the newly opened synagogue's windows. In April of the following year, a car owned by the synagogue's security chief was set on fire, and swastikas drawn on the cars of local Jewish leaders. The synagogue itself was again vandalized in May 2000.
In May 1999 bombs were detonated near two Moscow synagogues, and were interpreted by Chief Rabbi Shayevich as a warning to Russia's Jews, and as being connected to the banning of RNE by the city authorities a month earlier.
In the same month the Moscow Shalom Jewish Theatre was the target of a foiled bomb attack. According to the police, the unexploded bomb was extremely powerful and could have resulted in many deaths.
A large bomb was discovered in the Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue in Moscow in June 1999, a few minutes before a young boy's first haircut was due to take place. The bomb was detonated a short distance away from the synagogue. An anonymous hoax call was made to the same synagogue later in the month, saying that a further bomb had been planted. In July Moscow mayor, Yury Luzhkov, attended a service at the synagogue, and was the first prominent politician to condemn the attempted bombing.
Vandalism and desecration of cemeteries
In March 1999 a synagogue in Novosibirsk was badly vandalized; the perpetrators also painted swastikas and the signature of RNE on the walls.
Two months later, in May, a synagogue in Birobidzhan, the Jewish autonomous region in Sibera, was vandalized twice.
In August 1999 six Jewish graves were vandalized in Tomsk in Siberia. The following month, the local Jewish cemetery in Astrakhan was seriously desecrated.
The Moscow branch of the Anti-Defamation League reported that the number of incidents involving vandalism of Jewish cemeteries decreased from 6 in 1999 to 2 in 2000. Vandals attacked a Jewish graveyard in Nizhny Novgorod in June 2000, smashing thirty-seven gravestones. They were swiftly identified as eleven teenagers, and investigating officers believed this to be 'straightforward' hooliganism rather than antisemitic activity. Vandals also destroyed about thirty Jewish headstones and drew swastikas on them in Samara region in July 2000.
Other institutions with Jewish connections were also the object of antisemitic abuse. A school in Oryol that rents space to a Jewish organization was sprayed with antisemitic graffiti in March 1999, including slogans such as 'kill a Jew'. Oryol's Jewish community leaders took the vandalism seriously, saying they were afraid to continue the Hebrew classes that were being held at the school.
In April 2000 antisemitic graffiti, some of which was aimed at Lev Shlosberg, the local leader of the Yabloko party, was painted on the entrance to a Pskov university. The liberal leader of Yabloko, Grigory Yavlinsky, is the university's rector.
In May 1999 antisemitic propaganda directed at Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Vladimir Gusinsky, media mogul and head of the Russian Jewish Congress, was distributed in Kirov. The leaflets showed the pair in skullcaps, and announced that Luzhkov's real name is Katz, falsely stating that he is a Jew.
In June 1999 Stalin's grandson, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, head of the 50,000-strong Stalin Society, blamed 'Zionists' for Russia's problems, stating that there are 'practically no [ethnic] Russians' in the Russian cabinet. Russia's thirty-member government at the time included two members with known Jewish roots. Dzhugashvili, who earlier in 1999 established the Stalinist Bloc aimed at restoring the Soviet Union, addressed his remarks to a rally of 100 protesters opposing Yeltsin's reported intention to bury Lenin's body, which rests in the mausoleum in Red Square.
In Ryazan on 17 September 2000 a group of neo-Nazi youths stormed a Jewish Sunday school where 5 teachers and 25 pupils between the ages of 6 and 13 were studying. The attackers, who apparently declared that they were carrying out a 'pogrom', behaved in a threatening manner, broke glass, tore a display of children's drawings from the wall, and destroyed a telephone, but they did not enter the classroom where the children were gathered. In the evening of the same day someone attacked the director of the evening school that leases premises to the Sunday school, 'so that he would not rent the premises to Jews', in Leonid Reznikov's opinion. Local police announced that they had identified four of the people involved in the attack. But sources at the regional interior department were quoted as saying that, even though those identified pose 'some social danger, there is no need to take them into custody'. The Ryazan Memorial Society, a human rights organization, issued a statement demanding that city law enforcement agencies take urgent action to capture the offenders and hand them over to trial. 'Our public organization', the statement reads, 'has repeatedly expressed indignation at the inaction of the local prosecutor, police and local bureau of the Federal Security Service in regard to the neo-Nazi and fascist groups that incite ethnic enmity in Ryazan with impunity. Today, we are painfully ashamed of our city. Once again, just like fifty years ago, fascist thugs have taken up weapons in a pogrom.' Russian nationalistic organizations, including well-known local sections of the Russian Party, Russian Brotherhood, and RNE, have been active in Ryazan for several years.
