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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberals Urge Communist Party End

The row over anti-Semitism within the Communist Party leadership deepened Sunday as influential businessman Boris Berezovsky called for the party to be outlawed.

Berezovsky's appeal was echoed by Anatoly Chubais, the former deputy prime minister who now heads Russia's electricity monopoly, and by former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar.

The Kremlin, too, was drawn into the spat, issuing a statement in which it said it was vehemently opposed to any form of racial discrimination.

At a parliamentary hearing last week, Duma deputies declined to pass a resolution censuring Communist lawmaker Albert Makashov for speeches he made at two separate rallies last month, in which he blamed Jews for Russia's economic collapse and urged that they be rounded up and jailed.

Several Communist deputies appeared to give tacit support to Makashov's comments during that debate, while Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov let Makashov off with a gentle reproach.

Berezovsky, who earlier this year was reported to be courting the party as a possible political partner, said the Communists' apparent intolerance of other races threatened to destroy Russian unity.

"Communism should be overcome, and the first step to that is to forbid it on the state level," he said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio station Sunday. "The problem is not in the anti-Semitic utterances, which are supported by the official leadership of the party, but in their position, which sets up [ethnic] Russians in opposition to all the other races living in Russia."

Though he did not mention Makashov by name, President Boris Yeltsin issued the Duma deputy a sharp rebuke. "We will fight all attempts to cast aspersions on national sentiment, to limit the rights of citizens due to their nationality," he said in a statement released Sunday.

Zyuganov dismissed the comments by Berezovsky, who in addition to his extensive business interests is executive secretary to the Commonwealth of Independent States, the loose association of former Soviet republics.

The Communist leader appeared to defend Makashov's comments, saying that "at a rally, every person has the right to make their own statements."

At Saturday's procession through Moscow to mark the 81st anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Makashov, decked out in an army uniform, marched separately from the Communist leadership. But he shared a podium with Zyuganov, from which he briefly addressed protesters.

Gennady Seleznyov, Communist speaker of the Duma, parliament's lower house, slammed Berezovsky's call for the Communist Party to be banned as "the statement of an extremist." Seleznyov added: "There is no basis for the outlawing of the Communist Party and Berezovsky has no business talking about banning any parties."

Under Russian law, "inciting interracial hatred" is a criminal offense. But it was unclear Monday whether the Communist Party could be outlawed under current legislation. Officials at the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor General's Office Monday could not be reached for comment Monday because of the public holiday.

The party has been banned before. President Yeltsin signed decrees banning the Communist Party after he emerged victorious from the abortive putsch against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. The party re-emerged in its current form when the Constitutional Court lifted the ban in November 1992.

Berezovsky's condemning Makashov was echoed by liberal politicians.

The Communists "are transforming themselves not into a social-democratic party but a Nazi party, as testified to by the way the party's Duma faction rallied behind the anti-Semitic animal Albert Makashov," RIA Novosti quoted Gaidar as saying.

Chubais, chairman of Unified Energy Systems and a member of Gaidar's party, said in an interview Sunday on TV-6: "After the Communist Party ... covered itself in shame by, in effect, closing ranks behind the anti-Semitic utterances of Makashov, we should examine very seriously the legal questions of closing [the party] down."

While the public furor over Makashov's comments is likely to subside, the affair could do serious and permanent damage to the Communist Party's hopes of forming an electoral coalition with moderate leftist parties.