Anti-Semitism in Russia. Tendency 2004
President Putin's systematic appeal to the image of :strong Russia;, to Orthodox symbols, militarist rhetoric and similar actions creates a :demand from the top; for nationalism in the society. And contemporary Russian society is very sensitive to :demands from the top;. After the tragedy in Beslan of September 1-3, 2004 Mr. Putin spoke directly of war declared onto Russia and hinted that the enemy is some external force located in the West. That gave another boost to traditionally strong anti-Western feelings and through it to various forms of Russian imperial nationalism, which exists in the society, as anti-Westernism is the crucial component of Russian nationalism.
But Russian nationalism is also genetically related to anti-Semitism. That is why any growth of Russian nationalism may give rise to anti-Semitism in the society. It goes without saying that on the whole anti-Semitism is not a part of President's policy or that of the authorities. Federal authorities give no ground for such suspicion. Here we mean indirect influence. It is important to understand whether growth of anti-Semitism of late is connected to the major political factor in the country, policy of federal authorities.
Still no Parliamentary or circum-Parliamentary party can be called an anti-Semitic one. Even Vladimir Zhirinovsky makes fewer statements that can be interpreted as anti-Semitic ones, and his party is not so much contaminated with anti-Semitism as other nationalist parties or movements. But Zhirinovsky's party actively promotes ethnic xenophobia in the broadest sense of the word, and this concerns Jews, too. This party showed excellent results at Parliamentary elections of 2003: 11.45 % votes (5.98 % votes in 1999), which actually means results of 1995 regained. And no one has any doubts that LDPR is a pseudo-opposition party, which coordinates its activities with the Kremlin in many aspects.
Success of the Rodina (Motherland) block created with the active Kremlin participation is phenomenal (9 % is a lot for a beginner). It brought quite a number of nationalists to the Duma, including rather radical ones. On the whole, the block can hardly be called a nationalist one. It has fallen apart, though. But the present leader of the Rodina Dmitry Rogozin is a typical nationalist and populist, who acts in close relationship with the Kremlin and he evidently has good prospects. He attends the Duma together with an expert on :world-wide conspiracy; former KGB General Nikolay Leonov, outspoken racist Andrey Savelyev and quite a number of others. Never before did the Duma have such a number of radical nationalists.
The leader of the largest opposing party communist Guennadiy Zyuganov admits public statements of :Jewish threat; more and more often. On the whole, he evolves from leftist populism to a nationalist one. It is obvious that otherwise, it would be difficult to retain even those supporters of his weakening party who yet remain.
In general it means that in 2004 we witness much stronger political potential of anti-Semitism than we did the year before, to say nothing of the early 90s. To say the truth, anti-Semitism stays in the background. It is being forced out not so much by the social issues, but by xenophobia expressed towards other :enemies;: peoples of the Caucasus, immigrants from the East and South, the Muslims. However, it is important to stress that these other :enemies; do not force out anti-Semitism completely, it is even more prominent in the political discourse.
One can observe similar processes while monitoring mass media. General growth of ethnic and religious xenophobia is involuntarily accompanied by growth of unpleasant or at least incorrect statements concerning Jews. For instance, during the period between 2001-2002 anti-Semitic motifs in mass media progressed faster then any others.
General growth of xenophobic sentiments in the society generates growth of ultra-nationalist organizations, though several years ago they were in a deep crisis. But quick growth of skinhead movement has become the most significant event, though for the time being they are poorly connected to the organizations mentioned above. The major targets of attacks and xenophobic agitation from ultra-nationalist organizations are visual minorities, i.e. blacks, peoples from Caucasus and Asia. Still, anti-Semitism is an inevitable and very important component of outlook of any ultra-nationalist movement.
Numerous anti-Semitic incidents originate from here. Attacks on Jews are rare; most often attacked are Jews in traditional clothes. Quite more frequent are acts of vandalism against Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. Practically all of them remain unpunished. In ultra-nationalist propaganda anti-Semitism occupies a place, which is no less significant then it was back in the late 90s. Here one can barely notice opposition from law enforcement authorities, too.
Weak opposition towards nationalism can hardly be understood as direct encouragement on the part of the Kremlin; rather, it is a combination of underappreciated nationalism growth and kind feelings experienced by mildly nationalist officials. With the time passing, estimate of danger posed by ultra-nationalists grows more realistic, but the number of more or less substantial nationalists among executives is constantly increasing because of President's policy shift in that direction.
Muslim activists reveal anti-Semitism time and again. Usually, it takes the form of attacks against Judaism and, particularly, Israel. Many of them even place the name of the state inside quotation marks. In Russia Muslim anti-Semitism is on the rise through the notion of :world-wide conspiracy;, among other things. Anti-Semites believe that world Jewry makes uses of Radical Islam in its own purposes. (Likewise, anti-Semitic sentiments and notions are widely spread in the Chechen Republic. According to them Jews are to blame for the Chechen war).
Anti-Semitic prejudices, which one can come across among Russian nationalists of this or that degree of radicalism and Muslim activists of this or that degree of respectability, have many features in common. But instances of cooperation between the two are marginal exceptions.
Development of anti-Semitism is also restrained by declarative negation thereof on the part of more renown and respectable leaders of both Islam in Russia and Russian nationalism (Orthodox and unreligious). However, it is difficult to say whether this barrier will remain intact in the near future.
This short review was presented by SOVA Center, included in the collection of The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism
(Tel Aviv University) for the Global Forum Against Antisemitism in Jerusalem, October 26-27, 2004.
See this text in Russian too.