A university official in Vladimir tried to prove the existence of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy in an article in the main local newspaper in May 2000, and a local high school teacher recommended that students avoid textbooks written by Jews.
The Russian Orthodox Church remains an influential body in Russian politics and society. Putin, along with other mainstream politicians, has been anxious to demonstrate his Orthodox credentials, declaring that an increase in church attendance is necessary to revive the 'spiritual foundations' of Russia. The successful revival of other aspects of Russian life is, he announced, impossible without this fundamental spiritual rebirth. In a speech made on 6 January 2000 (Orthodox Christmas Eve), Putin said: 'Orthodoxy has largely determined the character of Russian civilization. Its eternal truths, which have become the indisputable laws of life, have throughout the centuries supported people both in sorrow and in joy, returning hope to them and helping them acquire faith.'
There are a large number of extremist organizations and organizations espousing antisemitic views that are characterized by a Russian Orthodox ethos, and it is difficult to separate those that are actually Church organizations from those that have hijacked Orthodox Christianity for their own ends. Extremist politicians, like mainstream politicians, have found the Russian Orthodox card a useful one to play. In the 1999 Duma elections, the fundamentalist Russian Orthodox movement Spiritual Heritage won a seat.
Perhaps better known, Pamyat, RNE and the Black Hundreds have also flaunted Orthodox credentials and are known to have links with antisemitic clerics. The RNE newspaper states: 'Anyone who realizes the danger to the existence of Russia's people and purity of the Russian Orthodox Church and is not fighting against Judaism or Freemasonry can't even be called a Christian. He is not even a pagan. He is a slave of Satan, and not a worker for Jesus Christ.'
Searchlight reported in February 1999 that Russian Orthodox priest Evgeny Yefimov helped veterans of the SS legion Norwegen dedicate a monument to themselves in Krasnoye Selo near St Petersburg. Several ex-members of the Waffen SS were present, as were anti-fascist demonstrators.
In July 2000, the Jerusalem Post reported that Pravoslavny Yaroslavl, the Yaroslavl Church newspaper, regularly prints antisemitic pronouncements and advertisements from RNE and other extremist groups. The article also reported that the official Russian Orthodox newspaper in the Ural region's Kemerovo diocese is publishing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in serialization, and that Pravoslavnaya Gazeta, the official Church newspaper in Yekaterinburg, also regularly expresses antisemitic notions.
For general attitudes to the Holocaust, see Legacy of the Second World War.
In June 1999 Russian House, a television programme broadcast on the TV-Centre channel controlled by the Moscow city government, hosted an 'expert' who claimed that the Holocaust never happened. An earlier programme also broadcast in June included various antisemitic remarks including comments about a Jewish world conspiracy.
Researchers at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre reported in the summer of 2000 that a number of antisemitic articles had been published in local Russian media, including one by I. Katzman titled 'The Secret of the Gas Chambers' that aimed to 'unmask the great lie of the twentieth century'.
The last years of the 1990s have been a bad time for journalism in Russia. The Glasnost Defence Foundation reported at least nine journalists murdered in the first eight months of 1998. Six of them may have been killed for investigating and exposing criminal structures and corruption in government and banks; however, in most of these cases, police concluded that the deaths were as a result of family arguments. Through July of that year, the Foundation recorded at least sixty-six attacks on journalists, editors, and newspapers in regions throughout Russia, a sharp rise since 1997 (see Human Rights Watch World Report 1999). The Foundation also estimated that some 300 lawsuits and other legal actions were brought by government agencies against journalists and journalistic organizations in 1999, the majority of them in response to unfavourable coverage of government policy or operations. The Committee to Protect Journalists declared journalism as Russia's 'most dangerous profession' in 1998, and introduced their report on Attacks on the Press in 1999 with the reflection that 'the plight of Russian journalists under the new regime of Vladimir Putin - particularly those trying to report independently on the conflict in Chechnya - offers a sobering lesson: in countries where democracy is still an elusive goal, press freedom can easily come and go.'
