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Russia: Analysis From Washington -- Another Outburst Of Anti-Semitism

Washington, 16 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In an indication that the Duma's half-hearted criticism of earlier anti-Semitic statements has had little effect, the Communist chairman of the Russian parliament's security committee has now blamed Jews in the entourage of President Boris Yeltsin for carrying out "a genocide against the Russian people."

Speaking Tuesday to a Duma committee considering Yeltsin's possible impeachment, Viktor Ilyukhin said the greatly increased mortality rate among Russians would have been far lower if Yeltsin's inner circle "had been predominantly representatives of the indigenous people and not just representatives of the Jewish nation."

These latest charges were dismissed as "simply stupid" by Yabloko deputy Yelena Mizulina and as "impermissible" by First Deputy Prime Minister Yury Maslyukov, who himself is also a communist.

Because of such criticisms and because Ilyukhin appeared to temper his remarks by suggesting that the Jewish nation is "talented," some may be inclined to see this latest outburst of anti-Semitism by a senior Russian official as less serious than one in October that attracted international attention and widespread condemnation.

But in fact, there are three reasons for thinking that this latest statement may cast an even darker shadow than the earlier ones. First, when Communist Duma deputy Albert Makashov lashed out at Jews in early October, he was simply reiterating a position that he had long been associated with.

Ilyukhin by contrast was not someone who had been associated with such statements in the past. And consequently, his remarks suggest that anti-Semitism of a particularly virulent kind is far more widespread than many had thought.

Second, Ilyukhin's remarks follow rather than precede denunciations of anti-Semitism by Yeltsin himself, other members of the Russian government and the international community, and even the Duma itself. And thus Ilyukhin and those who share his views are effectively ignoring all those who have opposed this ancient evil.

Following Makashov's outbursts about Jews at two public meetings in October, Yeltsin and members of his cabinet denounced Makashov. Even more important, the Russian authorities launched investigations of several recent anti-Semitic actions, although they did not in fact target Makashov himself.

Meanwhile, governments and human rights activists around the world condemned the Duma deputy's behavior and demanded that the Russian authorities act to prevent the spread of Makashov's attitudes.

As a result of this domestic and foreign pressure, the Russian parliament itself, after initially failing to condemn Makashov's words, later passed a resolution declaring inadmissible "actions and statements complicating inter-ethnic relations in the Russian Federation."

And third, Ilyukhin's remarks tap into an old and deep well of anti-Semitism in Russia with their charge that Jews are conspiring to destroy the Russian nation physically as well as spiritually.

Such suggestions were behind the 1913 Beilis case during which Jews were accused of the ritual murder of Russians. They were featured in the works like "The War of the Dark Forces" by Sergey Markov II who argued that Jews were in an eternal conspiracy against the Russian people.

They were also a central part of the notions advanced by Igor Shafaryevich in his book "Russophobia" about the war of the "small" people -- the Jews -- against the "large" people -- the Russians.

And Ilyukhin's suggestions echo anti-Semitic discussions in the journals and newspapers of the Russian nationalist extremists of a wide variety of stripes. For all of these reasons, the response of the Duma itself, the Russian government and people, and the international community to Ilyukhin's remarks may be even more important in determining what happens next than were the responses of these three groups to Makashov's speeches two months ago.

If all three speak out clearly against this latest outburst of anti-Semitism, fewer Russian parliamentarians and others in that country are likely to follow in Ilyukhin's path.

If there is hesitancy on the part of any of these three groups in doing so, then, as the Ilyukhin case shows, ever more Russian nationalists seem likely to conclude that they too can get away with this, a conclusion that would have tragic consequences not only for Russian Jews but for Russians and everyone else as well.