The Escalation Of Antisemitic Violence In Russia

by William M. Cohen (August 15, 1999)


The Center for Human Rights Advocacy (CHRA) has been monitoring and analyzing social, economic, political, ethnic and antisemi- tism developments in Russia and the former Soviet Union (FSU) since its inception in early 1991. In addition, because of the persistent evidence and reports of antisemitism in Russia, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ), on which the author serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors, has steadily increased its monitoring and reporting on human rights and antisemitism in Russia. In cooperation with the Moscow Helsinki Group, and aided by a grant from the United States Agency for International Development, trained monitors located throughout Russia now regularly report to UCSJ and CHRA on this growing phenomenon. The persistent pattern of antisemi- tism and the pernicious practice of persecution of Jews in Russia was identified and summarized by CHRA in March of 1996: This phenomenon [i.e., steadily growing antisemitism in an atmosphere of economic hardship following the breakup of the FSU] is exploited by politicians and elected officials for political gain. It is manifested by acts of discrimination, insults, threats, and violence against Jews, Jewish property, and Jewish institutions. It is aimed, in substantial part, at driving Jews out of Russia to make room for Russians in a time of scarcity, economic distress, and political instability arising out of the destruction of the Soviet Empire. Moreover, it is clear that there now exists no Russian governmental agency able or willing to protect Jews from persecution because of their nationality or religion. The absence of any meaningful deterrent to such conduct plus the permission given to antisemites by leading politicians and elected officials to engage in such conduct encourages those who would persecute Jews to do so with impunity.4 Since the economic crisis and the collapse of the ruble which struck Russia in August 1998, antisemitic expressions by leading politicians and elected officials, aimed at demonizing and scapegoating Jews, and, ultimately, at driving them out of Russia, have dramatically accelerated. This increase in antisemi- tic rhetoric has been accompanied by a concurrent increase in the number of violent acts targeting Jews, Jewish property, and Jewish institutions. Such violence is now frequent and widespread throughout the vast number of Russia's regions as well as in the major city centers of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod, the location of the three largest population of Jews in Russia. The frequency and ferocity of the various antisemitic violent acts appears to be accelerating. At the same time, the governmental institutions upon which Jews and other targeted minorities must rely for protection against extremist violence are either unable or unwilling to effectively provide that protection. In addition, during the political and economic crises which continue today in Russia following the August 1998 collapse, militantly antisemitic groups, such as Russian National Unity (RNU), have grown in size and popularity. Sensing both the impotence and indifference of law enforcement agencies, these groups have increased the openness of their antisemitic expressi- ons with little or no effective action by government authorities to deter them. Under these circumstances, Jews in Russia continue to be vulnerable to antisemitic discrimination, violence, and persecution without any effective recourse to the Russian government at any level for protection against such prejudiciah treatment. Indeed, the risk to Jews in Russia today is greater than at any time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Russian government has so far demonstrated that it is both unwilling and unable to deter growing antisemitic violence against its steadily diminishing Jewish population. Hence, those aimed at driving Jews out of Russia, punishing them because of hatred of Jews, and scapegoating Jews for a variety of political ends can generally do so with impunity. Faced with escalating antisemitic violence combined with indifference to these attacks by the general Russian populace, political exploitation of the phenomenon and government impotence to protect them, the Jewish community has resorted to funding its own security for Jewish institutions and turned to Western governments and non-governmen- tal human rights organizations for help. Increasingly more Jews are also leaving Russia and the FSU permanently for Israel, the United States and other countries where they will be free persecution because of their Jewish religion and nationality. Absent a dramatic change in the economic, social and political climate in Russia, it is highly unlikely that the current atmosphere of openly and violently expressed antisemitism will diminish any time soon. To the contrary, the escalating incidents combined with government silence and ineffective law enforcement, indicate that Jews are at great risk in Russia today and for the foreseeable future.

This Report will first document the chronology of recent antisemitic events which demonstrate both the increased frequency and level of danger which accompanies them as well as the Russian Jewish Community's reaction. Next it catalogues the Western governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGO)'s response to this growing problem. Finally, it outlines the less than adequate, largely rhetorical response by the Russian Government to this problem.


A. 1997-98: Political Antisemitism Emerges: 1. Nikolai Kondra- tenko, Governor of Krasnodar Region: In a Report titled "Racist Alliance Takes Over Southern Russia Province," dated November 17, 1997, CHRA documented the fact that, with the election in December 1996 of Communist Nikolai Kondratenko as Governor of Southern Russia's Krasnodar Region, administration of that strategically important region was now in the hands of "an anti-reform, racist and antisemitic coalition of Communists, Cossacks and Nationalists." CHRA reported that this repressive alliance had moved rapidly to impose Soviet-style rule over the region, "including eliminating non-Russians from government jobs and employing terror tactics aimed at cleansing the region of Jews, Armenians and other "Caucasus" people." This governmental racism is confirmed in a detailed report issued by the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow in March 1998. ("Compliance of the Russian Federation with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination," Memorial Human Rights Center, Moscow, March 1968; See also, U.S. Department of State, Russia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998, Section on Religious Minorities, Feb. 26, 1999.) Kondratenko, a high-level Communist Party official during the Soviet era, is an outspoken antisemite who has publicly blamed Jews for Russia's problems, incited violence against Jews and called for their expulsion from Russia. (E.g., "Krasnodar Governor Incites Local Youth Against Jews," UCSJ News, March 4, 1998.) As Governor of Krasnodar, he is a Member of the Russian upper house of Parliament (the Federation Council), and a high-ranking officer in the Russian Communist Party (KPRF), the leading party in the Russian Duma, the lower house of Parliament.
