MINELRES: SOVA Center Report: Antisemitism in Russia 2005

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Mon Mar 27 20:17:12 2006


Original sender: SOVA Center <mail@sova-center.ru>


Alexander Verkhovsky
SOVA Centre

Anti-Semitism in Russia: 2005.

Key Developments and New Trends

All materials used in this review are available from SOVA Centre
website: http://sova-center.ru

SOVA Centre's report "Radical nationalism and efforts to oppose it in
Russia in 2005" has been partially used for this paper (the report is
available at http://xeno.sova-center.ru/ 6BA2468/6BB4208/6E811ED).
Anti-Semitism is an integral part of the radical nationalist movement in
general, and must be analyzed in this context. This review looks at
anti-Semitist activity of radical nationalists, but a comprehensive
picture of the phenomenon can only be obtained from the said annual
report. 

Activity of Anti-Semitist Organizations

Until recently, all Russian nationalist organizations voiced their
anti-Semitism more or less actively. In 2004-2005, a notable exception
emerged, namely the Movement against Illegal Migration (DPNI). This
increasingly popular group is led by Alexander Potkin, a close associate
of the deceased leader of the 'Pamyat' National Patriotic Front, Dmitry
Vassilyev. Even now, Potkin leads a small Moscow-based chapter of
Pamyat, but he is more known under his pseudonym Belov as DPNI leader.
DPNI - while not registered and not very numerous - enjoys increasing
media attention, because it has completely reformulated its racist
slogans to target "illegal immigrants" - which sounds acceptable to
public opinion and attracts fairly broad support. Notably, DPNI does not
use anti-Semitist rhetoric. Most likely, it does not mean that Pamyat
veterans and very young skinheads at the core of DPNI do not share
anti-Semitist ideas; apparently they have learned to conceal them.

Other nationalist organizations (the Russian National Unity - i.e. its
bits and pieces - the National Imperial Party, and smaller ones) are not
ashamed of their anti-Semitism. On the contrary, the campaign around
"the letter of 500" (see below) increased the relevance of anti-Semitism
for many radical groups as a campaigning issue. In particular, a number
of Orthodox Christian, monarchist groups joined forces by forming a
Movement for Living without Fear of the Jews (an allusion to the New
Testament, well understood by their supporters). 
The most notable organizing event of the year was the 'restorative'
congress of the Union of Russian People. There were numerous attempts in
the 1990-ies to restore the pre-Communist "Black Hundred" nationalist
group, but the recent congress was the first large-scale attempt of this
kind. More than 70 Orthodox Christian/monarchist groups were represented
at the congress. The audience was addressed by high-ranking officials,
including leader of (Dmitry Rogozin's) Rodina parliamentary party Sergey
Glazyev (never inclined to nationalism and totally free of anti-Semitist
pronouncements before) and Vice Speaker of the State Duma Sergey Baburin
(the other Rodina party; Baburin had a reputation of a "moderate"
nationalist in the 90-ies). The Liberal Democratic (Zhirinovsky's) Party
was represented by extremely radical MP Nikolai Kuryanovich. S. Baburin
officially joined the organization. The Union of Russian People is lead
by sculptor Vyacheslav Klykov known for his anti-Semitist statements, as
well as his monuments.

Anti-Semitist Propaganda

In 2005, the anti-Semitist propaganda was even more active as compared
to the previous years. 
It was linked to the "letter of 500" - an appeal to the Prosecutor
General urging him to review the activity of all Jewish organizations
for extremism. The reason given was the book Kitsur Shulkhan Arukh where
radical nationalist author Mikhail Nazarov, back in 2002, found a
violation of the recently adopted Law on Combating Extremist Activity.

