MOSCOW (Aug. 19)
An anti-Semitic article in a newspaper in the former Soviet republic of Georgia has triggered a sharp response from the country’s leader.
Noah, an independent newspaper published in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, published an article earlier this month blaming Jews for the high level of unemployment and other economic ills besetting the country in recent years.
The article, written by the paper’s publisher, called Jews “vampires,” who have been “pumping money, gold, nerves, thoughts” out of Georgia.
Despite the newspaper’s small circulation, the article elicited a swift condemnation from Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who described it as full of “fascism and bigotry.”
“If the free press continues to publish such articles, we would have to reconsider our attitude” toward these publications, he said.
Georgia, which is located in the Caucasus Mountains, is known as a country with a relatively low level of anti-Semitism.
During the Soviet era, Jews in Georgia enjoyed religious freedom to a greater extent than in any other republic of the Soviet Union.
In 1989, about 100,000 Jews lived in Georgia. The republic has a general population of some 5.7 million. But many of the country’s Jews emigrated during a civil war that broke out after Georgia declared its independence in 1991.
“There had been no displays of anti-Semitism in Georgia in recent decades,” Jemal Adjiashvili, leader of Georgia’s 13,000 Jews, said in a telephone interview.
“Anti-Semitism is an extremely unusual thing in our country. Neither Jews nor Georgians are used to it. That is why our president reacted the way he did to the anti-Semitic piece in a newspaper,” said Adjiashvili, the only Jewish member of the 226-seat Georgian parliament.
Adjiashvili said the Union of Georgian Writers and other groups of intellectuals had already come out against the anti-Semitic article.
According to Georgian law, a newspaper cannot be closed even if it is spreading racism and bigotry.
“The Jewish community and Georgian intellectuals think that after we’ve faced such a case, this law should be revised,” Adjiashvili said.
Shevardnadze, who served as foreign minister for former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, said strict sanctions would be applied against the newspaper.