20.03.2006 21:39
Alexander Verkhovsky. Anti-Semitism in Russia: 2005. Key Developments and New Trends

All materials used in this review are available from SOVA Center website.

SOVA Center’s report Radical nationalism and efforts to oppose it in Russia in 2005 has been partially used for this paper. Anti-Semitism is an integral part of the radical nationalist movement in general, and must be analyzed in this context. This review looks at Anti-Semitic activity of radical nationalists, but a comprehensive picture of the phenomenon can only be obtained from the said annual report.

Activity of Anti-Semitic Organizations

Until recently, all Russian nationalist organizations voiced their anti-Semitism more or less actively. In 2004-2005, a notable exception emerged, namely the Movement against Illegal Migration (DPNI). This increasingly popular group is led by Alexander Potkin, a close associate of the deceased leader of the ‘Pamyat’ National Patriotic Front, Dmitry Vassilyev. Even now, Potkin leads a small Moscow-based chapter of Pamyat, but he is more known under his pseudonym Belov as DPNI leader. DPNI - while not registered and not very numerous - enjoys increasing media attention, because it has completely reformulated its racist slogans to target "illegal immigrants" - which sounds acceptable to public opinion and attracts fairly broad support. Notably, DPNI does not use Anti-Semitic rhetoric. Most likely, it does not mean that Pamyat veterans and very young skinheads at the core of DPNI do not share Anti-Semitic ideas; apparently they have learned to conceal them.

Other nationalist organizations (the Russian National Unity – i.e. its bits and pieces – the National Imperial Party, and smaller ones) are not ashamed of their anti-Semitism. On the contrary, the campaign around “the letter of 500” (see below) increased the relevance of anti-Semitism for many radical groups as a campaigning issue. In particular, a number of Orthodox Christian, monarchist groups joined forces by forming a Movement for Living without Fear of the Jews (an allusion to the New Testament, well understood by their supporters).

The most notable organizing event of the year was the ‘restorative’ congress of the Union of Russian People. There were numerous attempts in the 1990-ies to restore the pre-Communist "Black Hundred” nationalist group, but the recent congress was the first large-scale attempt of this kind. More than 70 Orthodox Christian/monarchist groups were represented at the congress. The audience was addressed by high-ranking officials, including leader of (Dmitry Rogozin’s) Rodina parliamentary party Sergey Glazyev (never inclined to nationalism and totally free of Anti-Semitic pronouncements before) and Vice Speaker of the State Duma Sergey Baburin (the other Rodina party; Baburin had a reputation of a “moderate” nationalist in the 90-ies). The Liberal Democratic (Zhirinovsky’s) Party was represented by extremely radical MP Nikolai Kuryanovich. S. Baburin officially joined the organization. The Union of Russian People is lead by sculptor Vyacheslav Klykov known for his Anti-Semitic statements, as well as his monuments.

Anti-Semitic Propaganda

In 2005, the Anti-Semitic propaganda was even more active as compared to the previous years.

It was linked to the “letter of 500" - an appeal to the Prosecutor General urging him to review the activity of all Jewish organizations for extremism. The reason given was the book Kitsur Shulkhan Arukh where radical nationalist author Mikhail Nazarov, back in 2002, found a violation of the recently adopted Law on Combating Extremist Activity.

The first mention of Shulkhan Arukh and its subsequent shorter version - Kitsur Shulkhan Arukh – being intolerant to non-Jews was actively debated in Russia about a century ago [1], and references to those debates were made in the 90-ies. Since 2002, however, the adoption of a new law containing a definition of extremism that is too vague and allows interpreting any intolerant pronouncement as a manifestation of extremism, enabled a return of old Anti-Semitic ideas; moreover, intolerant statements naturally found in most medieval text were additionally emphasized through distorted translations and out-of-context quotations. Mikhail Nazarov combined an Anti-Semitic interpretation of Kitsur Shulkhan Arukh with Jewish conspiracy myths to produce a theory whereby all Jewish organizations were inspired by hatred against non-Jews, and therefore, must be banned. This was exactly what the authors of “the letter” demanded the Prosecutor General should do.

They started a signature-collection campaign in late autumn of 2004, and found in January 2005 that the letter was signed, among others, by 19 members of the State Duma - 14 from the Rodina Party and 5 from the Communist Party - while neither Rodina, nor the Communists disowned the signatories, even though the parties did not formally support the letter. Russia had not seen such a large-scale, top-level Anti-Semitic action for many years, and official responses to “the letter of 500” included statements by the Foreign Ministry, the President, both houses of the Russian parliament, and many individual politicians. A few MPs withdrew their signatures, but the signature-collection campaign continued, reaching 15 thousand signatures by autumn, including some well-known personalities, such as former world chess champion Boris Spassky. Attempts at public criticism of the letter were often unsuccessful; for example, in a popular TV talk show K Baryeru [A Challenge to Duel], well-known Anti-Semitic General Albert Makashov won far more viewers’ votes than his opponent.

