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Russian tycoon says Jewish roots will hamper his political ambitions

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MOSCOW, July 18 (JTA) — One of Russia’s wealthiest and most powerful men said his Jewish roots will hinder his run for a seat in the Russian Parliament. “Of course, this problem exists for me in connection to the next election campaign,” Boris Berezovsky said in a television interview Saturday with the ORT channel, which he reportedly controls. Last week, the tycoon announced that he would run for a seat in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, in elections scheduled for December. Berezovsky is believed to have converted to Orthodox Christianity a few years ago, but most Russians still view him as a stereotyped Jew — cunning, aggressive and greedy. A controversial figure who has played a leading role in Russian business and political life, Berezovsky has never been shy about his Jewish roots. “My difference is that I don’t try to hide this problem,” Berezovsky said, referring to unnamed politicians who do not openly acknowledge their Jewish origins. Berezovsky said it is important for Russians to discuss anti-Semitism openly, particularly in the wake of July 13’s violently anti-Semitic attack on a Moscow Jewish leader. Some prominent Communist lawmakers have made Berezovsky one of their major targets for anti-Semitic remarks in the past year. Last year, Berezovsky, who is often been described as possessing an enormous thirst for political power, said anti-Semitism would prevent him from running for president of Russia. After he announced he would run for Parliament, a Moscow radio station conducted a call-in poll to measure Berezovsky’s electoral chances. Forty-two percent of 2,221 callers to the poll said they would not vote for Berezovsky if given the chance, and some of the callers interviewed on the air by Echo Moskvy radio cited the tycoon’s Jewish roots as the main motivation for such a decision. Berezovsky, who held two posts as a politician during the past three years, reportedly has considerable holdings in several television and newspaper operations, Russian national airlines, auto manufacturing and the oil industry. Last April Berezovsky, believed to be a member of Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle, found himself in hot water when Russian prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of hiding earnings in Swiss firms he controls. The warrant, which for a brief period prevented the tycoon from returning to Russia, was later revoked. Some experts say Berezovsky’s desire to gain parliamentary immunity from prosecution led to his recent decision, but Berezovsky denied such allegations, saying that if elected to the Duma he would push for legislation lifting parliamentary immunity from all legislators. Meanwhile, the Russian media also focused on Berezovsky last week in connection with what observers are terming a war between the country’s leading media tycoons. Last week Berezovsky’s ORT reported that the NTV television channel and the Media Most group, headed by Russian Jewish Congress President Vladimir Goussinsky, were experiencing financial troubles. Some observers accused Berezovsky of trying to create a news monopoly in Russia. Goussinsky’s media holdings, which supports Moscow Mayor — and likely contender for the 2000 presidential election — Yuri Luzhkov, a long-time enemy of Berezovsky, are the main obstacles to this goal, according to an article in Izvestia, Moscow’s leading daily newspaper. The struggle could impair the financial security of Goussinsky, who has been the major domestic supporter of Russia’s Jewish community.

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