MOSCOW -- Russia's Public Chamber has urged the Prosecutor-General’s Office to brand a notorious tsarist-era pamphlet purportedly outlining a Jewish plot to take over the world “extremist” in order to get it banned.
Prosecutors ruled in March that the “The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion,” an early 19th-century document depicting a Jewish bid for global supremacy, does not contain xenophobic content. The publication is widely available from street vendors.
In a letter to Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika last week, Evgeny Velikhov, secretary of the Public Chamber, urged that "The Protocols" be outlawed under Russia’s law on extremism before it disturbs the peace. The Public Chamber was established in 2005 to provide oversight over the government.
The work poses “a substantial threat to the peace, harmony, and integrity of the nationalities of our country,” Velikhov wrote in the letter, based on the findings of Yuri Pivovarov and Valery Tishkov, two members of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
“I think that this dirty forgery should not be sold anywhere, including Russia, because it fuels anti-Semitism and therefore racism," Pivovarov told RFE/RL. "This is obvious."
"The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion"
The pamphlet is thought to have been forged by tsarist secret police and was published in 1903 in a St. Petersburg newspaper under the headline “The Jewish Program To Conquer The World.” The pamphlet was studied as part of the national curriculum in Nazi Germany.
But prosecutors found in March that there is “no information in this book that leads to activity against other national, social, and religious groups or individuals.”
They declined to add "The Protocols" to the Federal List of Extremist Materials after a Russian rights group made an appeal. Citing the results of an unspecified “psychological and socio-psychological examination,” prosecutors called the pamphlet “historically and politically” educational.
The Public Chamber’s request has so far gone unanswered.
“We await a reply from you in any form,” reads a second Public Chamber statement published on May 18.
'Classic Of Anti-Semitism'
Speaking to RFE/RL, Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the Sova Center, a Moscow-based group monitoring racist activities, called the document a “classic of anti-Semitism,” but nevertheless said it shouldn't be banned.
Like many rights activists, he takes issue with Russia's anti-extremism law itself, saying it has been used to suppress political dissent. The rights of religious minorities, for example, have been eroded as a result of the legislation's notoriously vague wording, which allows for practically any activity the authorities disapprove of to be branded extremist.
In September 2010, Sergey Bashtyrev, a Just Russia opposition politician, was barred from running in local elections because his opposition to private fee-paying schools was deemed to exhibit signs of extremism.
Verkhovsky said Russia’s rapidly expanding list of banned “extremist materials” now includes around 870 texts. But the law, he says, is too cumbersome to be put into practice effectively.
Moreover, outlawing a book ruled to be extremist requires a court to indicate its precise publication details, which Verkhovsky says creates a loophole. If the work is republished by a different publishing house, he says, then it constitutes a different book, even if the contents are the same.
"If they ban this publication, then they can republish it tomorrow through a different publishing house that is not subject to the ban, and the pamphlet will be back in circulation again," Verkhovsky said. "This has already happened many times.”
Nonetheless, Verkhovsky said he favors introducing a law that prohibits certain kinds of propaganda.
“It’s a classic of anti-Semitism," he said, "but the fact of the matter is that states actions must be rational. I’m not against a law that bans a certain type of propaganda. Such laws exist across Europe. But they need to be formulated correctly with the legal mechanisms to implement them correctly."