For a year, the Prosecutor's Office on many occasions refused to initiate criminal prosecution for incitation of hatred on the basis of the letter, and this failure to act sent a signal that this large-scale and explicit manifestation of anti-Semitism was not illegal, even though not fully legitimate. (We do not consider here numerous court actions by authors of "the letter" and Jewish activists against each other, as they did not make any tangible impact). An approach shared by many (including, in this case, the prosecutors) that hate promoters should be ignored, so they do not get the attention they seek - did not work this time. Apparently, it was a problem politically to prosecute so many signatories, including members of the Federal Duma. However, no criminal investigation was launched into public accusations against Hassids for alleged ritual killings of children - voiced once again in 2005 (including at a rally held in downtown Moscow on 29 May), while in this case there would be a limited number of defendants and a strong case against them, the Blood Libel being a proven lie. The Orthodox Russia website that published "the letter of 500" in January 2005 continues to add Anti-Semitic materials, including films from history archives, such as the soviet production Tainoye i Yavnoye (Hidden and Obvious) and the Nazi Germany production Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) - incidentally, the latter is one of the few materials found by Russian court to be extremist. Not to mention numerous other, lower-profile incidents of Anti-Semitic propaganda, including pronouncements made during social protest rallies (early in the year, at the height of protests against the social security reform (the so-called “monetization of benefits”) or, for example, in October, during the rally outside the House of Government.

Normally, anti-Semitism in election campaigns was limited to marginal candidates with no prospects of winning more than 1% or 2% of the vote; however the year’s end was marked by an unpleasant surprise. During additional elections to the RF State Duma in Moscow, candidates included ex-Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov - then in custody, awaiting trial for attempted assassination of Anatoly Chubais. This man writing from pre-trial prison called to a violent fight against “Judeo-international occupation” and won 29% of votes on 4 December. Remarkably, Komsomolskaya Pravda - a national newspaper with high circulation, known for its xenophobia and for publishing top politicians’ messages addressed to “the people” – attempted to clear Kvachkov of anti-Semitism: the paper explained that by “Yids” he only meant “greedy people,” not Jews. [2]

In St. Petersburg, Nasha Strategia (Our Strategy), an explicitly Anti-Semitic TV show, continued without problems until winter, when the broadcasts were discontinued - apparently, for lack of funding, while another, equally Anti-Semitic TV show Two vs. One hosted by former presenters of Nasha Strategia continues, and appears to enjoy a more sustainable funding: they broadcast to the regions, as well as St. Petersburg, and can afford to invite high-profile guests, including the Federation Council Speaker; the hosts air their anti-Semitism incessantly and take great pains to provoke their guests to do the same. Similarly, Narodnoye Radio (Popular Radio) known for its Anti-Semitic statements carries on its broadcasting.

Russian Anti-Semitics were inspired by the scandalous pronouncements made by the new Iranian president in December. The Russian National Union even held a solidarity meeting outside the Iranian Embassy in Moscow to “deplore Israeli policies and the world Jewry."

The obvious impunity of Anti-Semitic propaganda led to its marked growth by the year-end. A scandal was caused by sculptor Klykov's attempt to build a monument to ancient Russian Prince Svyatoslav depicting him as tramping upon a Khazar warrior with the Star of David on the latter’s shield. [3] The annual book fair in Moscow featured an unprecedented number of Anti-Semitic books. Membership of the Public Chamber – appointed either directly or indirectly by the President - includes writer Valery Ganichev known since Soviet times as leader of a semi-official Anti-Semitic “Russian Party.” Apparently, the attack against a Moscow synagogue in January 2006, injuring eight, was a natural outcome of the overall rise in publicly voiced anti-Semitism.

We should also note the inappropriate and provocative pronouncements made by certain Moslem leaders in Russia. In addition to major Islamic websites traditionally equating Zionism and racism, Islam.ru always surrounds the word “Israel” with quotes, etc. Rabbi Berl Lazar’s statement following the London blast attacks, calling for a war to destroy Islamic terrorists whom he lavishly described in many negative terms, elicited a response from Mukaddas Bibarsov, chairman of the Volga Region Moslem Religious Board, with totally unfounded accusations against Rabbi Lazar for incitation of hatred against Moslems "following the worst of Nazi traditions” (by the way, in a fairly recent past, Bibarsov praised Sheikh Yassin). Mufti Ismagil Shangareyev joined Mufti Bibarsov in the accusations.

