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Jews Worried by Ultranationalist’s Strong Showing in Russian Elections

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The surprise showing of Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party in that country’s parliamentary elections has Jews, both here and in Russia, decidedly worried.

Initial returns showed Zhirinovsky, who is widely seen as fascist and anti-Semitic, to have won between 20 and 30 percent of the vote, more than any other party.

“He’s out there on the fringe,” said Martin Wenick, executive vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which resettles Russian and other immigrants in the United States.

“When you start the slogan ‘Russia for the Russians,’ that’s very scary stuff. What he’s really saying is that nobody else counts,” said Wenick.

“That type of sloganeering we’ve seen before in history,” he added.

Zhirinovsky’s party seal reportedly features the old Russian empire ranging from Finland to Alaska. He has called for reasserting Russia’s military dominance, has threatened the Baltic states and has called for renewed massive arms sales to Arab states. During the Persian Gulf War, he supported Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

President Clinton, in his initial reaction to Sunday’s balloting, emphasized that Russian President Boris Yeltsin won ratification for his revised constitution.

But Jewish officials found less comfort in the constitution, which promises to advance reform and democratization by concentrating power in the presidency.

“What’s dangerous is that the constitution is oriented to Yeltsin,” said Leonid Stonov of the Union of Councils, an advocacy group for Jews of the independent states that succeeded the Soviet Union.

“If tomorrow something would happen to Yeltsin, there are no vice presidents, no legal transferring of authority,” he said.

‘CLEAR DANGER SIGNAL FOR RUSSIAN JEWS’

Stonov and others also found little comfort in the reports that Zhirinovsky is half Jewish, a fact he heatedly denies.

Just how powerful Zhirinovsky would be in the new Parliament remained unclear, pending final count of the votes. He was leading initial returns for the half of the lower house of Parliament that was elected along party lines. Half of the Parliament will made up of local representatives, and there has yet been no indication which way most of them will lean.

Russia’s Choice, the party closest to Yeltsin and most supportive of reform, was predicted to come in second.

But the Russian Communist Party and several other Communist offshoots did very well.

In a statement, Union of Councils President Pamela Cohen said the election returns elevate Zhirinovsky from “a marginal clown to a significant and credible player in Russian politics.”

“Adolf Hitler’s rise to genocidal power from a legal parliamentary election victory is a frightening model for what could happen in Russia,” she said.

Similarly, Rabbi Avi Weiss, national chairman of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, called the strong showing of Zhirinovsky’s party “a clear danger signal for Russian Jews.”

Given the “drastic deterioration” of Russia’s economy, “scapegoating of Jews and other ethnic minorities is a distinct possibility,” he warned.

Other Jewish groups were similarly, though more cautiously, concerned.

The National Conference on Soviet Jewry welcomed the passage of the new constitution, but expressed concern over the apparent strong showing of the ultranationalists. The group promised to monitor the situation closely.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the ecumenical Appeal of Conscience Foundation, also praised the passage of the new constitution, but called Zhirinovsky’s electoral success “a threat to the future of democracy in Russia.”

Stonov recalled participating in a conference on the KGB last May when “Zhirinovsky entered the hall, and his behavior was absolutely hooliganism. He said the Jews should go to Israel, the Democrats should go to jail. It’s unbelievable that most people supported him. He has no real economic program.”

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