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Rejection of anti-fascist bill upsets Russian Jewish leaders

MOSCOW, March 25 (JTA) — Russian Jewish leaders and anti-fascist activists are voicing deep concern over the lower house’s opposition to a measure to bar fascist propaganda. The bill was rejected last week by Communists and ultranationalists, who make up more than half of the Parliament’s lower house, known as the Duma. Some of the measure’s opponents described the bill as “Zionist.” A Jewish community activist in Moscow, Alla Gerber, said she doubted that the Duma would ever pass an anti-fascist bill. The Communist and ultranationalist majority “will never pass such bill because they are scared of the very term `fascism,’ ” said Gerber, a former member of the Duma. Gerber helped draft an anti-fascist measure in 1994, when such a measure was first proposed. Two readings of the bill considered last week had been approved earlier this year. But the Duma’s final approval was needed for it to ultimately pass. The measure included a new definition of fascism that would have made it easier to prosecute extremists. Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a member of the Duma and leader of what is known as the Liberal Democratic Party, said Russian lawmakers should prevent the nation from becoming “an anti-fascist country like most of Europe.” Alexander Osovtsov, executive vice-president of the Russian Jewish Congress, said legislators sympathetic to Zhirinovsky “rejected the measure because a ban on fascist propaganda might be applied” to much of what they say. Earlier this year, some liberal politicians and anti-fascist activists criticized the bill, saying that it was vague and inaccurate. “If the bill was passed I would have been the first to urge [Russian President Boris] Yeltsin to nix it,” said Yevgeny Proshechkin, chairman of the Moscow-based Anti-Fascist Center. The proposed measure would not have barred fascist propaganda per se, but would have prohibited the use of fascist ideas and propaganda “for mass circulation,” Proshechkin said. He added that the measure also did not define “mass circulation.” Proshechkin pointed out that the Duma rejected the measure not because it was developed insufficiently, but because the ultranationalists and Communists do “not want to deal with this problem.” It was not clear whether liberal politicians and the Jewish community would take any other steps to have the Duma reconsider the bill. The Anti-Fascist Center has recently drafted a bill making Holocaust denial a crime, Proshechkin said. The Duma is expected to debate it later this year.