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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Jews: No Respite

The second of two articles debating whether anti-Semitism is a growing or receding threat in Russia.

During the last decades of Communist power in Russia, anti-Semitism was unrelenting. As a result, whole spheres of culture and science in Russia became virtually free of Jews, or Judenfrei. The way of preventing Jews from studying the sciences was simple: At entrance exams, Jews were given problems that not even most graduate students could solve. This situation has not much changed since the Soviet Union's collapse. Almost all science departments of Moscow State University still count almost no Jews, especially in mechanics, mathematics and physics departments -- that is, areas that are related to defense and international work.

The Law School at Moscow State University is also considered to be one of the most xenophobic departments. The few Jews who manage to study there usually have powerful parents who can protect them from discrimination. The Moscow State Institute of International Relations and the Institute of Physics and Engineering are also virtually Judenfrei.

On Russian Victory Day, May 9, 1995, an "alternative demonstration" to the holiday commemorating the victory over Hitler was organized by communist and nationalist groups in Moscow. Apart from the anti-government slogans, its participants carried posters demanding "to stop the Judeo-Masonic occupation of Russia" and "to get the Jews out of the Russian government." (The irony is that Jews make up a tiny minority in the Russian government. Among them are Deputy Economics Minister Yakov Yurinson and the president's chief economic adviser, Alexander Livshitz.) The authorities made no attempt to stop or disrupt the anti-Semitic demonstration, which was not the first of this kind. The demonstrators marched, unopposed, through the center of Moscow. There was no official reaction to the demonstration.

The communist and nationalist opposition tends to label all the people it does not like "non-Russian." During the October events of 1993, all the walls of the bombarded White House were covered with the inscriptions like "Send Benka Yeltsin to Israel" or "Yeltsin is Judas today." The communist and nationalist "defenders" of the White House called the police detachments that stormed the building "a bunch of Jewish mugs." Thus, very often, the true object of anti-Semitic attacks is not only Jews themselves, but all the people seeking democratic reforms in Russia in general.

The number of fascist and nationalist publications has steadily increased. According to various sources, including "Political Extremism in Russia," which monitors extremist publications, there are at least 150 such publications in Russia. Almost every one carries outrageous anti-Semitic propaganda and is sold openly in Moscow and other big cities.

Anti-Semitic literature, including the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," has been found to be sold in the bookstores of Russian Orthodox churches. Anti-Semitism can be found not only among provincial priests and their parishioners, but also among the high-placed hierarchs of the church. For example, some writings of the recently deceased bishop Ioann Mitropolitis of St. Petersburg and Ladoga were openly anti-Semitic. Ioann was the oldest hierarch and was second in influence and position only to Patriarch Alexy II, who has condemned anti-Semitism on several occasions and felt very uneasy about Ioann's views. Nevertheless, Ioann managed to become "the spiritual father of Russian opposition" and enjoyed frequent visits of prominent opposition leaders, including Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov.

In his brochure "I Believe in Russia," Zyuganov wrote: "The ideology, culture and world outlook of the Western world is more and more influenced by the Jews, scattered around the world. Jewish influence grows not by days, but by hours. The Jewish diaspora traditionally controls the financial life of the continent and is becoming more and more the owner of the controlling interest of all the stocks of Western civilization's socioeconomic system." And the author of these words is viewed as the most likely winner at the presidential elections in Russia.

In the previous State Duma, which started its work in 1993, anti-Semitic pronouncements were not uncommon. The leader of the National Republican Party, Nikolai Lysenko, and Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, himself at least half Jewish, gave particularly anti-Semitic speeches.

Last year, a Jewish cemetery in St. Petersburg was vandalized and about 60 graves were desecrated, and a yeshiva in Moscow was mysteriously burned down during the night. The police who investigated the case reported that the building had "burned down by itself."

The official news media rarely report on cases of anti-Semitism. Only a few democratically oriented ones, including Moscow News and NTV, take it upon themselves to inform the public about anti-Semitic outrages. Only the former head of Russian television, Alexander Yakovlev, has publicly acknowledged the anti-Semitic policies of the Soviet regime. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said the "Russian people will not allow anti-Semitism on its soil," but stopped short of recognizing the anti-Semitic character of the Soviet state.

The Russian government and the executive and judicial branches of power on the whole have not been given to anti-Semitic pronouncements, although corrupt anti-Semitic policies continue to be carried out at the state level. But the widespread common language of extremists, including the Communist Party, which is national socialist in character, shows that anti-Semitic threats to Jews in Russia have in no way disappeared.

Alexander Lieberman is director of the Union of Councils Moscow Bureau on Human Rights. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.