Jews of Russia Concerned, Confused After Yeltsin Dissolves Parliament

Russia’s Jews are watching their country’s latest constitutional crisis with a sense of concern.

More than anything, President Boris Yeltsin’s decree Tuesday dissolving Parliament highlighted the two conflicting views of what Russia’s future should be.

The future that Russian Jews prefer is that favored by Yeltsin, who envisions a rapid transition to a Western-style democracy and economy. It is in hope of such changes that rather than making aliyah, Russian Jews are staying away from Israel in droves.

But the hard-liners of the Russian Parliament envision a future that is closer to the old Soviet Union, or to a Greek Orthodox theocracy, than to Western democracy.

And Russia’s Jews cannot but worry which vision will reign, when the dust settles from this week’s events.

As of Tuesday night, both camps had their own competing government.

There was President Yeltsin, who singed a decree eliminating Parliament and called elections for a new legislative body in November.

And there was the Parliament, which claimed that Yeltsin forfeited his post by his decree and elected Vice President Alexander Rutskoi to serve in his stead.

The last parliamentary elections were held prior to Russian independence.

According to officials at Jewish organizations who spoke to Jews in Russia, there was less information in Moscow about the situation than in the Western media — and consequently less concern.

GROUPS BANKING ON YELTSIN

“It’s too early to asses the situation,” Mark Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said after a conversation with Michael Chlenov, co-chairman of the Vaad, Russian Jewry’s umbrella body.

“He hopes today’s events do not disrupt the moves toward democracy,” said Levin.

Richard Wexler, chairman of the National Conference, added in a statement that his group is “closely monitoring the situation with regard to the status of the Russian Jewish community.”

The statement, implicitly taking sides in the power struggle, continued, “We trust that President Yeltsin will continue to safeguard human rights as the Russian Federation moves toward new elections.”

Similarly, Ambassador Milton Wolf, president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, ordered that communication be established with all of the JDC’s representatives in the former Soviet Union and that the situation be monitored closely.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, warned in a statement that “any sudden shift in the government of what is now Russia has to be a concern for democracy, and for the Jewish community, especially when the sudden shift moves to the right.”

If Rutskoi prevails, however, it will not necessarily be a disaster for the Jews.

Rutskoi’s mother is Jewish, and he is remembered in Israel for the warm visit he paid there in the spring of 1992.

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