2. Members of the Russian Duma: Kondratenko's public vilification of Jews has been echoed by other leading Russian politicians and elected officials both before and after the August 1998 economic crisis, including speeches and public statements by fellow members of the Duma and the KPRF. ("Russian Politician [Vladimir Zhirinovsky] Launches Hourlong Antisemitic Tirade," Jewish Telegraph Agency [JTA], April 9, 1998; "Makashov [KPRF Duma Member] Blames Crisis on Jews," Zavtra, Oct. 20, 1998; "Zyuganov [KPRF Party Chief and Duma Member] Defends Lawmaker Who Made Antisemitic Remarks," JTA, Nov. 2, 1998; "Russian Urges Quotas on Jews," Washington Post, Nov. 12, 1998.) In a series of public statements in October 1998, Russian General Albert Makashov, a Communist Party Deputy in the Russian lower house of Parliament ("Duma"), called for extermination of all Jews in Russia and blamed them for Russia's economic problems. Despite the fact that both Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov condemned Makashov's statements, a mildly worded Duma motion to censure him was defeated by a vote of 121-107. Subsequently, Makashov made a broadly reported speech in Novocherkassk, a largely Cossack mining town in southern Russia, which was widely interpreted as calling for "pogroms" against Jews. ("Official Antisemitism Endorsed by the Russian Parlia- ment," UCSJ Action Alert, Nov. 10, 1998; "Russian Lawmaker Delivers Speech Interpreted As Call to Launch Pogroms," JTA, Feb. 24, 1999.) In December 1998, Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, Chairman of the Duma's Security Committee, blamed Jews for what he called a "genocide against the Russian people." He was referring, in impeachment hearings against Russian President Boris Yeltsin, to Russia's greatly increased mortality rate during Mr. Yeltsin's term in office. ("Communist Blames Jews for Russian `Genocide,'" Haaretz, December 16, 1998; "More Antisemi- tic Remarks Point to Trend in Communist Party," Agence France Presse, Dec. 16, 1998.) Despite protests and media condemnations, the Duma refused to censor Makashov and Ilyukhin, the Procurator General has failed to bring criminal charges against them or against Kondratenko under Russian laws outlawing expressions of ethnic hatred, and they continue to publicly denounce Jews with impunity. ("Krasnodar Governor Not to Be Charged with Antisemi- tism," TASS, April 9, 1998; "Communist Radicals Again Make Antisemitic Statements," Monitor, 24 Feb. 1999; "Antisemitism Is Legalized; Makashov is Exonerated," Kommersant Daily (Moscow), March 17, 1999.)

B. 1998: Rhetoric Encourages Antisemitic Violence by Extremists: This stepped-up antisemitic political rhetoric by prominent officials has encouraged fascist and nationalist groups and individuals to act out violently against Russian Jews and Jewish institutions. Such antisemitic violence has become a steady and increasing phenomenon, both in the major city centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg and spreading throughout many of the Russian provinces:
1. In May 1998, the Marina Roshcha Synagogue in Moscow was bombed only a few days after a march in Moscow by RNU members dressed in black shirts, carrying their swastika-like banners during a May 9th Victory Day parade which celebrated the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany. ("Synagogue bomb marks sinister rise of Russia's neo-Nazis," Electronic Telegraph (UK), May 17, 1998.)
2. The same day as the RNU march in Moscow, 149 headstones in the Jewish cemetery in the Siberian city of Irkutsk were destroyed, damaged and desecrated with swastikas and antisemitic abuse. (Id.) Earlier, on March 7, 1998, a newly built and decorated Jewish Cemetery Hall in Irkutsk was destroyed by antisemites. Ten days later, on March 17, 1998, gravestones there were desecrated: black paint was poured over the deceaseds' portraits, swastikas were drawn on many stones, and an inscription was left on the cemetery gate proclaiming "Everybody gets what they deserve!" (Antisemites Destroy Newly Built Cemetery Ritual Hall in Irkutsk, Russia," UCSJ News, June 17, 1998.)
3. During this same period, in a rash of skinhead attacks on minorities in Moscow and other cities, a Russian rabbi was beaten badly by two skinheads shouting antisemitic threats in a subway in Yaroslavl, about 130 miles northeast of Moscow. ("Skinheads Beat Russian Rabbi," JTA, May 11, 1998; "Hitler's Skinhead Fans on a Racist Rampage," Sydney Morning Herald, May 9, 1998.) 4. In early July 1998, Adolf Presniakov, a pensioner in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia was walking peacefully across a bridge when he was stopped by two unidentified men. Acting on their belief that Presniakov "looked" Jewish, they asked him, "Are you a Jew?" Before he could reply that he was not, the men threw Presniakov off the bridge into a ravine where he suffered severe head injuries. He related the details of his attack to his doctors before undergoing brain surgery, which he unfortunately did not survive. ("Did Somebody Get Killed Because He Looked Like a Jew?", Delo, July 3, 1998.)
5. In July 1998, 30 gravestones were desecrated in the only cemetery in Moscow which has a "Jewish" section. ("Vandals Break Headstones in Moscow Jewish Cemetery," JTA, July 19, 1998.)
6. In mid-October 1998, unidentified men attacked Lubavitch Rabbi Zalman Yoffe near his home in Nizhny Novgorod. He was hospitali- zed with serious head injuries. Rabbi Yoffe stated through his wife that the incident was "clearly an antisemitic act." Nizhny Novgorod, located in central Russia 250 miles east of Moscow, has the third-largest Jewish community in Russia, after Moscow and St. Petersburg. Yoffe had served as the city's rabbi since 1996. ("Rabbi Beaten in Russian City," JTA, October 15, 1998.)