Anti-Semitism, like other forms of xenophobia, in addition to targeting Jews in general, is used as an instrument of defamation in politics.

Thus, in January, RNE activists in Oryol distributed an Anti-Semitic leaflet targeted against Governor Yegor Stroyev. This example is illustrative, as Stroyev is not a Jew; moreover, he is nowhere near being a political liberal whom nationalists often associate with Jews. But it was not relevant for his opponents’ political purposes, because Stroyev had made rather harsh statements about RNE, and there had been trials of RNE members in his region. (Incidentally, in Oryol, the trial judge was threatened by RNE, which is an extremely rare practice for Russian radical groups).

At about the same time in Moscow, Stanislav Terekhov speaking to a so-called All-Russian Military Officers’ Assembly, in addition to his own speculations about “Judeo-Nazism,” also ascribed Anti-Semitic quotes to FSB Colonel-General Victor Cherkesov. Admittedly, by doing so he may have read his own ideas into the General's words, rather than attempted to defame the General.

A neo-Heathen organization calling themselves "Spiritual Ancestral Russian Empire” went as far as pass a number of death sentences to top Russian government officials for their alleged “Judeo-Nazism,” and labeled President Putin “a Judeo-Nazi lackey.” National radicals have adopted the practice of passing virtual “death sentences” following the killing of ethnologist and anti-fascist Nikolay Girenko in 2004. We should not dismiss them as harmless lunatics - they are behind violent attacks against ethnic minorities in Krasnodar Krai. In March 2005, their leader Oleg Popov was arrested.

Anti-Semitic leaflets were also used during the election campaign in Vladimir Oblast in September.

Anti-Semitic Attacks

Explicit, racially motivated violent attacks against Jews are fairly rare in the context of rapidly growing racist violence in Russia. It is understandable; skinheads usually target other ethnic groups, and it is not always possible to identify a Jew in a Moscow crowd. The only exception was a series of attacks around a Moscow synagogue in Maryina Roscha in the winter of 2004/05. In particular, the attackers beat Rabbi Alexander Lakshin. Following the attack against the Rabbi, a U.S. citizen, the police promptly found the perpetrators; they were prosecuted and convicted, and attacks against Jews in the neighborhood stopped.

We know of three explicitly Anti-Semitic violent attacks and four incidents of public insults and threats in 2005 – which is less than in 2004. In particular, on 1 October in Kursk, unidentified offenders used a threat of terrorist attack to disrupt the performance of Mikhail Turetsky Jewish Choir. As to Anti-Semitic graffiti on the theater building, Mikhail Turetsky said that they had gotten used to this expression of intolerance against his choir.

Indeed, vandalism targeting Jewish religious and cultural objects is rather common, although slightly less so in 2005 than in 2004. But we need to emphasize that in some cases vandalism threatens people's lives.

In early morning of 1 January, a synagogue in the village of Saltykovka outside Moscow was set on fire. Fortunately, the fire was promptly noticed and suppressed, so the people who were asleep in the building at the time were not affected. (However, later another synagogue in the village of Malakhovka outside Moscow was destroyed by what was suspected to be an arson attack on 10 May).

On 3 February 2005, a group of young people entered the Shamir Synagogue in Moscow and threatened the congregation with violence and death; fortunately, police arrested the offenders before they could do any harm.

On 24 February, unidentified offenders set fire to the door of an apartment belonging to an elderly Jewish pensioner (or, to be more precise, it was the outside door of a communal apartment [i.e. shared by a number of families] where the elderly man lived). The fire partially destroyed the apartment. The graffiti left on the walls at the entrance of the building clearly showed that it was an Anti-Semitic attack.

In the night of 9 to 10 June, in Penza, young people looking like skinheads set fire to a building which hosted the Atikva Center for Jewish Religion and Culture. People who were in the building suppressed the fire.

On 30 June, two young men rioted a kosher store in Maryina Roscha, not far from the Jewish Community Center. Wearing gas masks, armed with a fire extinguisher and an imitation Kalashnikov gun, the rioters sprayed the foam from the fire extinguisher directly on the product shelves.

Offenders covered the walls of Jewish community and cultural establishments with graffiti containing swastikas, offensive slogans and threats, and smashed windows in Moscow in February, in Petrozavodsk and Samara in March, in Taganrog in July, in Vladimir in June and August, in Nizhny Novgorod in September, and in Borovichi (Novgorod Oblast) in October 2005. In April in Tver, Anti-Semitic graffiti appeared on a Roman Catholic Church (next to a cross; apparently, the perpetrators were radical neo-Heathen).