The recent investigation and arrest of Jewish media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky (head of the Russian Jewish Congress) has been seen by some as evidence of government antisemitism, but a more cautious analysis suggests that it is rather a blow against freedom of the press and political opposition. Gusinsky is a close ally of Putin's rival Yury Luzhkov, the powerful mayor of Moscow. A cynic might conclude that Putin is pragmatically directing his anti-corruption, anti-oligarch campaign against his enemies, a move that both wins him popularity with voters and destroys his political rivals' source of support.
In Russia there are now several million copies of some 200-300 extremist periodical publications in circulation, considerably more than at any time during the tsarist period. Many of these publications are not registered with the authorities. Most are antisemitic. Prominent examples include the best-known antisemitic newspaper Zavtra (Tomorrow), edited by Aleksandr Prokhanov, as well as Russky vzglyad (Russian View), Za russkoe delo (For the Russian Cause), Kolokol (The Bell), Nashe otechestvo (Our Fatherland), Shturmovik (Storm Trooper), Chernaya sotnya (Black Hundreds), Russkiye vedomosti (Russian News), Russky vestnik (Russian Messenger), Veche Roda (Council of the Race) and Krasnoyarskaya gazeta (Krasnoyarsk Gazette), and the journals Kuban, Molodaya gvardiya (Young Guard), Nash sovremennik (Our Contemporary), Rusich and Ataka (for others, see Ultra-nationalist parties and Religious antisemitism).
Numerous antisemitic books continue to be sold openly in Moscow, St Petersburg, Volgograd, Krasnoyarsk, Yekaterinburg and other large cities. In addition to classic antisemitic texts like Hitler's Mein Kampf or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, they include Ivan Ignatev's Pyataya kolonna (Fifth Column) and Pyataya kolonna v Rossii (The Fifth Column in Russia) by Valery Dyakonov et al. The Vityaz publishing house continues to publish the 'Collection of a Russian Patriot', comprising twenty-five ultra-nationalist and antisemitic books and booklets.
Recent antisemitic publications noted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center include the following: Russky poryadok (Russian Order), published by the RNE, which declared 'The new government has a Jewish majority that discriminates against Russians'; Ia Russkii (I'm Russian), published by the NNP, which praises RNE and Pamyat and published an article by Sergei Goncharov entitled 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, 100 years later'; The Jewish Occupation of Russia, a collection of antisemitic materials from various sources, ranging from Russian 'folkloric' gems such as 'a Yid is only good in his grave' to patriotic songs calling for violence against Jews; About Jewish Fascism, by Boris Mironov, which describes how Jews are sucking the blood from ethnic Russians.
In May 2000 a local newspaper was charged with inciting racial and ethnic strife for reprinting an antisemitic pamphlet called 'The Catechism of the Jew' based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The forgery purports to be an Israeli creation telling Jews how to seize control of the media and society in order to rule Russia.
In April 1999 the well-known antisemite Yevgeny Lukin, author of No Blood on the Butcher's Hands (1996), which blames the Jews for the Bolshevik revolution, was appointed head of St Petersburg's main television station.
In August of the same year the St Petersburg television talk-show Sobitiya hosted the Russian Nationalist Party leader Nikolai Bondarik as a participant in a show about racism. During the show, Bondarik reportedly called on citizens to round up Jews and litsa kavkazkoi natsionalnosti, or people from the Caucasus region, and clear them from the city street. Viewers were invited to phone in and say whether they would participate in the ethnic cleansing of St Petersburg. More than 70 per cent of respondents (of 2,295 callers) thought that ethnic cleansing of the city was necessary and 58 per cent said they would physically participate in pogroms. The St Petersburg commissioner for human rights, Mikhail Chulaki, publicly criticized Sobitiya for the programme. In January 2000 a Petersburg-based human rights group Citizens' Watch teamed up with lawyers to put together a case that would stop antisemitic broadcasts being aired. The State Mass Media Committee also warned the television station that it was violating a law that prevents mass media from inciting ethnic hatred.