7. In December 1998, RNU, allied with a local fascist group, "Myortvaya Voda," (Dead Water), participated in a reign of terror against the small Jewish population of Borovichi, in northwestern Russia. Myortvaya Voda had earlier sponsored antisemitic television ads, calling for the good Christians of Borovichi to pick up arms and kill at least one Jew a day. After the Mayor of Borovichi succeeded in halting the ads in response to complaints from the Jewish community, RNU dispatched its members to Borovichi to support Myortvaya Voda. Following RNU's arrival, Borovichi Jews began receiving letters threatening them with death, if they didn't leave Russia. Subsequently, antisemitic posters and graffiti appeared all over town. RNU cadre distribu- ted such posters and paraphernalia at a local store. Vandals desecrated Jewish graves and set the doorway of a Jewish family's home on fire after painting a red Star of David on it. Uniformed fascists distributed antisemitic propaganda and enlisted recruits at local schools. RNU meetings, held with local Cossacks and military recruiters to discuss coordinating their activities and future collaboration, were featured on local television. Local police authorities met the complaints of Jews about this ethnic hatred activity with indifference and efforts to suppress the complaints. It was only after the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and the Bay Area [San Francisco, CA] Counsel on Jewish Rescue and Renewal mounted an international campaign protesting RNU's activity that the embarrassed Borovichi administration took steps to end the reign of terror against its local population. ("Fascist Group Threatens Jews in Borovichi, Russia; Authorities Refuse to Act," UCSJ Action Alert, Feb. 17, 1999.)

C. 1999: Attacks on Jewish Institutions Accelerate in the Provinces and in Moscow

1. In early March 1999, the Synagogue in Novosibirsk, Russia (Western Siberia) was raided. All the furniture was smashed. A unique library of religious books and a sacred torah were strewn on the floor amidst cigarette butts and destroyed. A swastika and the initials RNU were written on the ceiling. Threats and words of abuse against Jews decorated the walls. Police in the local station next door to the synagogue claimed they heard nothing during the night-time raid. No arrests have been made. ("A Synagogue Is Raided in Novosibirsk," Segodnya, March 9, 1999; "Synagogue in Novosibirsk Vandalized," Izvestia, March 10, 1999.)
2. Later in March 1999, vandals spray-painted antisemitic graffiti on the walls of a public school in the central Russian city of Oryol in which the local Jewish community rents space for Hebrew classes. Slogans painted included "Kill a Jew." Local Jewish leaders said they were afraid to continue to hold classes in the school. ("Vandals at Jewish School in Oryol," JTA, March 22, 1999.)
3. According to the Russian Jewish Congress, 15 acts of vandalism were reported as committed against synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and Jewish cultural centers in Russia in late 1998 and early 1999. ("Synagogue in Novosibirsk Vandalized," Izvestia, March 10, 1999.)
4. On Saturday evening, May 1, 1999, as religious Jews were concluding Sabbath evening prayers in synagogues in Moscow, separate bombs exploded near the two main Moscow synagogues within minutes of each other. The first bomb went off in a parking lot about 100 yards from the Choral Synagogue. The second bomb exploded in a metal garage about 50 meters from the Marina Roshcha Synagogue, located about a 10-15 minute drive from the Choral Synagogue. The Marina Roshcha Synagogue had been bombed in May 1998 and attacked previously in 1996 and in 1993. The attacks came on the Russian May Day Holiday which featured marches in Moscow with anti-Western and antisemitic expressions. Jewish Community leaders were certain that the bombs were aimed at the Synagogues and at the Jews inside them at the time. They believed that stepped up security around the synagogues may have prevented the bombers from planting the bombs closer to the synagogues. Then-Russian Interior Minister (subsequently Prime Minister) Serge Stepashin formed a special police task force to investigate the bomb blasts and named RNU as a suspect in the attacks. To date no one has been arrested in this case. ("Blasts Go Off Near Two Moscow Synagogues," Reuters, May 1, 1999; "Russia Probing Synagogue Attacks," AP, May 2, 1999; "Russia's Interior Ministry Investigating Two Bomb Blasts Last Week Near Moscow Synagogues," NPR, May 8, 1999.)
5. In early May 1999, a synagogue in Birobidzhan, the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region in the Russian Far East was vandalized twice in two days. In the first attack, a menorah in the yard outside the synagogue was broken. The following night, a window was broken, a metal Star of David was torn off the synagogue's outer wall, and 10 swastikas and the Russian word for "get out" were formed with stones in the synagogue yard. ("[Biro- bidzhan] Synagogue Vandalized," AP, May 6, 1999.)
6. On May 11, 1999, an employee at Moscow's Shalom Jewish Theatre discovered what turned out to be a powerful bomb under a seat in the theatre hall. Police determined that only some defect in the bomb's components or timer prevented it from exploding and destroying the entire 9-story building where the theatre was located. Also housed in that building are the Moscow Jewish Community Center and the Russian Jewish VAAD (Federation), the umbrella group of Jewish communities and institutions across Russia. ("Moscow Jewish Theatre Site of Attempted Terrorist Attack," UCSJ Press Release, May 19, 1999.) No arrests have been made.