Vandalism targeting Jewish cemeteries – or identifiable Jewish graves in general cemeteries – continued, with approximately the same number of episodes as in 2004. Such acts of vandalism were reported in Moscow and Kazan in May, in Tver and Tambov in August, in Velikye Luki (Pskov Oblast) in September, in St. Petersburg in October, and outside Izhevsk in November (or end-October).

In total, we documented 27 attacks against various Jewish buildings or similar targets in 2005.

Admittedly, we do not always have enough evidence to qualify incidents affecting Jews as Anti-Semitic attacks. For example, it is unclear what were the motives of rioters who smashed windows of the Sholom kosher restaurant in St. Petersburg on a number of occasions at nighttime in September and October.

In 2005, Hackers associated with the Slavic Union group attacked a number of websites, including two major Jewish websites in June: the Jewish.ru popular gateway and the Jewish News Agency website.

For obvious reasons, Anti-Semitic incidents involving top-level executive government officials are rare. In 2005, as opposed to the previous year, we did not document any significant incidents of this type.

On 25 March, former governor of Kaliningrad Oblast, co-chairman of Rubezh Rodiny movement Leonid Gorbenko attending a Press Ball held in the Marine Forces House of Culture in Kaliningrad was drunk and rowdy, shouted “Yids have sold out Russia!” etc. On the other hand, Gorbenko is no longer a governor.

Of course, members of the federal and regional legislatures air their anti-Semitism more often. In addition to the 19 State Duma MPs who signed “the letter of 500” (notably, none of them was from Zhirinovsky’s Party where anti-Semitism is common), we can mention other high profile statesmen, such as deputy chairman of Tula Oblast Duma Vladimir Timakov and deputy chairman of Vladimir Oblast Legislative Assembly Alexander Sinyagin who also made explicitly Anti-Semitic statements.

MP of Tver Oblast Legislative Assembly and Doctor of Philology Vladimir Yudin known for having defended neo-Nazis in court failed to achieve his goals through collaboration with executive authorities: in summer, he published an Anti-Semitic book titled “Where Fatherland Begins…” with support of the local administration. However, the entire print run was confiscated following protests of Yudin’s colleagues in the Tver University and the local Jewish community.

Government’s Response to Anti-Semitism

Official response to Anti-Semitic propaganda remains weak in Russia today. Public Anti-Semitic pronouncements are so numerous that it does not make sense to even try to count them, and as such, they do not attract the attention of law enforcement authorities. Whenever Jewish groups or other NGOs urge prosecutors to open criminal investigations into such incidents, most cases are never investigator, and even if they are, they rarely reach courts.

Similarly, attacks and vandalism often remain unpunished, with rare exceptions of high-profile incidents, such as the attack against Rabbis in January, when two attackers were convicted to four years and eighteen months of prison, respectively. The court, however, failed to find the motive of hatred - quite untypical for 2005 (i.e. courts usually recognized the hate motive in similar cases) - as opposed to the previous years.

Another factor is the poor overall performance of law enforcement agencies - for example, last January, Boris Mironov publicly presented his brochure The Judaic Yoke in Moscow, while being on a federal wanted suspects list.

We are getting an impression that the current policy is that of "very limited pressure" against even most outrageous Anti-Semitic propaganda (we also assume that this policy is not imposed by any official directive, but has emerged naturally). For example, the Orthodox Russia paper (and website) has been increasingly active in its Anti-Semitic propaganda since "the letter of 500.” The paper was warned that its conduct was against the law, but ignored the warning with no legal consequences (just like in other similar cases over the recent years, except a politically motivated case of Generalnaya Linia paper, which had no relation to anti-Semitism). At the end of the year the paper’s print run was confiscated, but again, no charges were brought.

Another illustrative case was the refusal to open a criminal investigation into the publication, in a Pskov Oblast newspaper, of The Catechism of a Jew in the USSR – an Anti-Semitic fabrication known since Soviet times; back in 1995 Victor Korchagin mentioned above was convicted for its publication.

In general, the year 2005 witnessed, for the first time in post-soviet years, a quantum increase in convictions for hate propaganda. A total of 13 offenders were convicted under art. 282 of the Criminal Code for hate propaganda (not including violent offences), and six of them were sentenced to substantial penalties, from a monetary fine to short prison terms. We cannot tell with any certainty how many of these cases featured Anti-Semitic materials; apparently, only a limited few. In particular, in February 2005, in Syktyvkar, a student was convicted to one year of probation for publishing neo-Nazi, including Anti-Semitic, propaganda on his website.