In November 1999 one of Russia's national television channels accused the Russian Jewish Congress of 'helping Russia's enemies in the West'. The same month, the neo-fascist bloc Spas ran a series of televised election campaign advertisments advocating the re-introduction of capital punishment to deal with 'all those Gaidars and Chubaises, who brought about the present miserable state of Russia'. The former prime minister Yegor Gaidar and deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais are widely believed to have Jewish roots.
At the end of 1999 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author and Nobel Prize winner, talked of a 'Jewish conspiracy' and people with Jewish names 'plotting behind the scenes' in a television interview in which he compared the current situation in Russia to the years preceding the 1917 revolution.
The Internet is an increasingly popular vehicle for the propaganda of extreme nationalist and antisemitic groups in Russia. Most political parties and movements maintain a website, and most extremist newspapers are now available on-line. Old favourites like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are being republished in electronic form, as are new antisemitic works by Boris Mirnonov, Oleg Platonov and others. Western Holocaust-denial material in translation is also now available electronically.
The influence of the Internet in Russia is a matter for debate at present, but some researchers suggest that students might be particularly vulnerable to electronic extremism as they have greater access to the Internet than other sections of the population. Other commentators dismiss extremist websites as public relations exercises, aimed at journalists and academics, pointing out that the poor and dispossessed of Russia - those most likely to support extremist groups like the RNE - have no access to them.
In March 1999 the Manchester Jewish Telegraph reported that a 'recent poll' of 1,600 Russian citizens revealed that 78 per cent want fascist groups banned. However, only 35 per cent of those questioned want RNE banned.
A poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation in June 1999 found that while 75 per cent of Russians believe that all citizens regardless of ethnicity should enjoy equal rights, 38 per cent believe Russia should accept only ethnic Russian refugees and 35 per cent think that a candidate's nationality should be considered in government appointments. While 78 per cent of respondents said that all young Russians should have free access to education, 16 per cent believed that only ethnic Russians should have this right.
The results of an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey of 1,528 Russian adults conducted during May and June 1999 found that more than two-fifths of Russians (44 per cent) hold strongly antisemitic views. The ADL described these findings as 'extremely troubling and potentially dangerous, especially in a climate of political and economic turmoil, and as acts of political and popular anti-Semitism increase in the Russian Federation'. The poll was conducted in face-to-face interviews in the Russian language throughout the Russian Federation by the Moscow-based opinion research firm Demoscope, in co-operation with the Boston firm of Marttila Communications Group. It relied on an 'index of anti-Semitic belief' that was developed by the University of California and is used in ADL surveys of American attitudes towards Jews. (ADL's 1998 survey of Americans, using the same 'index', showed that 12 per cent of US citizens harboured strong prejudice against Jews.)
The ADL survey also found that Russians are deeply pessimistic about the direction of their country and believe the national economy is in terrible condition. Many believe that their lives were better under Communism, and have little faith in Russia's new democratic political system. 88 per cent believe that the people who govern them don't care what happens to them; 80 per cent believe that, whether or not they participate in the forthcoming elections, nothing will change; 85 per cent believe that a majority of Russian officials are corrupt; 89 per cent believe that a small handful of rich people are ruling the country. A startling majority of 75 per cent responded that the Soviet Union should never have been broken up. 71 per cent responded that the last year or two have been the hardest of their lives and 88 per cent that it is much harder to imagine how they will live in the future. This combination of fear, depression, suspicion and antisemitic attitudes has worried some observers - many see the issues of economic and political instability and antisemitism as intimately related, with Jews functioning as the traditional 'scapegoat' in times of turmoil.
A survey of 1,600 teenagers in Moscow, conducted by the Centre of Educational Sociology of the Russian Academy of Education, found that by the final year of high school 0 per cent of teenagers think Russia should be entirely open to refugees. Teenagers of wealthier, intellectual families tend to favour the interests of the 'ethnic majority'.
A survey carried out by the Russian Center for Public Opinion and Market Research VCIOM in January 2000 reflects disturbing levels of xenophobia. 43 per cent of respondents believe that non-Russian nationalities within Russia constitute a 'substantial threat' to Russian security: 48 per cent of those polled considered the United States a threat (the only option chosen more often than ethnic minorities), 24 per cent Iraq, 23 per cent China and 22 per cent the European Union.