D. July 1999: Stabbing in Moscow Synagogue Causes Shock Wave: On July 13, 1999, Leopold Kaimovsky, deputy director of the Jewish Arts Center located at the Moscow Choral Synagogue, was stabbed repeatedly in his office by a 20-year-old Moscow law student with a swastika painted on his chest. The assailant, Nikita Krivchun, was not stopped, according to Russia's Chief Rabbi, Adolf Shayevich, by the synagogue's security team because he did not look suspicious. While detained by guards and visitors awaiting arrival of police, Krivchun didn't stop talking about what "they" were going to do to the Jews. "We will strangle you anyway. We are 50,000 strong," Shayevich quoted the young man as saying. Later, in a jail interview with Russian television station NTV, Krivchun claimed he acted alone for "political" reasons. He attempted to kill Kaimovsky as part of his "Struggle with evil, that is with Judaism." Krivchun admitted, "I saw that man for the first time . . . So this is not an act of revenge against a person who had done something concrete against me. This was a political action." Echoing Duma Member Victor Ilyukin's remarks of last year, the assailant claimed he stabbed Kaimovsky to "`draw attention to the problem of the Russian genocide being carried out by Jews.'" ("Art Director Stabbed in Synagogue Attack," Moscow Times, July 14, 1999; "Moscow Synagogue Knifing was `Political'," Reuters, July 14, 1999; "Russian Jews Shocked by Synagogue Stabbing," AFP, July 15, 1999.) Subsequent reports indicate that Kaimovsky may have interrupted an arson attempt at the Synagogue and was stabbed by Krivchun when he tried to stop Krivchun from carrying out his plan. A suitcase containing a bottle of petrol and all the necessary means to set the synagogue on fire were found at the scene of the crime. ("Attack on Jewish Leader Said to Be Botched Arson Attempt," Ekho Moskvy Radio via BBC, July 14, 1999.) Reacting to the attack, Rabbi Shayevich stated that such a hate crime was possible because "the state is too weak to resist extremism." Commenting on the dilatoriness of Russia's law enforcement authorities in responding swiftly and effectively to the rash of previous acts of antisemitic violence, Shayevich commented: "While a battalion of lawyers is trying to establish whether or not the word "Yid" is insulting, the younger generation, seeing that a dashing general [General Albert Makashov, mentioned above] manages to go unpunished, are not afraid to follow his example." (Russia's Chief Rabbi Regrets Tolerance of Extremism," Interfax, July 14, 1999.) Vladimir Gusinsky, President of the Russian Jewish Congress and a prominent business figure, on learning of the attack stated that it was "the consequence of the antisemitic hysteria provoked by a whole series of provocative statements publicly made by several prominent Communist leaders and their allies from left wing and Nazi extremist organizations." Gusinsky asserted that the Russian governmental leadership "has been demonstrating impermissible indifference and open irresponsibility by turning a blind eye on the antisemitic escapades of individual politicians and whole parties." "It is not surprising," Gusinsky said, "that in such circumstances extremists get a sense of impunity." ("Russian Jewish Congress Chief Regrets Knife Attack," Interfax, 13 July 1999.) Tancred Golenpolsky, a member of the Russian Jewish Congress and founder of the largest Jewish newspaper in Russia, The Jewish Gazette, said the stabbing was "not a surprise." "We warned the government that this was going to happen. It was absolutely natural that this would happen because the government is doing nothing against antisemitism'," said Golenpolsky. ("Russian Jews Shocked by Synagogue Stabbing," AFP, July 15, 1999.) Also reacting to the news of this tragic act of antisemi- tic violence, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) President, Yosef Abramowitz, emphasized that this brutal knifing of a prominent Russian Jewish leader "demonstrates that the failure [of the Russian government] to vigorously prosecute antisemitism and political extremism threatens the lives of Russian Jews as well as Russia's future as a multiethnic state." Abramowitz pointed out that "when the Russian Duma ... refused to punish Communist Party legislators General Albert Makashov and Victor Ilyukhin last November for making violently antisemitic statements, UCSJ warned that this was a signal to grassroots antisemites that their hate was acceptable. Since then numerous Jewish sites in Russia have been targeted by antisemitic groups and today's attack in the heart of Moscow is a clear sign that as long as General Makashov and other antisemitic leaders on the left and the right are free to spread their propaganda, Jews will not be able to live safely in Russia." ("Stabbing of Jewish Leader in Moscow Calls Safety of Russian Jews into Question," UCSJ Press Release, July 13, 1999.) Responding immediately to news of the attack on Kaimovsky, the U.S. State Department condemned his stabbing, calling it a cowardly act of terrorism and declaring unequivocally that "Antisemitism, religious and racial intolerance, and acts of terrorism like this are intolera- ble in a democratic society." ("Russia: Stabbing of Leopold Kaymovskiy," Press Statement of James P. Rubin, Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, July 13, 1999.) In contrast to the swift and unambiguous condemnation of the Choral Synagogue stabbing by the Israeli and American governments, the Russian government and leading Russian politicians have been quiet about the attack. Russian Jewish leaders interpret their government's silence as a "`bad sign'." Pavel Feldbaum, executive vice president of the Moscow Jewish Community, attributed this lack of public response to the fact that Russian politicians "fear to lose votes by raising their voices against antisemitism. This silence is reflective of the mood of the Russian electorate," said Feldbaum. ("Russian Jews Hear Loud Message from Political Silence After Stabbing," JTA, July 15, 1999.) In contrast to the Yeltsin/Step- ashin government's silence following the Kaimovsky stabbing, the Moscow City Council and the Otechestvo (Fatherland) Party of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov joined Patriarch Alexy II of the Russian Orthodox Church in denouncing the attack against the Jewish leader. ("Russian Jews Shocked by Synagogue Stabbing," AFP, July 15, 1999; "Israel Calls for Russia to Crack Down on Antisemitism," AFP, July 27, 1999.) The Moscow Jewish community's fear following this incident was heightened the day after the attack on Kaimovsky when an unidentified person called the Choral Synagogue advising that a Russian neo-Nazi leader had ordered his organization to set up "actions" near several Moscow synagogues. Following this report, all Jewish sites in Moscow were promised unprecedented police supervision the following day. ("Russian Jews Hear Loud Message from Political Silence After Stabbing," JTA, July 15, 1999.)