Apparently, by end-2005, more investigations were launched into Anti-Semitic activity; in particular, the director of Russkaya Pravda Publishers was charged once again under article 282 of the Criminal Code.

The sentencing of “Pekin’s group” in Novgorod deserves a special mention. In May 2005, three distributors of Novgorodets Anti-Semitic bulletin were not only convicted, but also – unprecedentedly for Russia - found by court to be an “extremist community” under art. 2821 of the Criminal Code, introduced in 2002, but used only twice since. All three received probational sentences - compatible, in fact, with the non-violent nature of the offense - but more importantly, were banned from distribution of mass media, and Mikhail Pekin, in addition, was banned from journalism. Unfortunately, this model of justice has not been followed much since.

A probational sentence per se, without a ban on offensive activity, will not stop hate promoters. It was clearly proven last year by a number of examples, including the mentioned Victor Korchagin (who was released from punishment by the most recent trial, because the court wrongly applied the statute of limitations) and less known, but very active publishers, such as Sergey Lukyanenko in Khabarovsk, Pavel Ivanov in Novgorod, and Igor Kolodezenko in Novosibirsk.

As to ultra-nationalist groups, including Anti-Semitics, prosecutors and judges liquidated some of them in 2004, but in 2005 these efforts were discontinued.


In the second half of 1990-ies, and in the first half of this decade, anti-Semitism was increasingly replaced by other phobias both in public attitudes (as shown by opinion polls), and in nationalist propaganda. Anti-Semitism was more of a taboo in public discussion as opposed to other social phobias. Ethnic xenophobia was primarily institutionalized in the form of immigrant-phobia, which was more acceptable to public mentality, and anti-Semitism did not fit with immigrant-phobia. However, anti-Semitism was not entirely marginalized; historically being an ideological foundation of the Russian ethno-nationalism, anti-Semitism, was revisited in 2005, when “the letter of 500" and subsequent events brought it to the foreground once again.. Moreover, the former taboo was questioned, and it is difficult to say how the trend will evolve in the future.

It is worth mentioning that the noticeable growth of Anti-Semitic propaganda in 2005 was compensated by a decrease of various violent Anti-Semitic attacks.

Law enforcement authorities, concerned at last over the spread of aggressive xenophobia and starting to respond to it (their sanctions, however, only target individuals; no ultra-nationalist organizations and media were liquidated in 2005), rarely do so with regard to Anti-Semitic offences. None of the two convictions for cemetery vandalism in 2005 concerned desecration of Jewish graves.

In contrast, the party of power continues to reject anti-Semitism, even though they tolerate other forms of ethnic xenophobia. The “Anti-Fascist Pact” announced by the United Russia Party in early 2006 is obviously a pact against the Rodina Party and the Communist Party - nationalist in their ideology and involved in “the letter of 500.” Notably, Zhirinovsky’s Party – xenophobic, but without a consistent ideology and rarely targeting Jews – joined the Pact. The value of this ‘anti-fascist pact” is undermined by the fact that it is clearly a pragmatic political maneuver undertaken by the United Russia to gain advantage over opponents.

On the other hand, the high-profile status of a State Duma member causes explicit and radical Anti-Semitics to try to appear more respectable. Rodina and CPRF with their Anti-Semitic members are represented at different levels of legislature. Both parties present themselves as oppositional, so they attend the events of oppositional democratic politicians. In particular, the first congress of the new democratic United Civil Front (established by Garry Kasparov and Irina Khakamada) in February 2006 was attended by Rodina’s ultra-nationalist ideologist and signatory of “the letter of 500” Andrei Saveliev.

In other words, anti-Semitism is still declared to be unacceptable in public, but individuals and groups that subscribe to it are no longer as marginalized as they used to be a few years ago across the entire political spectrum.

[1] Shulkhan Arukh is a code of Jewish religious law - an abridged compilation of medieval comments to Talmud dating back to the 16th century. Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh is a much shorter version of the 16th century treatise, published in the 19th century. Starting in late 19th century, a distorted translation of the book was used for Anti-Semitic propaganda in Germany and later in Russia. See more here (in Russian).

[2] See details in Galina Kozhevnikova. Hate Speech after Beslan. (in Russian).

[3] The top of the Khazar Kaganate adopted Judaism, but the Star of David was not used at the time. The opposition between the then heathen Russia and the Khazars was later interpreted as the fight against Judaism. Ultimately, Klykov removed the Star of David from the monument, under pressure from various parties.

English translation by Irina Savelieva.