Staunton, November 17 – Anti-Semitism has a long and horrific history in Russia, Olga Irisova writes, and every time Moscow has “tightened the screws” and focused as now on the supposed existence of “a fifth column,” Russians will focus on nationality – the notorious “fifth line” in Soviet passports – and attacks on Jews will increase.
Irisova writes in Moskovsky Komsomolets that “the lists of ‘national traitors’” various activists and officials are putting out contain “almost exclusively Jewish or ‘similar’ names,” noting “the growth of anti-Semitism parallels the intensification of aggression against the opposition.”
In Putin’s Russia, says the analyst, the “hurrah patriots find ‘a Jew’ in each who criticizes the powers that be and even equates the two.” Oleg Balychev, a United Russia deputy of the Kaliningrad Region legislature called several local politicians “Jews that have settled in the opposition,” and St. Petersburg deputy Vitaly Milonov said that those criticizing the authorities were simply following a “2000-year-old tradition” which he said “began with calls to crucify the Saviour.”
It may be still “too early” to speak about state sponsorship of this trend, although the failure of the authorities to condemn such comments speaks loudly and has convinced 4,500 Jews to seek to move to Israel over the last year. But both the comments and the silence are evidence that Russian society is in trouble and has already “gone beyond civilized limits.”
As Irisova notes, “anti-Semitism in Russia has deep roots and every time the authorities ‘tighten the screws’ or search for [enemies], the Jews always fall under its hot hand,” be that at the end of the imperial period or at the end of Stalin’s time. Indeed, only his death, she points out, saved the Jews from an even worse fate than they suffered.
But what Jews had to endure even after 1953 was bad enough: there were restrictions on how many could be in one or another institution and in some places, they were banned outright or limited in their activities as compared to other groups. Not surprisingly, when they could, they left.
Between 1968 and 1988, 294,000 Jews left the Soviet Union; and between 1989 and 2002, about 40 percent of those who had remained left as well. As a result, of the 875,000 Jews counted in the 1959 census, there were only 156,800 left at the time of the last 2010 Russian enumeration.
Everyday anti-Semitism has continued, but in recent times, anti-Semitic attitudes have been whipped up by articles in the media and especially on the Internet, and anti-Semitic outrages have followed, the Moscow analyst says. But Russian officials have not responded and appear to be in denial.
Not long ago, she says, Russian officials were claiming that there is less anti-Semitism in Russia than there is in Western countries. But surveys show that is not the case: in Russia about 30 percent of the population has attitudes which can be classified as anti-Semitic while in the US only about nine percent do and in Estonia 22 percent.
According to these surveys, Irisov notes, 49 percent of Russians believe that “the Jews have too much power in the business world, and 42 percent believe that “Jews consider themselves better than other people.” Older Russians are slightly but only slightly more anti-Semitic than younger ones, 33 percent to 27 percent.
If officials and others do not speak out and denounce those who make anti-Semitic remarks, the situation for Jews in Russia is likely to be bleak indeed.