E. Events Following the Kaimovsky Stabbing
On July 19, 1999, in a speech at Red Square to a gathering to protest Mr. Yeltsin's announced intention to bury Lenin's body, one of Josef Stalin's grandsons, Yevgeniy Dzhugashvili, a close ally of radical Communist and head of the Working Russia party Viktor Anpilov, charged that "Zionists were `ravaging' Russia," and that "there are practically no Russians in the government." His statement was reminiscent of Duma Deputy Ilyukin's comments last year when he publicly complained that Yeltsin had "too many Jews" in his entourage and proposed that limits be imposed on the number of Jews promoted to top positions in the government. ("Stalin's Grandson Say Jews Are Ravaging Russia," AFP, July 19, 1999.) On July 25, 1999, a powerful bomb was discovered in the main hall of the Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue in Moscow a few minutes before a ceremony for a young boy's first haircut was set to begin. The synagogue was packed with a large number of small children. A bomb squad robot detonated the bomb nearby, shattering windows in neighboring buildings. According to a bomb expert at the Federal Security Service, if this bomb had not been defused in time, the resulting blast "would have taken a bigger toll in lives than any previous terror act in Moscow." Jewish leaders were angered by the failure of Russian law enforcement agencies to follow through on promises of heightened security at Jewish sites following the Kaimovsky stabbing less than two weeks before. Similar promises following two bomb blasts near Moscow synagogues in May 1999 also failed to materialize. The Moscow City government issued a statement saying the thwarted bombing "was directed not only against Jews but against the entire multi-ethnic population of Moscow." ("Bomb Discovered in Moscow Shul Heightens Fears in Russia," JTA, July 25, 1999; Russian Synagogue Threat Probed," AP, July 26, 1999.) Two days later, on July 27, 1999, police evacuated this same synagogue after an unknown caller warned there was a bomb nearby. A search failed to find any bomb. ("Police Evacuate Moscow Synagogue After Bomb Threat," Reuters, July 27, 1999.) Despite this wave of antisemi- tic terrorism, prominent Russian politicians continue to make public antisemitic remarks. During the last week of July, 1999, Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, commenting on a media war between ORT, controlled by Boris Berezovsky, and NTV, owned by Vladimir Gusinsky, told a news conference in Moscow, "It comes out that two Jews have clashed, and now the whole country has to watch this farce." The comment shocked many Jewish officials and ordinary Jews and was criticized by several Moscow newspapers since it was the first time that Chernomyrdin, a prominent moderate politician, publicly made an antisemitic remark. ("Bomb Discovered in Moscow Shul Heightens Security Fears in Russia," JTA, July 25, 1999.)
However, Chernomyrdin's antisemitic remarks won him praise from some of Russia's most prominent antisemites: Communist lawmaker Albert Makashov; Dimitri Vasilyev, the leader of the Pamyat movement; and Alexander Shtilmark, head of the Black Hundreds party and publisher of the Black Hundreds newspaper. The nationalist newspaper, "Zavtra," known for its antisemitism and Holocaust denial, quoted Makashov as saying, "At last, Chernomyr- din's instinctive peasant feelings have come out, and he openly delivered a rebuke to the Jewish rich." According to Alexander Asmolov, a professor of psychology at Moscow State University, "Chernomyrdin's remark confirms that many Russians possess deep-seated anti-Jewish prejudices as a result of decades of Soviet-era antisemitism." Asmolov confirms that most individuals who grew up in the Soviet Union, which practiced State antisemi- tism carry the popular ultranationalist stereotypes on the "`tip of [their] tongue[s] and in the nooks of [their] soul[s]. ("Russian Extremists Cheer Ex-Premier After He Makes Antisemitic Remarks," JTA, Aug. 1, 1999.) In the wake of this wave of violent antisemitic incidents, The Jewish Agency for Israel has tightened security for its emissaries in Russia. Recently, a letter was received in the Jewish Agency's office in Novosibirsk with the following message written in Russian: Jewish Agency people, throw the Jews to Israel. They should all get out. Leave us here with cleaner air. All the Jews should dry up and strangle. ("The Jewish Agency Issues Directives to Tighten Security for Its Emissaries," JAFI Magnet, July 19, 1999.)
F. August 1999: Local Government Controlled Media Encourages Ethnic Cleansing of Jews and other Minorities. In a two-part series of programs on city owned Petersburg Television, the popular talk show "Sobitiya" ["events"]first attempted to prove that the St. Petersburg populace wants to "see its streets wiped clean of Jews and Caucasians (i.e., dark-skinned people from the Caucasus Region of the FSU commonly called "chorniy" (blacks)], and next tried to demonstrate that the city was "physically ready to let the cleansing begin." A phone-in poll by the programs viewers favored physical participation in such a "pogrom" by 1336 (58%) for and only 959 opposed. The program featured Russian National Party leader Nikolai Bondarik who supported the mass deportation of St. Petersburg's 250,000 official non-Russian residents, including Jews, Armenians, Azeris, and Georgians. The city government of St. Petersburg owns 35% of Petersburg Television. Another 49% stake is held by a company which reportedly funded the lion's share of St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's successful 1996 election campaign. Yakovlev restructured former Channel 5 into Petersburg Television last Spring and brought in known nationalists and racist to shape its programming and editorial policy. These include Yevgeniy Lukin, former head of the FSB (a successor to the KGB) anti-terrorist squad and author of the 1996 antisemitic work "No Blood on the Butchers' Hands;" Alexander Nevzorov, whose prior nationalist programs "600 Seconds" and "Days" were found to incite ethnic hatred by President Yeltsin's Juridical Chamber for Information Disputes in 1996; and Nevzorov's close associate Sergei Chernya- dyev, the host of the current program "Sobitiya." Human rights leaders in St. Petersburg fear that these programs set a frightening standard. Boris Pustintsev, Chair of Citizens' Watch, commented that "this is not a stable society. These programs can have a lot of influence and the government is, at best, indiffe- rent. But it is a criminal act when government representatives themselves are obviously racist." Pustintsev and City Duma Deputy Nikolai Gorenko plan to appeal to the St. Petersburg Procurator General to launch criminal proceedings against Petersburg Television based on these latest programs and the frequency of antisemitic pronouncements aired by that station. ("Would the City Vote for Ethnic Cleansing?", St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 3, 1999; "St. Pete TV Denounced for Antisemitism," RFE/RL, 5 Aug. 1999.)


