Anti-Semitism no threat in Russia, survey finds Views called worse in Austria, Poland

June 12, 1992|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Despite growing public displays of virulent anti-Semitism, attitudes toward Jews have remained largely unchanged in Russia in the last two years and are less negative than in Austria or Poland.

This unlikely conclusion was reported yesterday when the American Jewish Committee released the results of a public opinion survey of Russia and nine other republics of the former Soviet Union.

The danger to Jews in Russia lies not in the threat of pogroms but in the vast ignorance about Jewish people, said David Singer, director of research for the American Jewish Committee.

"Ignorance is a very frightening thing," Mr. Singer said. "Given the right set of circumstances people can be mobilized in a negative way. There is a need for an educational effort to fill that vacuum."

Nearly 80 percent of the 4,000 people interviewed by the Russian Center for Public Opinion and Market Research said they had never encountered Jews or had had only the briefest of contact.

Seventy percent were unable to name one Jew who had made a contribution to society. Of those who did, many named Andrei Sakharov or Alexander Solzhenitsyn -- both non-Jews. One even mentioned Sir Isaac Newton, also not a Jew.

On the list of Jews who most harmed the world, Leon Trotsky, one of the principal founders of the Soviet Union -- who was in fact Jewish -- was often cited; Adolf Hitler was No. 6.

Compared with Eastern Europe, Russia is not highly anti-Semitic, the poll found. When asked on similar surveys whether Jews exerted too much influence on society, 28 percent in Austria said yes, 26 percent in Poland (where they are hardly any Jews left), 17 percent in Hungary and 11 percent in Russia and Czechoslovakia.

However, the statistics are small comfort to Jews who live here -- and who always are identified as Jews on their passports rather than as Russians. Many feel more deeply threatened than the figures would indicate.

Yesterday, Yuri Sokol, an elderly man wearing his rows of military ribbons on the breast of his suit, heard the report and shook his head.

"I think the situation is very serious, very dangerous," said Mr. Sokol, who is chairman of the Moscow Jewish Culture and Education Society. "Synagogues are threatened, there are anti-Semitic slogans and caricatures of Jews in the newspapers."

He said Jews traditionally have refused to see how bad their situation was. "Even when people were on their way to the gas chambers," he said, "they kept thinking maybe it really will be a shower."

In recent months, anti-government demonstrations in Moscow have been full of anti-Semitic slogans and signs. Only last night, a nationalist group demonstrated outside what they called the "Jewish-held" Television Center.

Alexander Levinson, one of the directors of the study, said greater public visibility of anti-Semitism did not mean attitudes actually had changed.

"The population has become more active," Mr. Levinson said, "and people who never voiced their opinion before have begun )) to do so."

The most negative attitudes toward Jews were found in Uzbekistan. Negative feelings also ran high in Azerbaijan, where ethnic tensions have been rising in a war with Armenia.

"What is most striking when you look at the survey is the tremendous variations between republics," Mr. Singer said.

Mr. Singer said while the poll provided grounds for optimism, it was not sufficient that many people merely were not anti-Semitic.

"For Jews to be safe it's not enough for people to be neutral," he said. "People have to be anti-anti-Semitic."

Stereotypes about Jews run deep, and prejudice is evident. When asked if money meant more to Jews than human relations, 40 percent of Russians said yes, 58 percent of Belarusans said yes and 49 percent of Lithuanians said yes.

The majority of those surveyed said they would not like it if a Jew became president of their republic: 57 percent in Russia, 53 percent in Ukraine, 70 percent in Lithuania and 70 percent or more in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. But similar percentages said they would not mind a Jew living next door.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.