The first mention of Shulkhan Arukh and its subsequent shorter version -
Kitsur Shulkhan Arukh - being intolerant to non-Jews was actively
debated in Russia about a century ago , and references to those debates
were made in the 90-ies. Since 2002, however, the adoption of a new
law   containing a definition of extremism that is too vague and allows
interpreting any intolerant pronouncement as a manifestation of
extremism, enabled a return of old anti-Semitist ideas; moreover,
intolerant statements naturally found in most medieval text were
additionally emphasized through distorted translations and
out-of-context quotations. Mikhail Nazarov combined an anti-Semitist
interpretation of Kitsur Shulkhan Arukh with Jewish conspiracy myths to
produce a theory whereby all Jewish organizations were inspired by
hatred against non-Jews, and therefore, must be banned. This was exactly
what the authors of "the letter" demanded the Prosecutor General should
do. 
They started a signature-collection campaign in late autumn of 2004, and
found in January 2005 that the letter was signed, among others, by 19
members of the State Duma - 14 from the Rodina Party and 5 from the
Communist Party - while neither Rodina, nor the Communists disowned the
signatories, even though the parties did not formally support the
letter. Russia had not seen such a large-scale, top-level anti-Semitist
action for many years, and official responses to "the letter of 500"
included statements by the Foreign Ministry, the President, both houses
of the Russian parliament, and many individual politicians. A few MPs
withdrew their signatures, but the signature-collection campaign
continued, reaching 15 thousand signatures by autumn, including some
well-known personalities, such as former world chess champion Boris
Spassky.  Attempts at public criticism of the letter were often
unsuccessful; for example, in a popular TV talk show K Baryeru [A
Challenge to Duel], well-known anti-Semitist General Albert Makashov won
far more viewers' votes than his opponent.

For a year, the Prosecutor's Office on many occasions refused to
initiate criminal prosecution for incitation of hatred on the basis of
the letter, and this failure to act sent a signal  that this large-scale
and explicit manifestation of anti-Semitism was not illegal, even though
not fully legitimate. (We do not consider here numerous court actions by
authors of "the letter" and Jewish activists against each other, as they
did not make any tangible impact). An approach shared by many
(including, in this case, the prosecutors) that hate promoters should be
ignored, so they do not get the attention they seek - did not work this
time. Apparently, it was a problem politically to prosecute so many
signatories, including members of the Federal Duma. However, no criminal
investigation was launched into public accusations against Hassids for
alleged ritual killings of children  - voiced once again in 2005
(including at a rally held in downtown Moscow on 29 May), while in this
case there would be a limited number of defendants and a strong case
against them, the Blood Libel being a proven lie. The Orthodox Russia
website that published "the letter of 500" in January 2005 continues to
add anti-Semitist materials, including films from history archives, such
as the soviet production Tainoye i Yavnoye (Hidden and Obvious) and the
Nazi Germany production Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) - incidentally,
the latter is one of the few materials found by Russian court to be
extremist. Not to mention numerous other, lower-profile incidents of
anti-Semitist propaganda, including pronouncements made during social
protest rallies (early in the year, at the height of protests against
the social security reform (the so-called "monetization of benefits")
or, for example, in October, during the rally outside the House of
Government.

Normally, anti-Semitism in election campaigns was limited to marginal
candidates with no prospects of winning more than 1% or 2% of the vote;
however the year's end was marked by an unpleasant surprise. During
additional elections to the RF State Duma in Moscow, candidates included
ex-Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov - then in custody, awaiting trial for
attempted assassination of Anatoly Chubais. This man writing from
pre-trial prison called to a violent fight against "Judeo-international
occupation" and won 29% of votes on 4 December. Remarkably,
Komsomolskaya Pravda - a national newspaper with high circulation, known
for its xenophobia and for publishing top politicians' messages
addressed to "the people" - attempted to clear Kvachkov of
anti-Semitism: the paper explained that by "Yids" he only meant "greedy
people," not Jews. 