Much of the antisemitic rhetoric and violence targeting Jewish individuals, leaders and institutions is aimed at driving Jews out of Russia. In the economic, social and political crises that have dominated Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, scarcities in housing, jobs, educational opportunities, and, at times, food have resulted in dominant ethnic groups putting pressure on minorities to leave Russia in order to create much needed resources for the majority and their often returning relatives and friends. Nearly 1,000,000 Jews have left the FSU to settle in Israel, the United States, and other countries since 1989 when the doors of the Soviet Union finally opened. The large flow of Jewish refugees from the FSU in the early 1990s, caused by the buildup of refuseniks from the Soviet era, had slowed to about 50,000 Jews emigrating from the FSU annually during the last few years. However, since the eruption of violent antisemi- tism over the last year, the exodus of Jews from Russia has increased dramatically. In the first six months of 1999, Jews arriving in Israel increased by 128% over the same period in 1998. Antisemitism is among the top three reasons given by the new emigres for their decision to leave during this period. ("Israel: Jews Leaving Russia," AP, July 14, 1999; "Moscow Witnesses Another Antisemitic Incident As Emigration to Israel Continues to Pick Up Speed," RFE/RL, 14 July 1999.)


The United States government and U.S. non-governmental organiza- tions have been aware of the problem of growing antisemitism in Russia for some time and have repeatedly expressed their concern publicly and to the Russian government at its highest levels. On May 15, 1998, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), a joint Congressional and Executive Branch commission promoting international adherence to human rights under the Helsinki process, "condemned the bombing of Moscow's Marina Roshcha Synagogue and called upon the Russian Government to combat an "atmosphere of increasing intolerance and antisemi- tism in Russia." Commission Co-Chairman, Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) stated that the "bombing was not an isolated incident" and that "antisemitism and anti-minority attitudes are thriving in an atmosphere of intolerance and lawlessness." ("[U.S.] Helsinki Commission Condemns Moscow Synagogue Bombing," PR Newswire, May 15, 1998.) In early September 1998, American Jewish leaders, led by World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman, visited Russia to monitor the deteriorating situation for Jews there. In Moscow, they met with U.S. President Bill Clinton to discuss the situation. According to Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations who met with Mr. Clinton, the President "echoed the delegation's concern" for the Russian Jewish community in the prevailing atmosphere of instability and antisemitism in Russia. "He [Mr. Clinton] understands the dangers of the Jewish community," Hoenlein reported. ("U.S. Jewish Leaders Exhibit Concern for Russian Brethren," JTA, Sept. 7, 1998.) On November 13, 1998, Vladimir Gusinsky, head of the Russian Jewish Congress, briefed the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Commission in Boston on the growth of antisemitism in Russia. Gusinsky said that "Antisemitism today - from the government to the street - is going unchallenged and unpunished." He cited several manifestations, including "synagogue bombings, desecration of Jewish cemeteries, violent attacks on rabbis, and the existence, with the connivance of the powers-that-be, of blatantly fascist organizations." ("Russia in Crisis: Head of Russian Jewish Congress Tells ADL Antisemitism Is Largely Unchal- lenged and Unpunished," ADL Release, Nov. 18, 1998.) In December 1998, both UCSJ and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ) spoke out forcefully against the rise of political antisemitism in Russia and called upon the Russian government to put a stop to it immediately. NCSJ Chairman Denis Braham stated that a recent letter he received from President Clinton reinfor- ced the urgency of the situation. President Clinton wrote to Braham stating: "I am especially disturbed by the recent flurry of extremist and antisemitic statements by numerous Russian politicians." ("NCSJ: Russia's Communists Develop Antisemitic Trend," U.S. Newswire, Dec. 16, 1998; "Antisemitic Genie Out of Its Bottle in Russia; UCSJ Warns of the Imminent Danger to Jews," UCSJ Release, Dec. 17, 1998.) On January 15, 1999, Micah Naftalin, National Director of UCSJ testified before the U.S. Helsinki Commission (CSCE) on "The Rise of Official Antisemitism in Russia as follows: Although the details are not widely perceived and appreciated by the general public, and despite some improvements related to emigration and worship, there exists today a dangerously rising tide of extremist nationalism, neo-fascism and antisemitism across the increasingly unstable former Soviet Union (FSU). In virtually every town and city where Jews reside, they are attacked or intimidated by physical assaults, job and school discrimination, demands by local officials for bribes (the Jewish surtax) to perform the most routine services such as issuing birth certificates, arson bombings and desecration of synagogues and cemeteries, anti-Je- wish graffiti and written threats in their mailboxes to "go away to your Israel." There exists a widespread failure of officials to protect them, to investigate complaints or crimes against them, and to let it be known that perpetrators of anti-Jewish hate crimes will face consequences. The political climate, especially outside capital cities, is xenophobic; and the distribution of hate literature by nationalists, nazi youth, and many elements of the Russian Orthodox Church is rampant and almost never prosecuted. The danger to Jews in Russia and the entire FSU region, long reported by UCSJ, is now graver than ever. (Testimony of Micah H. Naftalin, U.S. Helsinki