Focus on Issues: Communists Remain Defiant, Refusing to Censure Lawmaker
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Focus on Issues: Communists Remain Defiant, Refusing to Censure Lawmaker

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Concerns are escalating in Russia over the tolerance of anti-Semitism in the country’s Parliament.

The Parliament’s lower house. the Duma, overwhelmingly adopted last Friday a vaguely worded resolution condemning ethnic hatred. But the same body refused, for the second time this month, to explicitly criticize a Communist lawmaker for making anti-Semitic remarks.

The resolution adopted by the Communist-dominated Duma made no mention of Gen. Albert Makashov, the lawmaker who has been at the center of the festering controversy over anti-Semitism in Russia — a dispute that has pitted the Communist Party against leading Russian political figures and the media.

A leading Moscow daily said last Friday that recent developments have demonstrated that the Communist Party views Jews and journalists as their “main enemies.”

“Instead of showing interest in the plight of freezing Russian regions,” about the “hundreds of ruined banks and the poor state of the Russian economy,” the Communist Party is constantly talking about the need to control the media and to limit the number of Jews in positions of power, said Nezavisimaya Gazeta, which is owned by the Jewish tycoon Boris Berezovsky. “Evidently, they view the free media and Jews as the last and only barriers to power.”

The organized Jewish community here has maintained a generally low profile on the issue. Alexander Osovtsov, executive vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, said the Communist Party is not willing to criticize the government of President Boris Yeltsin and — with an election campaign in view — has decided to target “spheres,” that is to say, Jews, “better understood by marginal sectors” of society where they recruit most of their supporters.

Elections for Parliament are slated for late 1999 and for president in the summer of 2000.

Jewish and liberal lawmakers said they were disappointed by the resolution.

“The Duma is supposed to represent the nation. Instead it seems to be condoning Makashov and his open anti-Semitism,” said Duma member Iosif Kobzon. He asked his legislative colleagues to shield him and other Jewish lawmakers from Makashov’s supporters, who have been shouting anti-Semitic slogans while protesting outside the Parliament.

In Israel, where leaders of Jewish communities around the world gathered for the annual meeting of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Duma resolution was a topic of intense concern. Avraham Burg, chairman of the Jewish Agency, called the Duma resolution a mockery.

An unrepentant Makashov, whose anti-Semitic statements at public rallies last month ignited the current controversy, has continued to make similar remarks. Last week he appeared on a television talk show and said Jews are “bloodsuckers,” and in an interview with an Italian newspaper he said Jewish participation in government, business and mass media should be subject to a special quota corresponding to its proportion of the population.

There are no Jews in the current Russian Cabinet except for Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov who, according to some reports, is half-Jewish.

President Boris Yeltsin, who has criticized the Duma for not censuring Makashov, is now looking to law-enforcement agencies to take action.

Last Friday, the head of the Federal Security Service, Vladimir Putin, said he would recommend that Makashov be charged with calling for the overthrow of the government and for inciting ethnic strife.

The security chief’s remarks came after Russia’s Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov announced that his agency had found evidence demonstrating that Makashov’s statements had incited such strife.

But Skuratov did not clarify whether his office would ask the Duma to strip Makashov of parliamentary immunity, a move that is unlikely to win the support of the legislature.

Communist leaders, meanwhile, have issued several warnings about a possible backlash of anti-Semitism in response to the intense media coverage of the matter.

“Russia-haters are persistently trying to foist the so-called Jewish question upon us,” the Communist Party’s Central Committee said in a statement.

The statement shifted the blame for anti-Semitism in Russia to the Communists’ critics by saying that the “servants of criminal capital are main organizers and instigators of a new wave of anti-Semitism in Russia.”

A full-page article published Nov. 12 in the leading Communist newspaper, Sovietskaya Rossiya, warned that “provocateurs will arrange a couple of Jewish pogroms, Jews will create self-defense groups” and the development will lead to bloody interethnic conflicts aimed at the disintegration of Russia.

In a further attempt to improve his party’s image, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov met last week with Israel’s ambassador to Russia and told him that Makashov’s views are not those of his party.

After the Nov. 12 meeting, Zvi Magen said that he was satisfied with its results and that he had advised Zyuganov to make his position widely known through the media.

But one recent development suggested that in fact the Communist leadership shares Makashov’s viewpoint.

In a letter sent Nov. 11 to the government, Zyuganov and his allies in the Parliament demanded that state-run regulatory boards be set up to control Russia’s television stations.

Zyuganov and other signatories accused three national stations of “cynically manipulating public opinion against the interests of the state” and complained about NTV’s “pro-Israeli interpretation” of the events in the Middle East. NTV, Russia’s biggest privately owned television channel, is a part of the media empire of Vladimir Goussinsky, who is also the president of the Russian Jewish Congress.

Yevgeny Kiselyov, an NTV anchor who is not Jewish, sarcastically recommended that the Communists take a vacation at the Dead Sea in Israel.

“There is a special clinic at the Dead Sea where you can get treated for anxiety, get your physical form back, recover your moral health. And at the same time you can get acquainted at last with some Jews and see what they are like and how they live there,” the anchor was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, a public opinion poll of Muscovites conducted last week reveals a mixed picture of Russians’ attitude toward Jews and anti-Semitism.

According to the survey of 1,509 adult respondents, 51 percent oppose the anti- Semitic remarks Makashov made at a rally last month, while 15 percent approve of those statements.

Some 30 percent agree that Makashov should be brought to justice for those remarks and 29 percent disagree.

The survey suggests that anti-Semitic attitudes are more prominent when it comes to Jewish participation in the Russian government.

Some 34 percent advocated limiting the number of Jews holding senior offices in Russia, 43 percent were against such limitations and 23 percent would not give a definite answer.

When asked how would they react if a Jew became Russian president, 21 percent said “positively” and 64 percent “negatively.”

The survey, carried out by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Most of the results of the survey are similar to the findings of a previous nationwide poll.

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