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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: When Hate Is Politically Respectable




Albert Makashov is a bitter and ugly person. Most Russians have seen October 1993 television footage of Makashov whipping crowds to new frenzies of street violence and urging them to go find and beat Jews.


Makashov was at it again last month, arguing at two separate public rallies that zhidy, a derogatory Russian word for Jews, were somehow responsible for the economic collapse of Russia and ought to be rounded up and jailed.


What is frightening is not that this pathetic retired general is so filled with impotent hate - there are such people all around the world - but that his bile has been so calmly accepted by the broadest spectrum of Russian voters and leaders.


Makashov, who played crucial roles in the violent events of 1991 and 1993, was still welcomed as a rising star by the Communist Party when he was elected to the State Duma in 1995. This week the Duma discussed whether to censure Makashov for again inciting the public to racial violence.


The debate was absurd and embarrassing, as even usually serious-minded lawmakers let themselves be drawn into lengthy floor discussions with nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky over the talents and merits of the Jews as an ethnic group.


In the end the Communist-dominated Duma decided not to rebuke Makashov. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said it was enough that he had been censured by his party. This shows again the latent anti-Semitism in Zyuganov's brand of nationalism. He has previously spoken out against what he calls the over-representation in the Cabinet of people of non-Russian origins.


The most upsetting thing about the debate on Makashov is that so few Russian politicians chose to lend their voices to criticizing him. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov did, and so have the heads of the major television stations, to their credit.


In general, however, it seems anti-Semitism is an intellectually respectable political position.


It would be wrong to limit the problem just to prejudice against Russia's Jewish population. While Jews are a favorite target of abuse among Makashov's nationalist fringe, prejudice against people from the Caucasus and Central Asia is perhaps more widespread. They are certainly the targets of more police harassment and bigotry.


Racism is a long-term problem, one with few easy solutions.


But for starters, politicians could display some courage and tell voters that their immense historical and economic burdens demand introspection, not spurious scapegoats. The Duma missed a golden opportunity by not censuring Makashov.