Commission (CSCE), Jan. 15, 1999.) On January 21, 1999, echoing Mr. Naftalin's testimony, NCSJ and the ADL issued a white paper on the current state of antisemitism in Russia including specific recommendations for the Russian government to take to remedy the situation. Their report, "The Reemergence of Political Antisemi- tism in Russia: A Call to Action," was presented that date to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright by Mark Levin, NCSJ Executive Director and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. Secretary Albright assured these Jewish leaders that the recent manifestations of political antisemitism in Russia would be high on her agenda at meetings with Russian officials scheduled in Moscow for the following week. ("Secretary of State Assures Jewish Leaders Political Antisemitism High on Her Agenda with Soviet Officials in Moscow," ADL/NCSJ Release, January 21, 1999.) On March 10, 1999, U.S. Vice President Al Gore announced that he would express concerns over antisemitism in Russia at a meeting scheduled in Washington with then-Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. (The meeting never took place as Primakov turned around en route to the U.S. in response to NATO's bombing in Yugoslavia over the Kosovo crisis. Subsequently, Primakov was replaced as Prime Minister by Sergei Stepashin in May 1999.) Mr. Gore's pledge came two days after he received correspondence from U.S. Senators Gordon Smith of Oregon and Joseph Biden of Delaware, the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs, urging Gore to raise the issue with Primakov. Smith and Biden asked Gore to tell Mr. Primakov that the Clinton Administration would reduce aid to Russia, unless the Russian government took action to rein in "fascist extremism." ("Gore to Express Concerns Over Antisemitism in Russia," UPI, March 10, 1999; "[N.Y. Sen.] Schumer Sounding Alarm As `Real Trouble' Looms for Jews Living in Russia," Forward, March 12, 1999.) Sensing that the Russian government's response to continuing acts of violent antisemitism was inadequa- te, in early June 1999, 99 U.S. Senators wrote to Russian President Yeltsin threatening to end economic and political support for Russia unless Yeltsin confronted the rise in antisemitism there. ("Senate Warns Yeltsin to Combat Antisemitism or Aid Could Be Cut," JTA, June 8, 1999.) Mr. Yeltsin discussed this issue with President Clinton in Cologne on June 20, 1999. Yeltsin reportedly told Mr. Clinton that his government would respond with action to combat antisemitism, if Clinton provided him with documentation of acts of antisemitism in Russia and recommendations for action against it. Mr. Clinton's staff sought assistance from American Soviet Jewry advocacy groups in responding to Mr. Yeltsin's offer. On June 30, 1999, UCSJ provided the White House with a detailed letter supported by extensive documentation of antisemitism in Russia along with specific recommendations for addressing this growing problem. This material from UCSJ, along with similar information from NCSJ, was delivered to Russian Prime Minister Stepashin by Vice President Gore at their meeting in Washington in late July 1999. The issue of rising antisemitic violence in Russia was also raised with Stepashin during his Washington visit by President Clinton, members of Congress and leaders of national Jewish organizations. In those meetings, Stepashin reportedly stated that he and President Yeltsin had discussed the issue with Russia's security organs and he pledged to American Jewish leaders to crack down on those committing antisemitic acts. In an earlier response to the letter from 99 U.S. Senators, Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Yuri Ushakov quoted Mr. Yeltsin as stating that "today when fascism raises the head again we have no right to forget that the `final resolution of the Jewish issue' began with antisemitist [sic] hysteria, persecution and insults." Ushakov listed the measures the Yeltsin government was taking "to overcome antisemitist [sic] manifestations" as submitting draft legislation to the Duma "On counteracting political extremism" and "On banning Nazi symbols and literature; issuing instructions to prosecutors on suppressing distribution of literature and publications with Nazi symbols; and issuing warnings to 39 periodicals about violating existing legislation. (Copy of Letter from Ambassador Ushakov provided to UCSJ by the Russian Embassy.) While the Jewish leaders were "encouraged" by Stepashin's message, Mark Levin, Executive Director of the NCSJ said, "We tried to impress upon him that this was a message that needed to be heard not in the United States but in Russia." Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations emphasized, "The question is will [the Russians] sustain the protection of the [Jewish] institutions, will [Stepashin] and others make the same kind of public declarations in Moscow and will we see more arrests. It's the arrest and convictions that really send a message that they're serious." ("Stepashin Promises to Crack Down on Antisemitism," Reuters, July 28, 1999; "Russian Prime Minister Pledges to `Eradicate' Antisemitic Violence," JTA, July 28, 1999.) In recognition of the continued high risk of persecution of Jews in Russia and the FSU, Congress, with Clinton Administ- ration support, has continued to extend the authority of the "Lautenberg Amendment" annually in 1997 and 1998. The Lautenberg Amendment grants Jews and other historically persecuted religious and ethnic minorities in the FSU a reduced burden of proof in meeting the definition of "refugee." ("Lautenberg Refugee Amendment Extended in Year-End Bill," UCSJ Press Release, Oct. 22, 1998.) In view of the recognition in Congress and the Administration of the continuing existence of gross human rights violations and antisemitic violence and other manifestations, it is likely that the Lautenberg Amendment will be extended again this year with little or no opposition expected.


