Open hatred of Jews rises again in Russia Economic woes worry leaders

July 30, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

MOSCOW -- "You know, of course, that Yeltsin is a Jew. That's why he's trying to destroy our country," a neatly dressed middle-aged woman explained matter-of-factly at a recent Communist Party demonstration.

"According to many researchers," the newspaper Pravda reported in May, Jewish "ritual killings are continuing up to the present day."

"Here the Yids murdered our czar," reads the graffiti on a wall in Yekaterinburg, near the spot where Bolshevik soldiers shot Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918.

In this historically anti-Semitic nation where pogroms were invented and persecutions were perfected, open displays of anti-Jewish propaganda again are becoming commonplace.

Crude anti-Semitic banners and slogans have become a standard feature of anti-government demonstrations staged by communists and nationalists.

Vandalism has begun. In the past two months, vandals have twice broken windows and smeared graffiti on the Moscow Central Synagogue. Gravestones in Jewish cemeteries have been smashed.

Russian-language editions of viciously anti-Jewish publications, such as Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," are widely available in major Russian cities.

Jewish leaders are now concerned that, as the Russian economy worsens and frustrated residents cast about for scapegoats, Jews might become the victims of physical attacks. Already there are sporadic reports of people with "Jewish faces" being assaulted on the streets and subways of Moscow.

"There is danger in the air," said Vladimir Fedorovsky, president of the Moscow Jewish Religious Community. "Today they break the windows of the synagogue. Tomorrow they may pass to annihilation. No one is sure that Russians will not discharge their anger on the Jews."

It is the casualness -- and the ubiquity -- of the new wave of anti-Semitism that is particularly unnerving to many Russian Jews, who grew much more accustomed to institutional discrimination during 74 years of Soviet rule than to being cursed in the streets.

For most of this century, successive Soviet governments sternly suppressed most public manifestations of ethnic hatred, even as they barred Jews from many professional and educational opportunities and blocked them from emigrating.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the advent of genuine political and economic freedoms in the new Russia brought an end to the official government discrimination and gave Jews the freedom to emigrate without restriction.

But an estimated 1.2 million Jews remain in Russia -- 200,000 of them in Moscow -- and those who have chosen not to leave must contend with the ancient prejudices that have bubbled to the surface of daily life.

It's not only the Jews who are being singled out. Azerbaijanis, Georgians and others whom Russians commonly refer to as "blacks" are current objects of popular scorn because they often tend to be successful traders and businesspeople.

Russian police have frequently rousted Caucasian traders and destroyed their sidewalk kiosks. And in Moscow last year, a unit of Cossacks on horseback attacked a group of Azeris with whips and swords.

Jews look on such incidents with special dismay, because many fear that they could be next. The revival of paramilitary Cossack groups in particular has provoked alarm, for it was those same Russian shock troops, whose allegiance earlier was sworn to the czar, who led many of the murderous pogroms against Jewish villages that stain the pages of Russian history.

"In Russia, everyone was always sure Jews were to blame for everything," Mr. Fedorovsky said. " 'Why was there no bread? The Jews ate it.'

"Today the question is: 'Why is there no law and order? Because most of the entrepreneurs are Jews.' The answer looks clear and simple: Take the Jews away and everything will be all right."

L Not all of Moscow's Jewish leaders feel quite so threatened.

"It would be wrong for us to analyze this anti-Semitism as a monolithic movement when it is a minuscule proportion of the population that is militantly anti-Semitic," said Tankred Golenpolsky, editor of a Jewish weekly newspaper.

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