In St. Petersburg, Nasha Strategia (Our Strategy), an explicitly
anti-Semitist TV show, continued without problems  until winter, when
the broadcasts were discontinued -  apparently, for lack of funding,
while another, equally anti-Semitist TV show Two vs. One hosted by
former presenters of Nasha Strategia continues, and appears to enjoy a
more sustainable funding: they broadcast to the regions, as well as St.
Petersburg, and can afford to invite high-profile guests, including the
Federation Council Speaker; the hosts air their anti-Semitism
incessantly and take great pains to provoke their guests to do the same.
Similarly, Narodnoye Radio (Popular Radio) known for its anti-Semitist
statements carries on its broadcasting.

Russian anti-Semitists were inspired by the scandalous pronouncements
made by the new Iranian president in December. The Russian National
Union even held a solidarity meeting outside the Iranian Embassy in
Moscow to "deplore Israeli policies and the world Jewry."

The obvious impunity of anti-Semitist propaganda led to its marked
growth by the year-end. A scandal was caused by sculptor Klykov's
attempt to build a monument to ancient Russian Prince Svyatoslav
depicting him as tramping upon a Khazar warrior with the Star of David
on the latter's shield.  The annual book fair in Moscow featured an
unprecedented number of anti-Semitist books. Membership of the Public
Chamber - appointed either directly or indirectly by the President -
includes writer Valery Ganichev known since Soviet times as leader of a
semi-official anti-Semitist "Russian Party." Apparently, the attack
against a Moscow synagogue in January 2006, injuring eight, was a
natural outcome of the overall rise in publicly voiced anti-Semitism. 

We should also note the inappropriate and provocative pronouncements
made by certain Moslem leaders in Russia. In addition to major Islamic
websites traditionally equating Zionism and racism, Islam.ru always
surrounds the word "Israel" with quotes, etc. Rabbi Berl Lazar's
statement following the London blast attacks, calling for a war to
destroy Islamic terrorists whom he lavishly described in many negative
terms, elicited a response from Mukaddas Bibarsov, chairman of the Volga
Region Moslem Religious Board, with totally unfounded accusations
against Rabbi Lazar for incitation of hatred against Moslems "following
the worst of Nazi traditions" (by the way, in a fairly recent past,
Bibarsov praised Sheikh Yasin). Mufti Ismagil Shangareyev joined Mufti
Bibarsov in the accusations.

Anti-Semitism, like other forms of xenophobia, in addition to targeting
Jews in general, is used as an instrument of defamation in politics. 

Thus, in January, RNE activists in Oryol distributed an anti-Semitist
leaflet targeted against Governor Yegor Stroyev. This example is
illustrative, as Stroyev is not a Jew; moreover, he is nowhere near
being a political liberal whom nationalists often associate with Jews.
But it was not relevant for his opponents' political purposes, because
Stroyev had made rather harsh statements about RNE, and there had been
trials of RNE members in his region. (Incidentally, in Oryol, the trial
judge was threatened by RNE, which is an extremely rare practice for
Russian radical groups).

At about the same time in Moscow, Stanislav Terekhov speaking to a
so-called All-Russian Military Officers' Assembly, in addition to his
own speculations about "Judeo-Nazism," also ascribed anti-Semitist
quotes to FSB Colonel-General Victor Cherkesov. Admittedly, by doing so
he may have read his own ideas into the General's words, rather than
attempted to defame the General.

A neo-Heathen organization calling themselves "Spiritual Ancestral
Russian Empire"  went as far as pass a number of death sentences to top
Russian government officials for their alleged "Judeo-Nazism," and
labeled President Putin "a Judeo-Nazi lackey." National radicals have
adopted the practice of passing virtual "death sentences" following the
killing of ethnologist and anti-fascist Nikolay Girenko in 2004.  We
should not dismiss them as harmless lunatics - they are behind violent
attacks against ethnic minorities in Krasnodar Krai. In March 2005,
their leader Oleg Popov was arrested.

Anti-Semitist leaflets were also used during the election campaign in
Vladimir Oblast in September. 


