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Survey attaches ‘troubling’ numbers to Russian despair and anti-Semitism

NEW YORK, Sept. 22 (JTA) – A combustible mixture of anti-Semitic attitudes and despair characterizes a substantial segment of the Russian population, according to a new survey. Some 44 percent of the 1,528 people in the survey, conducted for the Anti-Defamation League, agreed with at least six of 11 statements that express stereotypes about Jews. A similar survey conducted by the ADL in 1998 showed that 12 percent of Americans harbored strong prejudice against Jews. And only 7 percent of Russians believe that their country is headed in the right direction, creating what the survey, quoting a man from a 1998 focus group, calls an “age of survival” in Russia today. The survey results provide quantitative evidence to the bleak portrait that has been painted anecdotally in Russia since last August, when the country’s economy collapsed. Several anti-Semitic bomb attacks and incidents have occurred during the past year, and last fall prominent Communist lawmakers made repeated, public anti-Semitic comments. The ADL called the findings “extremely troubling and potentially dangerous, especially in a climate of political and economic turmoil, and as acts of political and popular anti-Semitism increase in the Russian Federation.” The survey “puts into black and white what many people have believed. Now we have the documentation,” said Mark Levin, the executive director of the National Conference of Soviet Jewry, which entered into a partnership with the ADL and the Russian Jewish Congress earlier this year to combat anti-Semitism and promote democracy and tolerance. “This should be a clarion call to focus” on the issues of anti-Semitism, human rights and democratization, Levin added. In part, the survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with statements about Jews, including “Jews, more than others, are ready to use unscrupulous means to achieve their aims” and “Jews in Russia these days exercise too much power.” Other statements on this chart asked individuals to agree or disagree with statements such as “Too many banks in Russia are controlled by the Jews” and “Jews have many irritating traits.” The findings demonstrate the problems that led to the creation of the new partnership between Jewish organizations in the United States and Russia, said Levin. The partnership is devising a strategy – including public service announcements, educational curricula and pressing political parties to add human rights to their platforms – to achieve its goals. At the same time, however, a majority of respondents agreed with several positive statements about Jews, including “Most Jews are decent, honest people” and Jews contributed their share to the Soviet cause during World War II. This finding is consistent with other surveys of prejudice – as the survey report notes, positive beliefs about a particular group often coexist with negative ones. In other findings: * 71 percent believe the last year or two have been the hardest of their lives. * In the United States, anti-Semitic attitudes are most prevalent among people older than 65 and those without higher education; in Russia, anti-Semitic attitudes are spread more evenly throughout the population. Women under 45 and women with higher education are the least likely to hold anti-Semitic beliefs. * An overwhelming majority of Russians expressed political apathy – 70 percent agree that “whether or not I participate in the coming elections, nothing will change.” * Respondents exhibited a high level of anger toward the United States. Eighty-seven percent agreed that the “United States is taking advantage of the economic difficulties Russia is experiencing to strengthen its influence in the world”; and approximately 10 percent think President Clinton is a real friend of Russia. * In general, Russian politicians are not viewed favorably. Only 4 percent of respondents said they like Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov had the highest favorability ratings – at 72 percent and 60 percent, respectively. The Boston-based Marttila Communications group and a Moscow-based opinion research firm ran the survey, which was conducted in face-to-face interviews in Russian. The survey, conducted in May and June, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.