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Russian anti-semitism gone mad

Note (26/1/05): Two corrections have been made in italics to this post in response to Alexei’s comments below.

19 MPs – including members of the pro-Putin opposition (oops) Rodina party –  and 500 academics and public figures signed a letter this weekend calling for the government to close every single Jewish organisation in Russia.  The amount of tired cliches and moronic ideas contained in the letter are too many to reprint in their entirety, but here’s just a sample:

[The Jewish religion is] “anti-Christian and inhumane, which practices extend even to ritual murders”

[Jews are to blame for] “illegal appropriation of state property”

“the whole democratic world today is under the financial and political control of international Jewry. And we do not want our Russia to be among such unfree countries”.

Even more bizarrely, the letter was today retracted without explanation by the MPs, despite their denial that the letter was anti-semitic (!).

Compared with much of the rest of the world, anti-semitism is very strong in Russia, (it is home to more than half the world’s known neo-nazi’s, according to a recent report) so by calling for the banning of Jewish organisations, these MPs were obviously tapping into a deep well of public opinion.

But, ever the conspiracy theorist, this story immediately made me think of the recent Israel-Russia spat over the sale of missile sales to Syria.  Israel was very vocal in its condemnation of Russia, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe some bright spark in the Kremlin – or one of the many semi-independent agencies that are involved in the arms trade – thought this would be a good way to rap Israel over the knuckles.


  • Well, Andy, I’m afraid you got a few things not exactly right. First, Rodina is not a pro-Putin party although there are rumors that the Kremlin sponsored its formation. I was shocked to hear that 14 Rodina deputies signed the letter (one has disavowed his signature saying he never actually signed it). It is the last thing I expected of this semi-opposition movement (I support some of their agenda but few of its deputies).

    Second, anti-semitism is not that strong among the general population — not in comparison with Ukraine or Poland or the Russia of the 1980s. It may be strong relative to the US, but that is irrelevant. Jews have long taken a back seat to Chechens and other natives of the Caucasus and Central Asia as the prime object of popular dislike. This letter may have been intended as a test of public response but its rhetoric is so absurd that it is hard to expect anything but condemnation. Besides, it was originally published in a fringe newspaper that the Patriarch had denounced as “discrediting the Church.”

    The Nazi groups may be numerous but remain on the margins. Not only human rights groups but Putin and the Kremlin have an interest in overstating the number of skinheads — it gives them a convenient enemy.

  • Good point about Rodina – I must’ve been suffering from brain overload when I called them a pro-Putin party.

    But on the anti-semitism front I’d disagree with you. From my experience in Russia I noticed a strong underlying trend of anti-semitism and a tendency to blame Jews for Russia’s ills. Granted, it wasn’t as strong as anti-Chechen sentiments, or the anti-Chinese sentiments I saw in Irkutsk, but it was still far greater than I’ve seen anywhere else in the world.

    I take your point though, that anti-semitism is not a endorsed by the majority of the population. In my post above I should have made that far clearer by stating that anti-semitism is strong in Russia compared with in other countries.

  • I would put it this way (leaving aside the polls that show a decline in anti-Semitism in Russia): unless the Russians you talked to were intimate friends of yours, they would unlikely to divulge their feelings and opinions on what matters the most to them. It follows that their anti-Semitic views were not very important to them, and the “Jews own Russia” story may have been just small talk. Western Europeans, brought up to watch their tongue on some issues, just wouldn’t tell you what they really think.

    On the other hand, if one buys my theory that Russia is, politically and socially, where most of Europe was in 1905 or earlier, we should expect even higher levels of anti-Semitism.

    I can’t remember a politician or party that would make a statement as paranoid as that and yet remain in the mainstream. But Russia has an oversized underclass with a US ghetto mentality but without the dole (stereotypically speaking) — these voters may contract infectious hatred more easily.

    As for Rodina being pro-Putin, I’d say they are 50% opposition, 40% pro-Putin, and 10% undecided. Relative to United Russia, which seems 99% pro-Putin, it’s not bad. What I did not know is that Alexandr Krutov is a Rodina MP. His views on Jews and “liberals” have long been obnoxious.

  • Forgot to add this — United Russia, clueless as they are on some important issues, invariably denounces anything that may lead to ethnic conflict. I think the ruling elite is terribly afraid of ethnic violence. They must shudder looking back at 1987, when the Karabakh conflict flared up and showed that Moscow is no longer in control of the Union. By extension, they have to oppose anti-Semitism, too. Plus, everybody wants Jackson-Vanick out.

  • Hello from France.

    I canb’t imagine this happened now, in those times when we have the ceremonies of the liberation of Auschiwtz!

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