Anti-Semitist Attacks

Explicit, racially motivated violent attacks against Jews are fairly
rare in the context of rapidly growing racist violence in Russia. It is
understandable; skinheads usually target other ethnic groups, and it is
not always possible to identify a Jew in a Moscow crowd. The only
exception was a series of attacks around a Moscow synagogue in Maryina
Roscha in the winter of 2004/05.  In particular, the attackers beat
Rabbi Alexander Lakshin. Following the attack against the Rabbi, a U.S.
citizen, the police promptly found the perpetrators; they were
prosecuted and convicted, and attacks against Jews in the neighborhood
stopped.
We know of three explicitly anti-Semitist violent attacks and four
incidents of public insults and threats in 2005 - which is less than in
2004. In particular, on 1 October in Kursk, unidentified offenders used
a threat of terrorist attack to disrupt the performance of Mikhail
Turetsky Jewish Choir. As to anti-Semitist graffiti on the theater
building, Mikhail Turetsky said that they had gotten used to this
expression of intolerance against his choir.

Indeed, vandalism targeting Jewish religious and cultural objects is
rather common, although slightly less so in 2005 than in 2004. But we
need to emphasize that in some cases vandalism threatens people's lives.

In early morning of 1 January, a synagogue in the village of Saltykovka
outside Moscow was set on fire. Fortunately, the fire was promptly
noticed and suppressed, so the people who were asleep in the building at
the time were not affected. (However, later another synagogue in the
village of Malakhovka outside Moscow was destroyed by what was suspected
to be an arson attack on 10 May).

On 3 February 2005, a group of young people entered the Shamir Synagogue
in Moscow and threatened the congregation with violence and death;
fortunately, police arrested the offenders before they could do any
harm. 

On 24 February, unidentified offenders set fire to the door of an
apartment belonging to an elderly Jewish pensioner (or, to be more
precise, it was the outside door of a communal apartment [i.e. shared by
a number of families] where the elderly man lived). The fire partially
destroyed the apartment. The graffiti left on the walls at the entrance
of the building clearly showed that it was an anti-Semitist attack.

In the night of 9 to 10 June, in Penza, young people looking like
skinheads set fire to a building which hosted the Atikva Center for
Jewish Religion and Culture. People who were in the building suppressed
the fire.
On 30 June, two young men rioted a kosher store in Maryina Roscha, not
far from the Jewish Community Center. Wearing gas masks, armed with a
fire extinguisher and an imitation Kalashnikov gun, the rioters sprayed
the foam from the fire extinguisher directly on the product shelves.

Offenders covered the walls of Jewish community and cultural
establishments with graffiti containing swastikas, offensive slogans and
threats, and smashed windows in Moscow in February, in Petrozavodsk and
Samara in March, in Taganrog in July, in Vladimir in June and August, in
Nizhny Novgorod in September, and in Borovichi (Novgorod Oblast) in
October 2005. In April in Tver, anti-Semitist graffiti appeared on a
Roman Catholic Church (next to a cross; apparently, the perpetrators
were radical neo-Heathen).

Vandalism targeting Jewish cemeteries - or identifiable Jewish graves in
general cemeteries - continued, with approximately the same number of
episodes as in 2004. Such acts of vandalism were reported in Moscow and
Kazan in May, in Tver and Tambov in August, in Velikye Luki (Pskov
Oblast) in September, in St. Petersburg in October, and outside Izhevsk
in November (or end-October).

In total, we documented 27 attacks against various Jewish buildings or
similar targets in 2005. 
Admittedly, we do not always have enough evidence to qualify incidents
affecting Jews as anti-Semitist attacks. For example, it is unclear what
were the motives of rioters who smashed windows of the Sholom kosher
restaurant in St. Petersburg on a number of occasions at nighttime in
September and October.

In 2005, Hackers associated with the Slavic Union group attacked a
number of websites, including two major Jewish websites in June: the
Jewish.ru popular gateway and the Jewish News Agency website.

