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East: Analysis From Washington--An Ancient Evil's New Face

  • Paul Goble



Washington, 18 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Anti-semitism has not disappeared in the post-Soviet states. Indeed, in some of them, it may be even more virulent than it was in Soviet times.

But this ancient evil now manifests itself in such different ways that many observers and governments either fail to recognize it for what it is -- a serious threat to the emergence of civil society -- or to devote the resources needed to combat it.

That is the unsettling conclusion of a report released in Washington Tuesday by the Union of Councils of Soviet Jews, a group that monitored anti-semitism in the Soviet Union and now keeps track of anti-semitic actions in the post-Soviet states.

And that conclusion in turn rests on three findings of the study. First, with respect to Jews, there is not a single situation as in Soviet times but 15 very different ones, each of which contains both positive and negative elements.

First, anti-semitism today is less the product of state policy than a reflection of popular attitudes that the governments either cannot or will not control.

In Soviet times, the government decided just how much anti-semitism would be permitted, encouraged, or opposed. When the Soviet regime wanted to send an anti-Israel or anti-Jewish message, it was in a position to do that. And also to do just the reverse.

Now most of the post-Soviet governments are too weak to prevent actions rooted in longstanding popular attitudes. Under pressure from the West, all 15 states are committed to protecting Jewish rights. But often the authorities lack the power to prevent outrages.

And in some cases, holdovers from Soviet times or politicians interested in tapping into popular anger at deteriorating economic conditions have sought to use anti-semitism to generate power for themselves.

Second, on this issue as on so many others, there is not a single situation as in Soviet times but 15 very different ones.

Just as the Soviet state could turn the manifestation of anti-semitism on and off, so too it could impose its will from Belarus to Vladivostok.

Now, the 15 post-Soviet states not only vary in their ability and willingness to do so within their more restricted territories, but they also face very different situations.

In some cases, such as Ukraine and Belarus, the authorities must contend with greater amounts of anti-semitism in the population than other governments do.

And third, in most cases, there are positive as well as negative developments, with some Jews enjoying greater rights and protections than ever before even as other Jews are subject to greater discrimination.

In every case, the situation is mixed. In Moscow, for instance, it is possible to purchase openly and viciously anti-semitic publications on the streetcorners. But it is also possible to visit newly opened Jewish educational and community centers.

That very diversity means that the authorities can point with pride to their achievements in this area even while decrying the problems that remain.

Taken together, these three factors make it difficult for Western human rights groups to monitor developments across the region and for Western governments to intervene on behalf of the still numerous Jewish communities in the former Soviet region.

On the one hand, the emergence of 15 countries in place of one makes it far more difficult to keep track of just what is going on, especially since so many of the actions are the products of popular attitudes rather than state policy.
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