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East: Anti-semitism Seen Still Strong In Former Soviet Union

Washington, 18 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - A report by a private human rights organization says anti-semitism is a greater threat today in Russia and the other former Soviet Republics than it has been for the last decade.

But the report also said that these manifestations of anti-semitism were less the product of state policy than of popular attitudes and that there had been some positive developments on this question as well.

The Union of Councils is a private organization based in Washington. It played a key role in promoting the emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Its study traced antisemitic activity in the post Soviet states from 1995 to 1997.

The report says a major source of antisemitic activity in Russia comes from extremist groups. It says there are more than 120 nationalist organizations displaying fascist and neo-Nazi symbols. Some of the strongest of these groups include Aleksandr Barkashov's Russian National Unity Party, with a membership estimated between 2,000 and 20,000 people.

Locally in Moscow, these groups are making their presence known by patrolling the parks, distributing antisemitic literature on Red Square and producing videos about their beliefs.

The report says that some priests and bishops in the Russian Orthodox Church also distribute antisemitic literature. The basis for some of the tension stems from the first Soviet government. The Church blames most Jewish leaders from the Bolshevik government for destroying the Russian Orthodox Church, the report says.

"These incidents demonstrate that the problem of communication between Christians and Jews is one of the most painful and serious and it demands constantly stressful work in the mind and the heart," the report says.

But the news about anti-semitism in Russia is not all bad, the report says. It says there have been several significant improvements both from the government and from Russians themselves.

The report says that in the past year, neo-Nazi leaders, such as Igor Pirozhok, have been jailed for murder and ethnic hatred. It notes that last September Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin condemned the bombings of synagogues in Yaroslavl and Moscow. And that in December, Russian federal officials launched an investigation of the desecration of Jewish cemeteries.

The report says that Russian anti-fascist groups are also making changes. Starting in 1994, the groups have concentrated on educating Russian youth about human rights and persecution. They are also active in fighting anti-semitic publications like Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," which was distributed in 1991 by an extremist group.

Other countries of the former Soviet Union are better off, the report says. It says Ukraine has experienced a rebirth in Jewish life in the past few years, adding that organized religious events, umbrella organizations for Jews and Jewish schools make life in Ukraine safer for Jews.

The most obvious form of anti-semitism against Jews in Ukraine comes in the destruction of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. IKt says that since 1995, tombstones in Chernihiv, Mlyniv and Odessa were vandalized, among others.

But the report says Ukraine has made an attempt to make sure that destruction is minimized. IKt says the Ukrainian government signed an agreement with the United States in 1994 which returns Jewish communal property to the Jewish community.

"Ukraine should be lauded for its efforts; it is the only country of the Former Soviet Union to have signed such an agreement with the U.S. government," the report says.

The report says that in countries such as Belarus, Moldova, and Kazakhstan anti-semitism comes in less obvious forms. It says that in Moldova, many Jews risk losing their jobs if they don't speak Moldovan. While Hebrew and Yiddish are officially supported as minority languages, they are unacceptable in the work force.

The report says Belarus' large, diverse Jewish population has come under fire in recent years. Anti-semitism has gained momentum recently with an explosion of anti-semitic literature and vandalism.

Jews in Azerbaijan enjoy widespread governmental tolerance and solid relations with countries like Israel. But the report says that the human rights laws for Jews in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and other countries in that region must continue to be monitored.

"What is most odious about the situation is that few if any people from outside the Jewish community are standing up to the wild accusations and vandalism," the report concludes.