For obvious reasons, anti-Semitist incidents involving top-level
executive government officials are rare. In 2005, as opposed to the
previous year, we did not document any significant incidents of this
type.
On 25 March, former governor of Kaliningrad Oblast, co-chairman of
Rubezh Rodiny movement Leonid Gorbenko attending a Press Ball held in
the Marine Forces House of Culture in Kaliningrad was drunk and rowdy,
shouted "Yids have sold out Russia!" etc. On the other hand, Gorbenko is
no longer a governor.

Of course, members of the federal and regional legislatures air their
anti-Semitism more often. In addition to the 19 State Duma MPs who
signed "the letter of 500" (notably, none of them was from Zhirinovsky's
Party where anti-Semitism is common), we can mention other high profile
statesmen, such as deputy chairman of Tula Oblast Duma Vladimir Timakov
and deputy chairman of Vladimir Oblast Legislative Assembly Alexander
Sinyagin who also made explicitly anti-Semitist statements.

MP of Tver Oblast Legislative Assembly and Doctor of Philology Vladimir
Yudin known for having defended neo-Nazis in court failed to achieve his
goals through collaboration with executive authorities: in summer, he
published an anti-Semitist book titled "Where Fatherland Begins…" with
support of the local administration. However, the entire print run was
confiscated following protests of Yudin's colleagues in the Tver
University and the local Jewish community.


Government's Response to Anti-Semitism

Official response to anti-Semitist propaganda remains weak in Russia
today. Public anti-Semitist pronouncements are so numerous that it does
not make sense to even try to count them, and as such, they do not
attract the attention of law enforcement authorities. Whenever Jewish
groups or other NGOs urge prosecutors to open criminal investigations
into such incidents, most cases are never investigator, and even if they
are, they rarely reach courts. 

Similarly, attacks and vandalism often remain unpunished, with rare
exceptions of high-profile incidents, such as the attack against Rabbis
in January, when two attackers were convicted to four years and eighteen
months of prison, respectively. The court, however, failed to find the
motive of hatred - quite untypical for 2005 (i.e. courts usually
recognized the hate motive in similar cases) - as opposed to the
previous years.
Another factor is the poor overall performance of law enforcement
agencies - for example, last January, Boris Mironov publicly presented
his brochure The Judaic Yoke in Moscow, while being on a federal wanted
suspects list.

We are getting an impression that the current policy is that of "very
limited pressure" against even most outrageous anti-Semitist propaganda
(we also assume  that this policy is not imposed by any official
directive, but has emerged naturally). For example, the Orthodox Russia
paper (and website) has been increasingly active in its anti-Semitist
propaganda since "the letter of 500." The paper was warned that its
conduct was against the law, but ignored the warning with no legal
consequences (just like in other similar cases over the recent years,
except a politically motivated case of Generalnaya Linia paper, which
had no relation to anti-Semitism). At the end of the year the paper's
print run was confiscated, but again, no charges were brought.

Another illustrative case was the refusal to open a criminal
investigation into the publication, in a Pskov Oblast newspaper, of The
Catechism of a Jew in the USSR - an anti-Semitist fabrication known
since Soviet times; back in 1995 Victor Korchagin mentioned above was
convicted for its publication.
In general, the year 2005 witnessed, for the first time in post-soviet
years, a quantum increase in convictions for hate propaganda. A total of
13 offenders were convicted under art. 282 of the Criminal Code for hate
propaganda (not including violent offences), and six of them were
sentenced to substantial penalties, from a monetary fine to short prison
terms. We cannot tell with any certainty how many of these cases
featured anti-Semitist materials; apparently, only a limited few. In
particular, in February 2005, in Syktyvkar, a student was convicted to
one year of probation for publishing neo-Nazi, including anti-Semitist,
propaganda on his website.