In January 1999, the Procurator General sent instructions to regional procurators to cut off distribution of any literature or printed material depicting Nazi symbols, together with a letter describing the Moscow city procurator's experience in combatting political extremism.
The following month, the Voronezh city administration proposed that regional authorities ban the production, distribution and display of Nazi and extremist symbols, and Moscow prosecutor Sergei Gerasimov submitted a proposed law to simplify the prosecution of individuals who use fascist symbols, allowing police to punish offenders directly by means of fines.
In March 1999 the government presented the Duma with a draft law on combatting political extremism and began drafting a law on national extremism, although by the end of 1999 the Duma had not passed the law. The Duma also considered a draft law forbidding 'Nazi symbols and literature'. However, the Duma did approve a bill on indigenous ethnic communities, providing them with support, permitting the creation of self-governing bodies and permitting them to seek compensation if economic development threatens their lands.
In June 1999 the Moscow city legislature passed a law prohibiting the display of Nazi symbols. Local police were given the authority to decide what constitutes a Nazi symbol. On 2 September 1999 the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that the Moscow regional governor Anatoliy Tyazhlov refused to sign the law, saying that the draft law not only threatened artistic and academic freedom of expression, but also freedom of religion, as swastikas are displayed by some religious groups.
Trials and prosecutions
According to Izvestiya (June 1999), of the twenty-five cases brought during 1998 under Article 282 of the Russian criminal code - the prohibition against 'incitement to racial hatred' - only one conviction had been obtained.
In 1998 court proceedings were finally initiated against the SRN newspaper Kolokol's editor-in-chief, Stanislav Terentev, for incitement to racial hatred. The newspaper had received sixty-four warnings by 1998, but no case had come to court. Terentev did not attend court, but a number of supporters, including RNE members, did. They formed a chain around the courtroom and proceedings were halted. The case was never restarted.
In January 1999 the Russian Federal Security Service dropped charges against a number of Russian extremists, including General Makashov, concluding that their incitement did not consitute criminal activity. In late January, Russian prosecutors launched a separate criminal case against Makashov, seeking to convict him of inciting ethnic hatred.
The following month, neo-Nazi Pavel Drozdov, arrested for making a video-taped antisemitic speech near what appeared to be a burning synagogue, was charged with inciting racial hatred. Prosecutors announced that Drozdov had no connection with the attacks on Moscow synagogues in May 1998.
In May 1999 nineteen members of the extreme antisemitic organization Pamyat were arrested for an illegal demonstration to celebrate Tsar Nicholas II's birthday.
In July 1999 Nikita Krivchun, a student, was charged with attempted murder, motivated by ethnic, racial or religious hatred, for his attack on Leopold Kaimovsky, the director of a Moscow Jewish cultural centre the previous month. In February 2000 he was found not guilty for reasons of 'insanity'. Anti-Defamation League director Lev Krichevsky agreed that 'Krivchun is most probably really mentally disturbed to some degree. But his actions were triggered by the current atmosphere in Moscow', which is full of 'ethnic hatred and xenophobia'.
Pavel Rozhin, a RNE leader, was charged in July 1999 with inciting racial hatred after organizing a campaign in Tomsk, Siberia, in which mailshots purporting to be from the fictitious 'International Jewish Committee' encouraging Jews to foment conflict amongst ethnic Russians were posted around the city.
In August 1999 antisemitic journalist and Kupchino neighbourhood deputy Denis Usov was charged with inciting ethnic hatred after distributing newspapers calling for Russians to rise up against ethnic minorities.
Attempts have been made to fulfill the promises made by senior figures to combat extremism in Russia, although progress is slow and piecemeal. The Duma finally selected Communist Deputy Oleg Mironov as Human Rights Ombudsman on 22 May 1998, implementing a March 1997 law establishing the position. In accordance with the law he resigned from both the Party and the Duma after the vote. Although in 1998 Mironov's comments to the press tended to focus on violations of socio-economic rights, such as wage arrears, in 1999 he has publicly criticized antisemitic incidents, and called for government protection against 'racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism'. In March 1999 he also proposed changes to the controversial 1997 law on religion, to bring it into compliance with international norms for religious freedom. However, an Anti-Defamation Commission briefing (April/May 1999) records that Mironov stated that ethnic Russians should have special status in Russia, in response to Viktor Ilyukhin's proposed introduction of ethnic quotas for government posts.
