Russian defense leadership meets to discuss anti-Semitism

MOSCOW, Dec. 22 (JTA) — In a move underlining the seriousness of the recent surge in anti-Semitism in Russia, President Boris Yeltsin’s chief of staff convened a meeting of top security and defense officials this week to discuss the situation and the related problem of political extremism. At the meeting on Monday, Yeltsin’s chief of staff, Gen. Nikolai Bordyuzha, took the lead in highlighting the problem to the Russian ministers of interior, defense, justice and emergency situations; the public prosecutor general; and the heads of the Federal Security Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service. “This is blatant anti-Semitic literature,” said Bordyuzha, holding up copies of, among other things, a brochure titled, “The Jewish Occupation of Russia.” When Bordyuzha was appointed in a surprise move earlier this month, the Kremlin said the move reflected the need to intensify the fight against political extremism. Manifestations of extremism have occurred throughout the past few months on the national political scene. Several Communist members of the Russian Parliament have made anti-Semitic remarks, and liberal lawmaker Galina Starovoitova, a longtime supporter of economic reform and Jewish causes, was murdered recently in what many believe was a political assassination. Anti-Semitic incidents continue on the grass-roots level as well, with leaflets or graffiti appearing in recent weeks in at least two Russian cities. In Moscow, the literature, purchased by Bordyuzha’s staff over the weekend, is sold openly in some Moscow subway stations and on several newsstands, including one just half a block away from the Kremlin. During the past several years, Russian Jewish leaders have tried to alert authorities that anti-Semitic literature is being openly and legally distributed in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia. Russia’s criminal code prohibits inciting ethnic, racial and religious hatred, but these laws have rarely been applied. During the meeting, Bordyuzha said special representatives of the presidential administration had been sent this week to several Russian regions to monitor the reactions of local law enforcement agencies to the surge of ultranationalism and extremism. One of these areas is the southern Russian region of Krasnodar, where anti- Semitic literature recently urged the region’s notorious governor, Nikolai Kondratenko, to run for president of the country. Kondratenko has gained notoriety across Russia for regularly peppering his speeches with attacks on Zionists and “Judeo-Masons,” whom he blames for all of Russia’s troubles. Amid news reports that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office and Justice Ministry are considering the possibility of investigating him for his remarks, Kondratenko’s administration made an awkward attempt last week to reconcile with the region’s Jewish community by inviting local Jewish leaders and journalists to meet with Vladimir Melnikov, the head of the regional government. Jews in Krasnodar say they were outraged that Melnikov tried to whitewash Kondratenko’s remarks by saying they reflected anti-Zionist, not anti-Jewish, views. At the meeting, several Jewish leaders accused Kondratenko of fostering anti-Semitism, one going so far as to call him a “criminal.” “I don’t believe that Kondratenko does not understand what he is doing,” said Svetlana Minz, an associate professor at a local university, who participated in the meeting. “When I see swastikas and slogans saying, ‘Jews to the Gas Chambers’ carved on the tables in the classrooms, I feel scared,” Minz said, adding that she views such anti-Semitic acts as a consequence of Kondratenko’s propaganda. Several schools in Krasnodar are refusing to distribute copies of an anti-Semitic textbook in local high schools. “The Secret History of Russia in the 20th Century,” printed with public funds, contains several myths about the negative influence of Jews in Russia since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Meanwhile, leaders of Russia’s top ultranationalist groups are urging one of the Communist lawmakers who recently made several public anti-Semitic comments to run for president of Russia in the 2000 presidential election, according to a leading ultranationalist newspaper in Russia. The leaders, who gathered last week in Moscow, also praised Albert Makashov for “challenging Zionists.”

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