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Wiesenthal Center Official Saddened By Anti-Menorah March In Moldova

CHISINAU -- The director of the Israeli branch of a prominent Jewish human rights group has expressed sadness over a protest in the Moldovan capital against a display for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

Efraim Zuroff of Jerusalem's Simon Wiesenthal Center told RFE/RL on November 12 that it is hard to understand why people feel threatened by a religious symbol in a public place in Chisinau, especially since Moldova's Jewish community has no "bad intentions" toward anyone.

Several hundred Orthodox Christians marched in Chisinau on November 10 to warn the city hall against allowing the Jewish community to place a menorah in a central park close to the statue of a medieval Moldovan king.

Dorin Mereuta, a leader of the Orthodox Youth Association who took part in the unauthorized march, told the media that placing a menorah near the statue of the "Christian king" would be an "offense" and a form of "opression of the Christians by the non-Christians."

He said he did not rule out that the menorah will be "dismantled" if it is placed in the city center. Last year, a menorah was pulled down from its pedestal by a mob of angry Orthodox believers led by a priest.

On November 11, Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca told RFE/RL that the Jewish community will be allowed to place the menorah in downtown Chisinau to mark the December 1-9 holiday of Hannukah and that he will personally discuss the issue with opponents of the display.

Zuroff praised Chirtoaca's reaction to the protest and expressed hope the protesters will listen to the mayor.

Zuroff added that he doubts Moldova's renewed drive to join the European Union will result in a radically improved attitude among Moldovans towards religious or ethnic minorities.

He said ongoing far-right activities in Eastern European EU member states like Hungary and the Czech Republic show that "preparing for EU admission and even the admission itself" does not automatically lead to the disappearance of phenomena like racism or anti-Semitism.

There were an estimated 4,600 Jews living in Moldova in 2006.