Other prominent politicians have publicly supported the struggle against ethnic and religious discrimination. In December 1998 Nikolai Bordyuzha, Yeltsin's chief of staff, for example, held a meeting of top security and defence ministers to discuss the rise in antisemitism and extremism in Russia. At a convention in February 1999 former prime minister and leader of the liberal Democratic Choice of Russia party, Yegor Gaidar, condemned recent displays of antisemitism by KPRF leaders; the convention was disrupted by neo-Nazi youths who had to be forcibly removed from the hall.
In the same month, the mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov, declared his intention to counter political extremism in the capital after RNE held an illegal march through Moscow; Luzhkov also banned the sale of neo-Nazi and antisemitic publications in a central Moscow square near the Kremlin. A Moscow police officer who apologized in front of television cameras to RNE members who had been arrested at that march was dismissed by the then-interior minister Sergei Stepashin, a leader of the liberal Yabloko party. Luzhkov was also the first high-ranking politician to condemn the attempted bombing of the Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue in June 1999.
In June 1999, after becoming prime minister, Sergei Stepashin called for more religious tolerance, stating: 'In this country we have many faiths - not only Christians, but also Muslims, Buddhists, Jews. They are also our roots, our Russia.' In the following month Prime Minister Stepashin declared to Jewish leaders in Washington that he planned to 'eradicate' antisemitism, and condemned 'radical politicians' for using antisemitism for their own ends.
The newly-appointed prime minister Vladimir Putin made his first statement about antisemitism in Russia in September 1999, anouncing to Jewish leader Zinovy Kogan that his government was determined to prevent acts of antisemitic violence and that special controls had been placed on the activities of antisemitic groups.
Also in September KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov and then-President Yeltsin extended New Year greetings to Russia's Jewish community. While Zyuganov's greetings were viewed cynically by some as an attempt to improve his image in the run-up to the elections, Yeltsin's message was unambiguous. Citing the 'memory of millions killed and tortured to death in ghettos and concentration camps' he stated that 'there should be no room on our soil for fascism and antisemitism'.
United for Intercultural Action, a European anti-racist umbrella organization, reports that, in November 1999, the Russian group, Anti-Fascist Youth Action (AYA), organized a march in Moscow in commemoration of the victims of twentieth-century totalitarian regimes. Two days later members of AYA picketed outside the central court to protest against the registration of the Spas electoral bloc; three anti-fascists were arrested by the police. There were street actions in Saratov, Krasnodar, Pskov, Omsk, Tomsk, Voronezh, and St Petersburg. In St Petersburg the anti-fascist picket followed a seminar on Holocaust studies organized by the magazine Tum-Balalaika. The picket was confronted by members of a fascist group called the National-Bolshevik Party.
On the cultural front, in April 1999 a nine-day anti-fascist festival named after the great Russian Yiddish actor Solomon Mikhoels, who was murdered at Stalin's behest in 1948, was held in Moscow. Performers included US and Russian Jewish actors and singers, and festival organizers stated that in addition to fighting fascism, the programmes aimed to raise the status of Jewish culture in Russia. In November 1999 a new Jewish umbrella organization, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, was established by around 1,800 representatives from various parts of the country. The Federation is headed by Rabbi Berel Lazar, and plans to support Jewish schools and community centres, and establish a fund to counter antisemitism.
The international response to a spate of well-publicized antisemitic incidents in 1999 was formidable. In June US Senators wrote to President Yeltsin threatening to end economic and political support for Russia unless Yeltsin combatted antisemitism, stating that the 'United States predicates its support for democratic institutions in Russia upon unwavering opposition to anti-Semitism at any level'.
In March 2000 a paper on Russian antisemitism was published as part of a major report by the British House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. The four-page document reported that instability had led to people blaming Jews for Russia's troubles, and observed that, although legislation against antisemitism and extremism was on the Russian Federation's statute books, Russia's Duma members took advantage of their protected status to make antisemitic remarks. The ambassador to Russia Sir Andrew Wood is among British diplomats to raise the issue, and the Foreign Office has expressed deep concern.
back to top of the page
Institute for Jewish Policy Research
© JPR 2001