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Washington Journal: U.S. Senator Says Anti-Semitism Alive In Russia

Washington, 19 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on European Affairs says anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudices remain alive in Russia.

Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon says religious animosity has historical roots in Russia. He says tolerance of minority groups is a good indicator of whether a society is free.

Smith says Washington has made it clear to Russian leaders it is deeply concerned about the issue. He says the United States is still hopeful that Russia will evolve in a way that brings it closer to the West.

Smith says: "But it's because that hope has been so high, that our disappointment is so great, that Russian leaders today resort to the tired themes of history, sort of the first human hatred, to blame their problems on the Jews or the Jehova's witnesses or other minorities."

Smith made the comments in Washington last week at a seminar discussion presented by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on anti-Semitism in the post-Soviet states.

The senator has been a forceful advocate of human rights who recently chaired a Senate hearing on the role of the United States in combating what he calls a new wave of anti-Semitism in Russia and in other former Soviet republics.

Smith said: "It is actually a proud role that the Foreign Relations Committee plays now and has since the last century in trying to speak up against persecution of the Jewish people either by czars or by Soviets and it continues today."

Smith said an unstable political situation and an unpredictable economy have led many in Russia to unjustly blame the Jewish community for the country's troubles. He said the resulting hatred is being fueled by political groups whose actions are going unpunished by Russian authorities.

Paul Goble, an expert on ethnic problems in the former Soviet Union and publisher of RFE/RL Newsline, said anti-Semitism in effect has been "privatized" in Russia and in other former successor republics.

Goble said: "If in Soviet times what we saw was state-sponsored anti-Semitism or state-prohibited anti-Semitism, in post-Soviet times what we see is something very different. Because of the requirements of the United States and other western countries, most of the governments in this area have undertaken to oppose anti-Semitism and other forms of extremist nationalism. They have committed themselves to U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, they have opened themselves to inspections of various kinds and most of the government legislation isn't all that bad. The problem is, however, that most of the governments in this area are not in a position to enforce their declarative language, that private individuals, some even in the government, are acting on their own personal views because the state is not in a position to prevent them from doing so."

Also speaking at the seminar was Mark Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. Levin said: "We begin to see the re-emergence of what we call political anti-Semitism."

Anti-semitism, Levin said, has a deep-seated history in the Russian empire, including pogroms and the creation of boundaries restricting where Jews could live.

Levin's group has been working actively with the National Security Council, the State Department, the Congress and the Helsinki Commission to secure the rights of Jews living in the former Soviet Union.

In a message to the seminar, RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine said the radios remain committed to fighting the evils of anti-Semitism and other forms of religious and ethnic discrimination.

Dine said: "Like people of good will everywhere, we had hoped that these ancient evils would be overcome with the fall of communism and the rise of governments publicly committed to human rights for all. Tragically, these expectations have proved to be far too optimistic."