MOSCOW, Aug. 1 (JTA) — A remark by Russia’s former prime minister is winning him adulation by the country’s anti-Semites — and criticism from Jews and mainstream media. The controversy surrounding Viktor Chernomyrdin is creating worries that the Jewish card may be played in Russia’s upcoming parliamentary elections. In this week’s edition of Zavtra, Russia’s largest ultranationalist newspaper, Chernomyrdin received praise from some of Russia’s most prominent anti-Semites: Communist lawmaker Albert Makashov; the leader of the Pamyat movement, Dmitri Vasilyev; and the publisher of the Black Hundreds newspaper, Alexander Shtilmark. Chernomyrdin, who is now president of Gazprom, Russia’s gas monopoly, responded last week to a high-profile media war between Boris Berezovsky and Russian Jewish Congress President Vladimir Goussinsky, by saying, “It comes out that two Jews have clashed, and now the whole country has to watch this farce.” “At last, Chernomyrdin’s instinctive peasant feelings have come out, and he openly delivered a rebuke to the Jewish rich,” Zavtra, which is known for denying the Holocaust, quoted Makashov as saying. After Chernomyrdin made his remark, Russia’s leading business daily Kommersant wrote that it was an indication of a looming “anti-Semitic epidemic” in advance of the parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for December. Goussinsky’s media have devoted a lot of space to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, whose presidential ambitions have antagonized the Kremlin. Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, predicts that the Jewish factor is going to become even more prominent as the elections draw near. “The media war is part of the election campaign in which the Jewish issue is going to figure prominently regardless of whether we want it or not,” he said. Goldschmidt added that the Jewish community is worried not only about the remark made by Chernomyrdin, who had not previously made public anti-Semitic comments, but by the fact that the former prime minister has not retracted them. Chernomyrdin’s remark confirms that many Russians possess deep-seated anti-Jewish prejudices as a result of decades of Soviet-era anti-Semitism, according to one expert. Most individuals who grew up in a country that practiced undeclared state anti-Semitism carries the popular ultranationalist stereotypes on the “tip of his tongue and in the nooks of his soul,” said Alexander Asmolov, a professor of psychology at Moscow State University.
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