Despite media outcry at home and considerable pressure from the U.S. government at all levels, the Russian government response to rising extremist and antisemitic political and official rhetoric, escalating acts of antisemitic violence, and the growth, overtness and increasing popularity of fascist and nationalist groups has been extremely limited and largely ineffective. Other than condemnation of extremism and antisemi- tism by Mr. Yeltsin and the banning of RNU in Moscow by Mayor Luzhkov, little action has been undertaken, none of it effective, to deter the continuing acts of violence and threats against Jews. Few criminal investigations have been initiated, fewer still have been brought to court, and most court cases remain unresolved. New legislation aimed at combating extremism is either still on the drawing boards or is languishing in the Duma, which appears uninterested in passing any meaningful legislation on the subject. ("Russian Efforts to Combat Extremism `Appear Modest'," Izvestia, June 23, 1999.) The institutions which would have to undergo dramatic reform to effectively combat extremism and antisemitism - law enforcement agencies, the courts, the procuracy and Federal Security Agency (FSB), primary successor to the KGB, are mired in corruption, lack sufficient funds to function properly due to the economic crisis, and are often sympathetic to the extremist and fascist antisemites they are supposed to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate. ("Human Rights Are Issue No. 1," St. Petersburg Times, July 9, 1999; "Prisoners Die from Heat in Overcrowded Cells," Moscow Center TV, July 7, 1999; "FSB Sets Sights on Internet Control," St. Petersburg Times, Feb. 16, 1999; "Poverty Slows Russia Reforms," May 23, 1999.) Even the Yeltsin/Stepashin rhetorical response has been carefully orchestrated to avoid in-person public pronounce- ments before Russian audiences. Mr. Stepashin's statements in Washington in late July were in private meetings with American Jewish leaders and reported by those leaders. However, Stepashin dodged questions by reporters about what the Russian government was doing to combat antisemitic violence in his country. Similarly, over two weeks after the Kaimovsky stabbing only a few blocks from the Kremlin, Mr. Yeltsin responded to concern expressed by Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Moscow, by issuing a statement through an aide "`condemning disgusting acts of antisemitism,'" and stating that "`those guilty of such actions will be punished." However, except for the arrest at the scene of Kaimovsky's assailant, no one has been arrested in any of the recent bombings or bomb threats. ("Yeltsin Condemns Antisemitism During Barak Talks," Reuters, August 2, 1999.) More importantly, neither Mr. Yeltsin nor Mr. Stepashin have used their considerable access to the Russian media to publicly condemn this epidemic of antisemitic violence despite being urged to do so. ("ADL Urges Russia To Provide Security for Jewish Community and to Speak Out `Publicly and Forcefully" Against Upsurge of Violent Antisemitism," ADL Release, July 26, 1999.) Even prominent politicians who have spoken out against the recent violent attacks against Synagogues and Jews, are careful to avoid being shown as too sympathetic to or identified with the Russian Jewish community. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov made an unannounced appearance at the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue on July 28, 1999, without notifying the press or TV stations. Thus, he avoided being photographed and featured in the Russian media in a Jewish setting. Earlier this year leaflets were stuffed in mailboxes in and around Moscow showing Luzhkov wearing a yarmulka (Jewish skull cap) at a Synagogue ceremony a few years ago. The leaflets accused Luzhkov of being Jewish. Luzhkov, a leading candidate for President of Russia, clearly wanted to avoid providing fodder for a repeated attack on his ethnic Russian identity. ("The Mayor of Moscow Gives Thanks with Shul that Disaster Was Averted," (JTA, July 29, 1999; "Luzhkov Targeted in Antisemitic Campaign," RFE/RL, 7 May 1999.) Nor has anything the Russian government said or done recently deterred other politicians from offering support for antisemitic groups like RNU. The Mayor of Stavropol in Southern Russia, Mikhail Kuzmin, a member of the Communist Party, defiantly voiced his support for RNU in a meeting with Russia's Interior Minister. Earlier in July 1999, the Stavropol government had sanctioned an RNU conference in Stavropol. ("More Fears Raised As Russian Mayor Backs Antisemitic, Nationalist Group," JTA, July 27, 1999.) The Russian government's inaction on this issue, deemed so vital to Jewish safety, has not been lost on the Russian Jewish community. Its leaders have been especially critical of Mr. Stepashin. They note that his statements in Washington went almost unnoticed in the Russian media and that since his return to Russia he has not touched on the issue. On August 9, 1999, Stepashin and his entire cabinet were fired by Mr. Yeltsin, thus precipitating another government crisis and reducing the likelihood that the Russian government will be able to focus on the issue of combating antisemitic extremism. Stepashin's replacement, Vladimir Putin, was a former KGB spy during the Soviet era and was the head of the FSB before being appointed Prime Minister and designated as Yeltsin's choice to replace him as President in December 2000. ("Yeltsin Fires Prime Minister, Cabinet," AP, August 9, 1999; "Russia's New PM Is a Former Soviet Spy," Reuters, Aug. 9, 1999.) The Russian Jewish Community is also aware of the absence of sympathy and support for the Jewish community from the Russian populace in reaction to the recent attacks and threats on Jews and on Jewish institu- tions. It is the combination of political expressions of antisemitism, indifference of the general Russian populace to such outrages, and the impotence of the Russian government in the face of such acts that has caused the Russian Jewish Community to appeal to foreign governments and human rights activists for help, much as it was forced to do to sustain itself during the Soviet era. (Paul Goble, "Russia: Analysis From Washington: Rise of Antisemitism in Russia," RFE/RL 28 July 1999.) To date, the only solutions that the Jewish Community has been able to employ to protect itself during this crisis has been to use its own scarce resources to beef up security at Jewish institutions and to emigrate from Russia in increasing numbers to countries where Jews are free from persecution.
Boulder, Colorado August 9, 1999

1 Copyright 1999 by William M. Cohen and The Center for Human Rights Advocacy.
2 Mr. Cohen is the President and Chief Counsel of The Center for Human Rights Advocacy (CHRA), a public interest law firm focusing on human rights issues and cases in the former Soviet Union. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. He is frequently called upon to provide expert information and testimony pertaining to human rights, country conditions and antisemitism in Russia and other FSU countries before immigration judges and other asylum adjudicatory bodies in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.
3 The author has previously outlined the history of antisemitism and persecution of Jews in Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union, and in Post-Soviet Russia and the FSU in a series of expert Affida- vits and Reports. (See Affidavit dated November 8, 1994; Supplemental Affidavit dated December 28, 1995; Second Supplemen- tal Affidavit dated March 13, 1996; Report, "Racist Alliance Takes Over Southern Russia Province," dated November 17, 1997.) Those documents are available from CHRA on request. This Report updates and supplements those documents.
4 Second Supplemental Affidavit of William M. Cohen, March 13, 1996, 14-15.