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Russian Jews split on taking part in trade union protests

MOSCOW, March 25 (JTA) — Russian Jews, like the rest of the nation’s population, are divided over the call by Russian trade unions for protest activities. Millions of workers and pensioners were expected to join in a nationwide protest Thursday to demand unpaid wages and pensions. The protesters are complaining about backlogs in receiving billions of dollars in wages and pensions. “In that respect, Jews are not different from the general populace,” said Alexander Sakov, editor of Shalom, a monthly publication of the 5,000-member Jewish community in Omsk, in western Siberia. “Those who have been unpaid for months will express their protest,” Sakov added. The government and the private sector owe workers a total of $9 billion. Some $3 billion is owed in overdue pension payments. The government has used payment delays to hold budget spending down, lower inflation and meet the terms of Russia’s loan from the International Monetary Fund. About 7 million of Russia’s 45 million work force were expected to go on strike, which would be the largest in post-Soviet history, analysts say. Another 13 million were expected to participate in non-strike activities such as demonstrations. Defense industry workers in the regions where military plants are located are among those most affected by the backlogs. Omsk, a city of 1.4 million, is one such region. In the industrial town of Orsk, in the Ural Mountains, most Jews work as engineers, doctors and teachers. They will join their colleagues in protest action, said Nelly Fridman, a Jewish communal worker. But Nadezhda Nosova of Yaroslavl in central Russia, a teacher and Jewish communal leader who has not been paid by her school since January, said, “I don’t believe in protest actions.” There is little hope that strikers and demonstrators “will recover what they are owed by such protest actions,” she said. Some Jews expressed concern that street demonstrations would prompt some Communists and ultranationalists to express anti-Jewish views. Ultranationalists cannot stay away from protests, said Sakov, the editor in Omsk. Nationalists “will be seeking to play their card” that might “find a response among workers,” said one Jewish activist in Moscow.