Apparently, by end-2005, more investigations were launched into
anti-Semitist activity; in particular, the director of Russkaya Pravda
Publishers was charged once again under article 282 of the Criminal
Code.
The sentencing of "Pekin's group" in Novgorod deserves a special
mention.  In May 2005, three distributors of Novgorodets anti-Semitist
bulletin were not only convicted, but also - unprecedentedly for Russia
- found by court to be an "extremist community" under art. 2821 of the
Criminal Code, introduced in 2002, but used only twice since. All three
received probational sentences - compatible, in fact, with the
non-violent nature of the offense - but more importantly, were banned
from distribution of mass media, and Mikhail Pekin, in addition, was
banned from journalism. Unfortunately, this model of justice has not
been followed much since.
A probational sentence per se, without a ban on offensive activity, will
not stop hate promoters. It was clearly proven last year by a number of
examples, including the mentioned Victor Korchagin (who was released
from punishment by the most recent trial, because the court wrongly
applied the statute of limitations) and less known, but very active
publishers, such as Sergey Lukyanenko in Khabarovsk, Pavel Ivanov in
Novgorod, and Igor Kolodezenko in Novosibirsk.

As to ultra-nationalist groups, including anti-Semitists, prosecutors
and judges liquidated some of them in 2004, but in 2005 these efforts
were discontinued.


Conclusions

In the second half of 1990-ies, and in the first half of this decade,
anti-Semitism was increasingly replaced by other phobias both in public
attitudes (as shown by opinion polls), and in nationalist propaganda.
Anti-Semitism was more of a taboo in public discussion as opposed to
other social phobias. Ethnic xenophobia was primarily institutionalized
in the form of immigrant-phobia, which was more acceptable to public
mentality, and anti-Semitism did not fit with immigrant-phobia. However,
anti-Semitism was not entirely marginalized; historically being an
ideological foundation of the Russian ethno-nationalism, anti-Semitism,
was revisited in 2005, when "the letter of 500" and subsequent events
brought it to the foreground once again.. Moreover, the former taboo was
questioned, and it is difficult to say how the trend will evolve in the
future.

It is worth mentioning that the noticeable growth of anti-Semitist
propaganda in 2005 was compensated by a decrease of various violent
anti-Semitist attacks.

Law enforcement authorities, concerned at last over the spread of
aggressive xenophobia and starting to respond to it (their sanctions,
however, only target individuals;  no ultra-nationalist organizations
and media were liquidated in 2005), rarely do so with regard to
anti-Semitist offences. None of the two convictions for cemetery
vandalism in 2005 concerned desecration of Jewish graves. 

In contrast, the party of power continues to reject anti-Semitism, even
though they tolerate other forms of ethnic xenophobia. The "Anti-Fascist
Pact" announced by the United Russia Party in early 2006 is obviously a
pact against the Rodina Party and the Communist Party - nationalist in
their ideology and involved in "the letter of 500." Notably,
Zhirinovsky's Party - xenophobic, but without a consistent ideology and
rarely targeting Jews - joined the Pact. The value of this 'anti-fascist
pact" is undermined by the fact that it is clearly a pragmatic political
maneuver undertaken by the United Russia to gain advantage over
opponents.
On the other hand, the high-profile status of a State Duma member causes
explicit and radical anti-Semitists to try to appear more respectable.
Rodina and CPRF with their anti-Semitist members are represented at
different levels of legislature. Both parties present themselves as
oppositional, so they attend the events of oppositional democratic
politicians.  In particular, the first congress of the new democratic
United Civil Front (established by Garry Kasparov and Irina Khakamada)
in February 2006 was attended by Rodina's ultra-nationalist ideologist
and signatory of "the letter of 500" Andrei Saveliev.

In other words, anti-Semitism is still declared to be unacceptable in
public, but individuals and groups that subscribe to it are no longer as
marginalized as they used to be a few years ago across the entire
political spectrum.


Our contact information:
http://sova-center.ru
Alexander Verkhovsky, Director - averh@sova-center.ru
Galina Kozhevnikova, Deputy Director - galka@sova-center.ru
Phone/fax: +7 (495)
928-63-46

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